3 factions vie for the MidEast, Should we care? Yes but it looks like we’re on the sidelines…for now

Seems a clear eyed look at the Middle East, a mess as always, trending rapidly nuclear…what me Worry?

After the Pax Americana: Three factions vie for influence and dominance in the Middle East.

  • The Iranian block: Assad’s Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon– replace the U.S. as the dominant power Gulf area, build a contiguous alliance from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and into the Levant. It is committed to acquiring a nuclear capability to underwrite and insure this process

  • The MB block: Turkey, Qatar, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood– the Sunni Islamist alignment that a year ago looked to be on the march across the region. They have lost power in Egypt and in Tunisia, the new emir in Qatar is not aggressive. And in Syria, al-Qaeda and Salafi-oriented units now form the most active pillar in a confused insurgency which shows signs of turning in on itself.

  • The monarchist block: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (excluding Qatar) and in the shadows Israel– they survived the recent wave of popular agitation in the Arab world, which instead took its toll on the “secular,” military regimes. But Saudi Arabia sees the MB as an existential threat and was infuriated by the Qatar-MB nexus. Nuclear Iran’s potential domination of the Gulf and the wider region is also an existential threat. Saudi support for and cultivation of allies in Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere should be seen in this light.

  • So the Saudis are engaged in a political war on two fronts, with an acute awareness of the high stakes involved.

    The Iranians and their allies have a clear-eyed view of the obstacles to their ambitions, ..

    The Turks and the Muslim Brotherhood also well understand the nature of the power political game. Their current dismay reflects their recent setbacks in it.

    Reagan’s ’86 Libyan strike is a reasonable model for a ’13 Syrian strike

    From Real Clear Politics: 86 Attack on Libya: A Template for U.S. Action Now

    Should we choose to demonstrate our resolve in this manner, we must also prepare for the counter-response of Syria and its confederates. While we should prepare for terrorist attacks, kidnapping, or military strikes against U.S., allied, or Israeli targets, we must be equally vigilant in the cyber-domain. The actions of the Syrian Electronic Army already indicate the ability to launch increasingly sophisticated cyber-disruptions, and Syria’s Iranian sponsors also have significant cyber-capabilities that could be used to disrupt key infrastructure, communications, or energy facilities throughout the region. Suspected Iranian cyber-attacks have already targeted Saudi Aramco and Qatari RasGas, and similar attacks could be part of any retaliation.

    Using the historical lesson of 1986’s Operation El Dorado Canyon, U.S. and allied forces can incur significant damage against Syria through a limited campaign and avoid the more deleterious outcomes of inaction or prolonged intervention. The bottom line: Like Reagan in Libya, Obama today has few good options — but the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces requires a response, albeit a judicious one.

    It seems likely that ‘Syria’ will end up a patchwork of mini states, so we probably should encourage the regime to retreat to its bastion on the coast, perhaps with a loose network of the other small sects in mutual support. Once the players set up their own cores, hopefully they would settle into some kind of loose confederation. Of course the jihadis don’t want this, but if there comes a period of settling out, separating and then taking out the hard liners should become feasible, with local support…expect more drone war…

    This requires a basis for a future better time, right now the old regime has proven that the only peace they accept is that of subjugation and coercion. So degrading the regimes offensive capability and its ability to limit future intervention while not going for the jugular, in any more than a symbolic way, makes sense beyond mere face saving. Degrade the offensive forces enough and a defensive cordon is their only hope. It is going to be ugly, monstrous, utterly unfair, but there is no other solution given the situation as it stands today.

    Reagan had to live with Carter’s mess, Obama has to deal with his own, times have changed, bad outcomes are accelerating in a more densely populated and seriously degraded world…social and ecological degradation are at the root of this disaster and something was going to break. But the level of horror could have been reduced if action had been taken earlier.

    Missionary Creep in Egypt by Adam Garfinkle

    The American Interest: Missionary Creep in Egypt by Adam Garfinkle
    Simply stunning, a revelatory blog on the why the US struggles to make head or tails of what is going on in Egypt and the Middle East. It’s long and has a couple of longer links but it’s well worth it because it explains our bias so clearly, explains the Muslim middle eastern ‘socio-political-theological’ context and then shows the incompatibility of means and ends that have made such a mess of the last decade or more. If you are interested/frustrated by the unfolding mess read this article it’ll give you new context, though it won’t solve the frustration.

