Along for the Ride

Try harder

Though President Obama swore that he would never find himself in a proxy war with Russia in Syria, that was exactly the result. Moreover, it is a proxy war he is losing, according to the New York Times. “Russia has not only avoided a quagmire in Syria, its successes on the battlefield against C.I.A.-backed rebels have given it new leverage in the Middle East.”


For the first time since Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Russian military for the past year has been in direct combat with rebel forces trained and supplied by the C.I.A. The American-supplied Afghan fighters prevailed during that Cold War conflict. But this time the outcome — thus far — has been different.

“Russia has won the proxy war, at least for now,” said Michael Kofman, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

The war that Obama didn’t want not only happened but is reaching its apparent climax in Aleppo, as both sides poured their remaining strength into a war that has already claimed more than half a million lives and sent millions of refugees into exile — many into Europe. “Syrian regime forces and rebel factions sent hundreds of reinforcements to Aleppo Monday as both sides braced for a crucial battle to control the country’s second city.”

The Hezbollah have deployed their elite reserves to the ‘most destroyed city on earth’, as Aleppo is now known. Their sectarian rivals have done likewise promising their troops the pleasures of paradise. “Reclining on a drab, olive-colored couch wearing army fatigues and a checkered red-and white kuffiyah, Abdullah Muhaisini announced that “in a few hours, the greatest epic battle of the Syrian jihad” would begin. The Saudi cleric had risen from obscurity over the last few years to sit at the apex of the Syrian insurgency’s jihadi circles.”

As a wide array of Syrian rebel factions mustered late last week to bust the government’s siege of Aleppo city, Muhaisini rallied their men.

“Where are those who want 72 gorgeous wives?” shouted Muhaisini in a YouTube video viewed by tens of thousands, his voice trembling as he spoke of the Hoor, the beautiful women with lustrous eyes promised to martyrs in Paradise in the Islamic religion.


Between them they’ll level what’s left, both of Aleppo and Obama’s foreign policy. It’s been a long time coming. Liz Sly described what was at stake in the Washington Post as far back as February. “Syria’s civil war long ago mutated into a proxy conflict, with competing world powers backing the rival Syrian factions almost since the earliest days of the armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. But perhaps never before have the dangers — or the complications — of what amounts to a mini world war been so apparent as in the battle underway for control of Aleppo.”

But more is at stake than the outcome of Syria’s war. The Aleppo offensive is affirming Moscow’s stature as a dominant regional power across the heart of the Middle East. The advances by Shiite Iraqi and Lebanese militias are extending the sway of Iran far beyond the traditional Shiite axis of influence into Sunni areas of northern Syria. Although Syria’s army is claiming the victories, rebels, military experts and videos by the fighters themselves say almost all of the advances are being made by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, the Iraqi Badr Brigade, Harakat al-Nujaba and other Iraqi Shiite militias that are sponsored by Iran. …

For Turkey, the biggest concern is that the vacuum along its borders will be filled by Kurds, whose dreams of independence have been brought closer by the chaos in Syria.

It’s a fight Obama is now on the point of losing.  The Institute for the Study of War noted that despite disclaimers by the Obama administration that nothing vital was at stake in Syria — he famously referred to ISIS as a “jayvee team” — nothing could be further from the truth. A bad outcome in the Middle East would pose “an existential threat to the US and Europe”. The ISW conclude that “the activities of ISIS and al Qaeda interact with the policies of Russia, Iran, and China to endanger the international systems upon which American safety and freedom depend.”


Obama, by counting on the extraordinarily delusional belief that he could form a coalition with Iran, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, trapped himself in a dead end. ABC News reports that Obama’s deadlines and threats are ignored and forgotten even by himself. “The United States outlined no change in its Syria policy as a target date for a political transition passed Monday, despite warning a few months ago that no progress would lead to a more muscular approach for ending the 5½-year-old civil war.”

At a news conference in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. would press on with a multi-month effort to prod Syrian President Bashar Assad and moderate opposition groups into a lasting truce and talks on a unity government.

