Faith of Our Fathers

Sammy Ketz of Agence France Press says that Syria is about to throw in the towel. “Weakened by years of war, Syria’s government appears ready for the country’s de facto partition, defending strategically important areas and leaving much of the country to rebels and jihadis, experts and diplomats say.”


People close to the regime talk about a government retreat to “useful Syria.”

“The division of Syria is inevitable. The regime wants to control the coast, the two central cities of Hama and Homs and the capital Damascus,” one Syrian political figure close to the regime said.

“The red lines for the authorities are the Damascus-Beirut highway and the Damascus-Homs highway, as well as the coast, with cities like Latakia and Tartous,” the political figure added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The coastal Latakia and Tartous provinces are strongholds of the regime, and home to much of the country’s Alawite community, the sect of Assad.

Damascus still controls 50% of the country but 40% is in the hands of al-Qaeda/ISIS forces, with 10% going to the Kurds.  The rebels have the momentum. The Mahgreb and Orient Courier has a map showing how much Assad’s perimeter, shown in pink, has shrunk in the last year. It’s obvious that the rebels can cut the Assad regime in two if it succeeds in thrusting over the mountains north of Damascus.

The Fall of Assad

The Fall of Assad

Assad’s fall can provide the Obama administration with a chance to claim its first victory in the region, if it can claim the laurels from the bloody hands of ISIS and its Sunni state allies.  The strategic possibilities of a Assad’s defeat and the consequent humiliation of Iran were laid out in a Stratfor report in July, 2012.  The collapse of the Damascus regime would be a victory of policy because  Obama set out to topple Assad as he set out to topple Khadaffy.

“The United States, France and other European countries have opposed his regime,” Stratfor says, “Russia, China and Iran have supported it, each for different reasons.” The goal of China and Russia, according to Stratfor, was to encourage the US to bleed itself out trying to contain Iran. The goal of Iran was simply to expand.  If Assad falls, China and Russia “lose” along with Iran.

The Russians and Chinese clearly understood that if this [Iranian expansion] had happened, the United States would have had an intense interest in undermining the Iranian sphere of influence — and would have had to devote massive resources to doing so. Russia and China benefitted greatly in the post-9/11 world, when the United States was obsessed with the Islamic world and had little interest or resources to devote to China and Russia. With the end of the Afghanistan war looming, this respite seemed likely to end. Underwriting Iranian hegemony over a region that would inevitably draw the United States’ attention was a low-cost, high-return strategy.

The Chinese primarily provided political cover, keeping the Russians from having to operate alone diplomatically. They devoted no resources to the Syrian conflict but did continue to oppose sanctions against Iran and provided trade opportunities for Iran. The Russians made a much larger commitment, providing material and political support to the al Assad regime.


But as Assad began to fold the wily Russians decided to cut their losses, leaving the Iranians holding the bag. Moscow slowly tiptoed toward the exit to await events. “It seems the Russians began calculating the end for the regime some time ago. Russia continued to deliver ammunition and other supplies to Syria but pulled back on a delivery of helicopters.”  Putin has already crawled out from under the wreck.

As the Russians withdraw support, Iran is now left extremely exposed. There had been a sense of inevitability in Iran’s rise in the region, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula. The decline of al Assad’s regime is a strategic blow to the Iranians in two ways. First, the wide-reaching sphere of influence they were creating clearly won’t happen now. Second, Iran will rapidly move from being an ascendant power to a power on the defensive. …

The pressure on Iran is now intense, and it will be interesting to see the political consequences. There was consensus on the Syrian strategy, but with failure of the strategy, that consensus dissolves. This will have an impact inside of Iran, possibly even more than the sanctions. Governments have trouble managing reversals.

One of the reasons ISIS has been so keen on projecting itself and its atrocities in the media is impress upon the world its identity as the victor in the conflict. If Assad is ever dragged into a meat freezer ISIS will record it on video to leave no doubt it was they that conquered the Syrian Arab Republic. Following the PR custom of ancient warlords they enter each fallen city with an ostentatious display of brutality.

Islamic State militants have executed at least 400 mostly women and children in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra.

Eye-witnesses have reported the streets are strewn with bodies – the latest victims of the Islamic State’s unrelenting savagery – on the same day photographs of captured Syrian soldiers have emerged.

It follows the killing of nearly 300 pro-government troops two days after they captured the city, now symbolised by a black ISIS flag flying above an ancient citadel.


This undercuts the instinct of the administration to take credit; they want Damascus without the road of bodies that paves the path to it; they want the prize without the optics.  Yet the situation, according to Stratfor, is ripe with balance of power possibilities. “The current situation opens the door for a genuine balance of power in the region that does not require constant American intervention … In the end, that means that Turkey will begin moving into a position of balancing Iran for its own interests in Iraq.”