    The American Interest // Egypt, we have no idea…

    The American Interest /July 1, 2013 / Adam Garfinkle / Abdel Fattah al-Sisi—Memorize That Name
    Read more at: http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/garfinkle/2013/07/01/note-to-clueless-msm-types-abdel-fattah-al-sisi-memorize-that-name/#sthash.aMzX3wZw.dpuf
    Lots of deep insight for those who want it, along with a bit of ‘I told yo so.’

    This was an interesting passage and a key to why this whole region is so utterly foreign to many of us who wish for better things:

    Years ago a clever and truth-telling fellow named David Lamb devised what he called the IBM syndrome to describe political culture in Egypt and the Arab world. The “I” stands for “inshallah“, may God will it: in other words, fatalism. The “B” stands for “bokr“—tomorrow morning, or just tomorrow: suggestive of an extremely elastic, pre-modern perception of time, vaguely akin to some uses of the Spanish word mañana. The “M” stands for “malesh“, which is untranslatable, but which kind of means “whatever”, “never mind” or “fagetaboutit”: not my job, someone else will take care of it, or not, who cares? What difference does it make?

    It is also a bit frightening to realize that there are examples of this sort of mindset in ‘the west’ and that it’s a plague…

    Scared Stupid, the US in the post 9/11 world

    Read the whole thing, if you can take the blood pressure spike:
    Scared Tactics: Why America will be paying for decades for a foreign policy based on fear.

    Prudence is a term often invoked by the fearful for doing too much or too little. But it shouldn’t obscure what is really happening. Our insecurity rather than our goals is too often playing too great a role in driving our actions. Whether this is a momentary anomaly or longer-term symptom common to declining nations that have lost confidence in important aspects of themselves remains to be seen.

    Sorry to say it but every day I see more evidence of our craven collapse in the face of a dangerous but far from existential threat. Our whole damned political class has lost the ability to stand straight, speak straight, be straight. To understand fundamentals like human nature and human societies outside our bubble, economics, social dynamics, technology, etc except in the narrowest most self serving way.

    Libertarianism – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan… – non intervention may not be the lowest cost option

    Richard A. Epstein, the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution
    The las paragraph:

    No Libertarian Panacea
    There are larger lessons to learn from these foreign policy issues. The first is that libertarians, like Chapman and myself, can both be faithful to their basic principles, yet differ strongly on what should be done. The basic principle of libertarian thought is its blanket prohibition against the use of force (including the threat of force) and fraud to achieve personal gain at the expense of others. That principle translates easily into the international context to say that one nation cannot wage war against another.
    However easy it is to state that basic principle, it is just that hard to implement it, especially in a world of self-help where there is no common sovereign to stop the use of force. It is easy to allow the use of force in self-defense, but difficult to prevent that excuse from being used by scoundrels for their own ends.
    It is even harder to get to the bottom of the simple question of when and where one person (or nation) should come to the assistance of another. The basic legal rule is that such intervention is permissible but not obligatory, and only on behalf of the victim of the attack. The general private law rule that there is no duty to rescue a stranger in a condition of imminent peril from natural forces, even though there is an obvious right to do, carries over to the matter of self-defense.
    The great tragedy then is that the clear moral principle can easily become overwhelmed by a series of subsidiary conflicts that extend from difficult factual disputes about the past to uncertain predictions about the future, all set against a background that allows for the exercise of good faith judgment without clear guidelines on how it is best exercised. I do hope that I am wrong, and that the President is doing the right thing. But all things considered, I think that there is a serious risk that his policy of studied disengagement may well turn out, down the road, to drag us into some larger conflict against our will.

    More at: http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/148476
    Essentially the little wars and conquests prior to WWII made that war an inevitability. Whereas earlier action by the major powers might have prevented its occurrence though I have to say that it’s unlikely to have had a happy ending, war and civil war were inevitable. It might even have lead to a less pleasant world than the one we live in, fascism might have lasted longer, communism might as well, and lord knows the ‘west’ was not what we would see as freedom loving and inclusive.