Kerry’s tone was dramatically different from early May, when he issued an Aug. 1 ultimatum to Assad and his main backer Russia and warned of “repercussions.” He said at the time, “Either something happens in these next few months, or they are asking for a very different track.”

But on Monday, the top American described a U.S. strategy for Syria that is stuck where it started.

“Almost all of the time from the moment of the announcement of the target date until today has been consumed by trying to get a cessation of hostilities in place that is meaningful,” Kerry said. “And that is precisely what we are engaged in right now.”

Michael Weiss noted that recent counterattacks by rebels aimed at breaking the siege of Aleppo have emphasized the administration’s irrelevance. “While Western politicians and bureaucrats wring their hands, hardline jihadists and Salafists have seized the initiative in northern Syria.”

Within the Syrian opposition, however, uplift was tempered by the grim awareness that hardline forces utilizing suicide bombers played the decisive role in the linkup between militias that captured the Artillery Academy and their counterparts approaching from the south along the Al-Ramouseh Road. The entire battle, originally named “Aleppo’s Greatest Epic,” enjoined by two dozen different factions, was in fact led by jihadists and hardline Salafists, principally Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham, a formidable super-brigade. Together, these two groups control the Fateh Army. … “Apart from Fateh Army,” al-Muhajer said, “the participation of other groups from Aleppo in this battle was between 0 percent and 5 percent.”


The other major factor in the rebel successes against the Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah coalition has been Turkey. Weiss notes eyewitnesses told the Financial Times that Turkey had poured truckloads of armaments into the fight. With both sides weak from exhaustion, the Aleppo battle may be the make or break moment for everyone.

Jane’s says that Assad’s survival now depends on how far Vladimir Putin backs his play. “Russian strategic objectives will determine whether the Syrian government can re-impose its siege on Aleppo,” it writes. “For the Syrian government to re-establish and maintain a sustainable siege would require Russian air and other fire support, escalating Russian commitment.”

As for Obama, he is so diminished that Putin is actually trying to steal his rebels. “The Russian government is trying to poach Syrian rebels trained and equipped by the United States for the war against ISIS, according to the political leader of a prominent Pentagon-backed brigade in Aleppo—and the rebels are strongly considering Russia’s offer.”

In this charged atmosphere, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s trip to Moscow has taken on an ominous significance. Considering the pivotal role Turkey played in driving back the Assad/Russian offensive, if Erdogan throws in with Putin or puts the crimp on US operations at Incirlik, Obama will be in a tight spot. “As Turkey’s relations with Europe and the United States are strained by the fallout from its failed coup, President Tayyip Erdogan travels to Russia on Tuesday to meet Vladimir Putin in a trip he may hope will give the West pause for thought.” What the Sultan of Stamboul might do in Moscow is quite obvious. “Turkey’s president is heading to Russia to meet with Putin, and ‘he is essentially blackmailing the West’,” said one source quoted by the Business Insider.


In the waning months of Obama’s term a quintessential disaster is playing out which threatens to rip NATO’s southern flank wide open and throw wide the doors to a catastrophe his successor will have to deal with. Whoever wins in November will inherit a can of worms.  The administration spent its time fruitlessly casting about for democratic forces to support and came up with nothing.

Obama forgot that “good guys” only exist in relation to one’s own foreign policy goals. The morality of proxies is conferred by the aims of the client. The job of presidents is to pick moral and rational aims. Proxies who then do that bidding are ipso facto on the side of virtue. In WW2, being on the “right” for European partisans was a matter of whose side you were on. When the administration declined to create a side, it also refused to set a compass and ergo acquiesced to a moral political vacuum.

If Churchill and Roosevelt had spent their time looking for “good guys” to support instead of saying, “follow me”, we might still be fighting World War 2 — and losing. Of all the insanities of “Leading from Behind” the craziest was the idea that the administration could find something they could get behind instead of leading from the front. If Obama wanted to create a good side in the Syrian battlefield, he should have shown the way. Instead he waited for a sign. That sign has now appeared as a summoning whistle from Putin. As matters stand, the wily Chekist will lead the way — to evil no doubt — with Obama along for the ride.

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