Fellow PJM columnist Jonathan Spyer, one of the best reporters on things Syrian, now believes that the tide of battle has turned against President Assad, and that the regime may be forced to retreat to a rump state in the western coastal region sometime in the next several months. If that happens, it would be a stunning defeat for Assad and his allies in Moscow, Beijing, and Teheran, even though the regime might well live on in an amputated form for many years.
The Russians and the Iranians have been arming and funding the regime’s Army. We’ve read recently about Iranian airplanes exploiting Iraqi airspace to smuggle weapons, and there’s a busy ground traffic as well. The Iranians have also been doing a good deal of the killing. You’ll recall that they started by sending snipers and advisers at the beginning of the uprising–figuring that the same methods they used in the streets of Iran would succeed in Syria as well–and today there are abundant Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the battlefields, thereby violating the regime’s strong preference for sending others (preferably Arabs) to fight and die for the Islamic Republic. They are losing a considerable number of them; in the last 10 days alone, more than 45 RGs have been killed by opposition forces, and this does not take into account a significant number of Hezbollahis.
The strategic importance of Syria is demonstrated by the surprising fact that supreme leader Ali Khamenei has given Assad a blank check. The Syrian tyrant has been promised all the money, all the weapons, and all the manpower he needs to survive. The Russians are acting with similar resolve.
It isn’t very difficult to figure out why the Russians and the Iranians are going all in: Syria provides the Russians with their only reliable ally in the region, as well as that warm water port the czars always coveted, while for the Iranians Assad’s country has provided the operational base for Hezbollah, and a training center for terrorists who killed so many Americans in Iraq.
So when you hear stories about the misery Western sanctions are inflicting on the Iranian people, remember that the regime is dispersing a lot of hard currency and a lot of bodies to the Syrian war. And that comes on top of all the money going to Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and various terrorists and supporters of the Islamic Republic all over Africa and the Middle East, most notably Jordan of late.
The misery of the Iranians, which is real and getting worse, is the result of strategic decisions made by the Iranian tyrants, and their Russian (and often also their Chinese) allies, to arm the mass murderers from Syria to Nigeria.
But few things go according to plan in this life, and in recent weeks some of the most effective Russian weapons have ended up in the hands of Assad’s enemies in the Free Syrian Army. Last month the opposition forces conquered “Base 46” in the north, and “liberated” some valuable Russian antiaircraft missiles, the SA-16s, known as “Gimlets.” Already, one helicopter and one jet fighter have been destroyed by Gimlets.
The FSA are so pleased they are bragging about their ability to create a “no-fly zone” even if the United States continues to withhold effective military training and support.
But don’t forget Khamenei’s (and presumably Putin’s) blank check: Assad is entitled to use any and all methods to win. No surprise, then, when we learn that even the Obama Administration is “concerned” about the possibility that Assad will deploy chemical weapons against the FSA if push comes to shove. Hillary is warning that the United States might be forced to act (imagine!) if that occurs. Here she is in her finest stern schoolmarmish mode:
I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but sufficing to say that we’re certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur…
I know what you’re thinking, and I quite agree: what? Obama is going to war in the Middle East on the basis of “credible information” of the use of weapons of mass destruction? Do Sy Hersh and his loyal followers at Code Pink know about this?
Hard to believe, and I doubt Assad, Putin and Khamenei take it very seriously. After all, this is the same American president who bravely intoned “Assad must go” on August 12th, 2011, and subsequently has done virtually nothing to advance the dictator’s departure.
This administration is invariably late to the fight, and consequently arrives with minimum leverage and minimum understanding of the contending forces, thereby depriving us of the most effective and least perilous courses of action. In Syria, as in Libya before it, we’re told that the administration doesn’t have a very clear picture of who’s who, and this ignorance is then used to explain our paralysis.
About which there are at least three terribly damning things to say:
First, there is no excuse for our ignorance. It means that the sarcastically named Intelligence Community has failed to do its job. When the shah fell, the CIA was lambasted for its failure to know who the Ayatollah Khomeini was, but failure-to-know has been the trademark of our intelligence for a very long time. These ongoing failures should have produced accountability (top officials should have been fired), but no. On the contrary, the spooks got more and more money (the post-9/11 avalanche of new funding, for example), new bureaucratic layers (the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, now employing thousands of people who do…what, exactly?), and the same menu of ignorance as before;
Second, there seems to be little if any recognition that you can only get certain kinds of intelligence if you engage. Our guys have to be there and earn a certain degree of trust, if we expect to be able to find out who’s who and what’s what. But we don’t engage (it can be very dangerous), so we can’t be trusted, and so we don’t know. Why are we paying these guys?
The administration says that we don’t know enough about the opposition forces to be able to decide whether we should work with them. But they’ve got it backwards. We need to work with them in order to know who and what they are. It’s a tough world.
Mind you, even when we do have contacts with the opposition, there is no guarantee that we will actually see them plain. We’ve long had contacts with Palestinian radicals and with the Muslim Brothers, and still decided to support them. As the Italians say, the mother of fools is always pregnant;
Third, this ignorance is especially–say it again, especially– prevalent when it comes to those fighting tyrannies, many of which hate America and kill our soldiers and diplomats. The great current example, in addition to Syria, is Iran, where we still don’t have contacts with the opposition Green Movement inside the country.
These two monumental intelligence failures are no doubt linked to bad policy impulses coming from the White House. The president wants to make a deal with the Iranian regime, and if we actually acted to help the Syrian opposition forces, it would enrage Supreme Leader Khamenei.
Since we don’t engage, we get the worst of all worlds: like it or not, we’re in a big regional war, and we’re largely blind about the forces on the battlefield, and deprived of the assistance and cooperation of those who might normally be expected to fight alongside us. The FSA despises us–we haven’t done anything for them while Assad, the Russians and the Iranians slaughtered tens of thousands of them–and the Iranian opposition, like the Iranian tyrants, are quite confident we’ll do nothing for them. Ditto for the Kurds, a natural ally if ever I saw one, who get the backs of our hands for more often than an outstretched palm.
You can call it “leading from behind” if you insist,” but I call it acting ass forwards.
The ancients said that if you want peace, prepare for war. If you insist on running away from life’s real risks and talking nicely to those who want you dead, you get the war you thought you were avoiding.
Or, as Churchill nicely put it, you thought you had a choice between war and dishonor, you chose dishonor, and you are now facing a war that is becoming far more threatening than it was, or needed to be.