    ___ Damn it to Hell!! What was the WH / NSC thinking-doing?!?!

    This is indicates a catastrophic lack of anything like decisiveness or decision making on the part of POTUS BHO and his staff. I include in total the disturbing post by Bob Owens of PJM:

    The mainstream media is doing all that it can to avoid reporting on the Obama administration’s cover-up of the Benghazi scandal, where President Obama may have abandoned up to 32 Americans to die.

    Fox News is the only mainstream media outlet to undertake a concerted effort into sorting through the spin coming from the White House, and they’ve uncovered some maddening claims — including the latest bombshell, a classified cable from the consulate in August wherein the Regional Security Officer (RSO) warned they were understaffed and under-gunned:

    “RSO (Regional Security Officer) expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound,” the cable said.

    According to a review of the cable addressed to the Office of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Emergency Action Committee was also briefed “on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi … these groups ran the spectrum from Islamist militias, such as the QRF Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia, to ‘Takfirist thugs.’” Each U.S. mission has a so-called Emergency Action Committee that is responsible for security measures and emergency planning.

    The details in the cable seemed to foreshadow the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. compound, which was a coordinated, commando-style assault using direct and indirect fire. Al-Qaeda in North Africa and Ansar al-Sharia, both mentioned in the cable, have since been implicated in the consulate attack.

    When you begin looking at those who bear responsibility for the dead and wounded in Benghazi (four American dead, roughly a dozen wounded, including Libyan allies helping evacuate the consulate staff), there are three separate points of failure:

    Failing to secure the consulate staff prior to the attack;
    Failing to protect the consulate staff during the initial attack on the consulate;
    Failing to protect the combined group of consulate staff, CIA operators, and Libyan allies at the CIA safe house after the consulate rescue and before the eventual extraction the next morning.
    Failure to secure the consulate prior to the attack

    There can be no mistake about it: the responsibility to provide security to embassy and consulate sites is the responsibility of the secretary of State. Hillary Clinton should be on the proverbial chopping block if the consulate did not have adequate security staff and and weaponry to defend itself, which appears rather obviously to be the case.

    The consulate itself was selected because it had several buildings in the compound, and because it could house more than two dozen staff and temporary duty officers. Reports indicate that the actual number of Americans on site was far less than that on the day of the attack. Even after the CIA officers from the safe house a mile away and the eight-man Tripoli-based QRF were included, the total number of Americans extracted was only 24-32.

    There are unconfirmed rumors that the White House itself interceded to override State to keep this dangerously low footprint in Benghazi. To date this is just a rumor, and would still not absolve Clinton of her responsibilities to provide adequate protection for diplomatic staff.

    Failing to secure the consulate during the initial attack

    At roughly 9:40 p.m. local time — after a Turkish delegation left the compound and was apparently allowed thorough Ansar al-Sharia checkpoints with 150 or more armed militants milling around — the attack on the consulate compound began.

    According to an earlier Fox News report, the consulate staff immediately called for support (which never came), and the CIA operators at a safe house a mile away were twice denied requests before disobeying orders. They conducted a consulate staff extraction on their own, without military support.

    By the time the CIA team from the safe house arrived, Ambassador Stevens had been taken, diplomat Sean Smith was dead, and several other consulate staff were seriously wounded.

    The timeline suggests that if the terror cell had begun cutting off roads at 8:00 p.m. with easily recognizable “technicals” — pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns — and if the consulate staff was aware of being isolated prior to an attack, then they would have had enough time to call for military air support and an extraction team. The consulate staff could have become aware of the pending attack from the Turkish delegation that must have gone through one of the checkpoints, or from their own surveillance.

    In either event, a flight of fighter jets from Italy could have made it to Benghazi prior to the start of the initial attack if they had been scrambled immediately, and AC-130 or MC-130 gunships could have been on-station within two to three hours. Handled aggressively, there is the slim possibility that a show of force from American airpower could have dissuaded the terrorists from launching their attack. Once the attack had begun, however, these air assets could have broken the attacking force.

    Of course, the indications are that these aircraft were not on scene during the initial assault that killed Sean Smith and Ambassador Stevens. Fighter aircraft never arrived, and there is considerable ambiguity on whether a gunship was dispatched. The only known air asset was a Predator drone, which the administration claims was unarmed.