In other words it’s a golden opportunity to set the Sunnis against the Shia, pit the Turks against the Iranians, and neighbor against neighbor. Balance of power is such a clinical term for stirring up trouble.   A more vivid description of BOP was provided by Michael Scheuer, former CIA head of the Bin Laden team in an interview with Britain’s Channel 4.

I think we should back away from the whole thing. The thing was ideal when IS was advancing on Baghdad because Sunnis were killing Shias. That’s exactly what we need. We’ve proven that we’re just militarily incompetent or that the military is so shackled by its political leaders, that it can’t defeat these people. But our best hope right now is to get the Sunnis and Shias fighting each other and let them bleed each other white. …

Mr Cameron and Mr Obama and most Western leaders seem to love the idea of us being bled to death by them, rather than the other way round. And we have the problems that have been created by multiculturalism and diversity in our own countries, in Europe more severely than ours but it’s coming our way too.

Channel 4’s host was taken to task by shocked viewers for not remonstrating with Mr. Scheuer, but as noted in previous posts, that’s really the ticket president Obama has bought by leading from behind.  He’s like the man who’s bought the ticket to a peep show and is now too embarrassed to go inside.

One might argue that president Obama really played a deep game from his first day in office, perhaps intending all along to single-handedly destroy the Islamic world by withdrawing from the region. But the refutation for this hypothesis surely lies in his single-minded determination to let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. What sense does it make to trap Iran in a corner then give them a bomb? Especially since the Saudis have made noises about buying their own nuke in turn?


More probably there was no deep calculation behind the events unleashed by administration. They simply blundered into the position they find themselves in now. As Daniel Halper notes, president Obama formally greeted the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia by the wrong name, getting the names of his ancestors wrong too. Hillary couldn’t even remember the name of the US ambassador on the night of the attack on the Benghazi consulate.

Incompetence, rather than deep genius, may be more important in history than we would like to admit. For example, arrangements made before the battle of Austerlitz for the Austrians and Russians to jointly concentrate came to nought because the Austrians showed at a different time from the Russians because they  were using a different calendar.  Nothing is shocking about human frailty, except to people who thought they were in control

Perhaps the saddest realization of the Great is to discover at the end of their lives that their power — all that they schemed for — was illusory after all.  Woody Allen delivered what the Washington Post called a “morbid speech” at the Cannes Film festival. In it he proclaimed his life’s work to be vanity.

No matter how much the philosophers talk to you or the priests or the psychiatrists, the bottom line … is life has its own agenda and it runs right over you while you’re prattling. … We’re all going to wind up in a very bad position some day. The same position, but a bad one. … Because in the end it has no meaning. We live in a random universe and you’re living a meaningless life, and everything you create in your life or do is going to vanish, and the Earth will vanish and the sun will burn out and the universe will be gone.

It’s senseless only in relation to Allen’s script. His problem was the belief that he was writing it. The apparent randomness of history should remind us, on Memorial Day, of how great an act of faith our forefathers made in carrying us to this point. The men who crossed Omaha Beach or took Mount Surabachi with Bibles in their pockets and simple belief that they could make the world  right didn’t know that America would win the war, just as the men who took Ramadi didn’t know that politicians would give the city back. They only knew they had to try, armed with a wisdom the Great rarely learned: that neither the future nor heaven can be treated like a business proposition.


You give without knowing what comes next.

Perhaps the worst effect of the modern infatuation with the Narrative is how it encourages leaders to assume they’re “in control”.  Politicians are perpetually required by the media to reconcile their past statements with their current actions as if there were  no room in the universe for God or chance. Yet in any complex system effective anticipation is strictly short term hence it is men of character who fare the best simply because in an unpredictable system to consistently do the right thing always maximizes the payoff.

The word for that attitude once was faith.  But in a secular sense it is simply the realization that the optimum strategy is keep making the best move. You can’t think ten moves ahead of history. Perhaps the earth will vanish and the sun will burn out, as Allen says, but until then … we’ll see.  The worst mistake anyone can make is Assad’s: to assume you can write the ending, when in fact you can’t.

When you’re cutting over from a replacement system you’re convinced was programmed by it idiots, it pays to do it by phases or at least keeping the old server on standby so you can fall back on it in case your genius new system crashes and burns.

What is generally inadvisable is to have the old system carted away to the shredder before irrevocably switching to your new, untested code. Yet to a certain extent, this is what the supersmart Obama administration did. They deconstructed the old order, so sure were they in the excellence of its replacement.  They were sure it would work. Maybe eventually it would have worked.

But it better work now, because it’s all they have.

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