    General Ham at AFRICOM in Germany would have been the military leader in charge of launching a support mission, and he had considerable assets at his disposal — from the aforementioned drones, fighter-bombers, and gunships to highly trained quick-reaction forces, including a Delta Force team. In fact, such forces would have had standing orders to start preparing a rescue mission as soon as Ambassador Stevens and his staff warned they were under attack. None of these assets ever made it to Libya.

    General Ham is no longer the AFRICOM commander and is said to have suddenly not just left his command, but retired from the military. Some military sources familiar with Ham said it would not have been in his nature to abandon Americans in danger and that he had in fact ignored a White House directive in an earlier, still-classified rescue where the administration had left Americans undefended.

    Failing to secure the safe house after the consulate rescue

    The State Department failed to provide the consulate with adequate security staffing or weapons in the months and weeks prior to attack. AFRICOM did not launch any known assets as a result of the initial attack. Ultimately, both report to the Obama administration, and this would have been a scandal regardless of whether or not the battle ended there.

    Of course, it didn’t end there.

    After Ty Woods and his CIA safe house operators had evacuated the consulate staff back to the safe house, and the CIA QRF from Tripoli (which included Glen Doherty) and it’s allied Libyan militia ground force were back at the safe house, a second battle erupted, hours after the initial attack.

    There were confirmed American dead, wounded, and missing (Ambassador Stevens) at this point. A large number of jihadi forces had been engaged. There was no question whatsoever that this was anything other than a terrorist attack.

    There is no excuse for not having additional military assets deployed at this time, and if the claims that Woods was lasing a mortar team and calling for fire from a Spectre as Jennifer Griffin’s eyewitness claims, then at least a gunship was on-station and someone denied them the permission to fire. The mortar team then killed Woods and Doherty, wounded two more consulate staff, and at least seven of our Libyan allies.

    Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the Spectre was on-station and was ordered not to fire, or if it and other air assets were denied permission to take off in a “stand down” ordered from above.

    In any event, the buck stops at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the person of Barack Obama. It does not matter if he watched the attack live via the drone as some allege, or if he went to bed early so he could campaign in Las Vegas the next day, as others have alleged.

    What does matter is that once a rescue mission starts spinning up, the president and the president alone has to give the authorization to send troops into another nation.

    This is called cross-border authority. Obama declined to give it.

    Barack Obama was responsible for abandoning more than two dozen Americans to die. The buck stops with him, and every plea he’s made for “a thorough investigation” is a bald-faced lie, intended to run out the clock until the election.

    Free Syrian Army | Counterpoint



    As a counterpoint to Huriyet Daily’s Point of view this article; Guerrilla Country I linked to in Foreign Policy has a different take.  The article is fascinating in its details but the money item is this:

    As a no-holds-barred battle rages to the east in the city of Aleppo, the pulse of the Syrian insurrection can be taken in Jabal al-Zawiya. This complex region of hills covered in olive groves and plains entwined with narrow roads of asphalt or dirt is the homeland of Hussein Harmoush, the first officer to publicly defect in 2011, and of Riad al-Asaad, the leading figure of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Here, the insurrection is deeply rooted in the social fabric: The war these men are waging is always present, and its path is inseparable from their identities.

    The FSA’s lack of formal hierarchy appears to be an asset here, as it allows the citizens of the region to organize the insurgency locally and tailor their military response to their environment. Although the rebels in Jabal al-Zawiya recognize a general leadership above them — and though they place themselves under the FSA’s umbrella — these semiautonomous groups of fighters are organized along village and family lines. That gives them several advantages: They have natural intelligence-gathering networks, and they know the terrain like the palms of their hands, having relied on back roads for supplies and secret meetings for many months. These assets, coupled with basic military skills, have allowed them to drive a far superior foe out of the towns.

    Now I am far from the sound of guns and have never had the ill luck to be any closer than in an airliner on the original 9/11 but this piece rings true to me.  That is not to say it’s a good thing or bad thing, it is a reasonable facsimile of a fact on the ground.  What it says is that the FSA is probably a lot more effective than numbers and weaponry might indicate.

    The FSA does not need to have its boots on the ground everywhere as it has co-opted the local fighting age inhabitants into a cell based ground holding force.  This ground holding force is self-supporting, motivated and dangerous because of its local knowledge and backing.

    The FSA assault groups can stay very lean and relatively disbursed and yet have considerable military effect   They can move through the held ground quickly even if on foot because they will have local guides, support and not need a significant logistics tail or carry a lot of food and ammo.  Of course that means they cannot carry out a stand up fight from the move but that should happen rarely since they have eyes everywhere.

    That’s not to say the situation sounds good.  The picture and the description are unsettling.  This is a war very much like those in the Balkans during the partisan wars associated with WWI, WWII and the ColdWar.  A war of sects who until the dogs were loosed had lived interlaced with each other for decades if not centuries (not always at peace mind you.) Now with the emperors (dictators) military police no longer suppress all,  distrust and pent-up hate is unleashed and leads down an ever tighter and more destructive spiral.

    This is what the US and others should have been trying to prevent, the fragmentation and violation of the populace to a point where their natural distrust of ‘the other’ will make it all but impossible to put a working multi-cultural society back together again.

    Lebanon (Syria’s neighbor and sometime satrap) is another multicultural nation in name only, but it has learned to live with its divisions, hopefully it can teach Syrians how to live with theirs when the dogs of war grow sated.

    Which Is Worse: To Help the Syrian Rebels or to Do Nothing? | WALTER RUSSELL MEAD

    From the Huriyet Daily News:

    There are more than 30 different rebel groups, including the most prominent rebel group, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), fighting in Syria, according to officials from the most prominent Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC).
    The Jihadists, Islamists, pro-al-Qaida and secular groups that are not under the control of the FSA and which are fighting in different areas of Syria against the Syrian regime forces prove how fragmented and disorganized the Syrian rebel groups were in Syria.
    According to the SNC media officer, Ahmad al-Halabi, there are more than 30 opposition groups fighting in Syria – of whom only 15 could be identified by Hürriyet Daily News research. “Fifty armed men come together and they form a rebel group. They generally give their groups names from the Quran or the names the towns and areas they are coming from,” Ahmad al-Halabi told the Daily News.
    According to SNC officials, there were between 70,000 and 100,000 rebels fighting against the Syrian regime in Syria. The most prominent rebel group, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) – who listed its main base as in the southern Turkish city of Hatay on its website – is the best connected with the SNC.

    Click to go to PDF of the article (In English)

    From WRM’s Via Meadia Post:

    Syria is a lot like Lebanon’s bigger, uglier, and meaner brother. The ethnic and religious tensions that produced decades of civil war in Lebanon are also present in Syria. The Assad dictatorship imposed a rigid order on Syria, but as the dictatorship crumbles the divisions are coming back into public view. Unless we were willing to put tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of troops in Syria and keep them there for a long time, often fighting bad guys and getting attacked by suicide bombers, we don’t stand much chance of building and orderly and stable society there, much less an open and free one.


    Aiding the less ugly, less bad guys in the Syrian resistance, and even finding a few actual good guys to support, isn’t about installing a pro-American government in post civil war Syria. It’s about minimizing the prospects for a worst-case scenario—by shortening the era of conflict and so, hopefully, reducing the radicalization of the population and limiting the prospects that Syrian society – – – will descend into all-out chaotic massacres and civil conflict.

    Understand and agree with this next with a big but…

    If the United States hadn’t gotten itself distracted by the ill-considered intervention in Libya, we might have acted in Syria at an earlier stage, when there were some better options on the table. But we are past that now; the White House humanitarians did what humanitarians often do—inadvertently promoting a worse disaster in one place (in this case, Syria) by failing to integrate their humanitarian impulses (in Libya) with strategic reflection. This kind of strategic incompetence is the greatest single flaw in the humanitarian approach to foreign policy. It has led to untold misery in the past and will likely lead to many more bloodbaths in the future. Unfortunately, warm hearted fuzzy brained humanitarianism is one of the world’s greatest killers.

    BUT:  There is really no reason we could not have done something earlier and more aggressively in Syria except that it is Silly Time (otherwise known as Presidential Election Quarter) in America.

    One hopes that this is not the future for all of Syria, which has already succeeded in bombing its economy and infrastructure back decades.  Somehow when the dogs of war are unleashed the destruction seems immaterial.  Someday the dogs are impounded again and then the red haze recedes leaving behind only tears.