Belmont Club

Southern Flank

Suddenly NATO’s southern marches are astir with trouble. The European Union’s heady advance into Eastern and Southern Europe has produced serious challenges. The most obvious flashpoint is Greece. Robert Kaplan writes in the Wall Street Journal that admitting Greece to the EU was a mistake, but now that Brussels has turned it into a cornerstone of its edifice there is no prising it out.

On purely economic grounds, Greece should never have been admitted to the European Union in 1981 and might have been ejected from the eurozone months ago.

But what many European policy makers know—even if few articulate it—is that Europe will be increasingly vulnerable to Russian aggression if its links to Greece are substantially loosened. Greece is the only part of the Balkans accessible on several seaboards to the Mediterranean, and thus is a crucial gateway to and from the West.

NATO can’t afford to lose Athens. “Greece spiraling into chaos would be a significant strategic disruption for Europe and therefore for the U.S.,” retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, a former NATO supreme allied commander, said in an interview. “There’s more to this crisis than money and the financial markets.”  Not that anyone knows of a way to keep Greece solvent inside the EU, but that’s where it has got to stay anyway.  Brussels has created an insoluble problem and bet the alliances’ southern flank on it.  All of a sudden the unstoppable expansion of the EU has turned into a fight for survival.

One can conceive of an arc that starts in the Ukraine, descends through the Black Sea to Turkey and Iran then follows the coast of the Mediterranean around through Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. That whole arc is now trembling on its foundations, while president Obama celebrates the supposed best week of his two terms.

Southern Flank

Southern Flank

Starting from the top, aerial drone footage has found a complete Russian forward operating base inside Ukraine.  “What’s significant about where this Russian FOB is located is that it’s sandwiched between (Ukrainian-held Volnovakha) and (separatist-held) Telmanovo, and would therefore play a lead role in any forthcoming Russian offensive on Mariupol, the port city on the Sea of Azov which also happens to the economic powerhouse in the Donetsk region.”

John McCain warns there’s trouble brewing. “U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) released the following statement today on new aerial footage released by the Ukrainian volunteer regiment Dnipro-1 showing a Russian military camp in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.”

“Two weeks ago, I traveled to eastern Ukraine and visited with the Dnipro-1 volunteer regiment, where I was shown and briefed on new video footage captured by a Ukrainian drone, which shows Russia’s continued buildup of tanks, armored vehicles, rocket launchers, and military personnel inside Ukraine. This new evidence, now public, further demonstrates that the ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine is fiction, and that Russia is deepening its military involvement in Ukraine.

“Standing idly by and ignoring the mounting evidence of Russia’s duplicitous war on Ukraine signals weakness, potentially inviting the very aggression we seek to avoid. The United States must take immediate steps to deter Russia by increasing the military costs of its aggression, starting with the provision of the defensive weapons and other assistance the Ukrainians desperately need. Vladimir Putin must be forced to determine how long he can sustain a war he tells his people is not happening.”

To be fair Washington, like Putin, is not saying anything either, the Obama administration being currently too busy blocking a new Redskin’s stadium because it objects to the name to do much.  It seems to work this way: Putin pretends not be advancing and Obama pretends not to be retreating.  The press in both countries seem willing to support the line.

But in actuality Washington,  like the Brussels, ain’t what it used to be. Like a lonely heart at a clip joint it is resorting to paying for company.  Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal  in an article titled “Secret Dealings With Iran Led to Nuclear Talks” describes how Obama bribed the Ayatollahs to pick up the phone.

Iran secretly passed to the White House beginning in late 2009 the names of prisoners it wanted released from U.S. custody, part of a wish list to test President Barack Obama’s commitment to improving ties and a move that set off years of clandestine dispatches that helped open the door to nuclear negotiations.

The secret messages, via an envoy sent by the Sultan of Oman, also included a request to blacklist opposition groups hostile to Iran and increase U.S. visas for Iranian students, according to officials familiar with the matter. The U.S. eventually acceded to some of the requests, these officials said, including help with the release of four Iranians detained in the U.S. and U.K.: two convicted arms smugglers, a retired senior diplomat and a prominent scientist convicted of illegal exports to Iran.

The exchanges through 2013 helped build the foundation for the first direct talks between the two nations since the 1979 Islamic revolution, current and former U.S. officials involved in the diplomacy said.

Obama is paying for bottle service with a bearded ayatollah. All the same, the area from the Ukraine, Turkey and Tehran has the solidity of crumbling limestone. If the Russians advance, even with slow motion hybrid warfare, what will stop them? Which brings our survey to the map to Syria.

The map currently shows “Syria” but it shouldn’t.  A senior Israeli defense official says that the Syrian Arab Republic “is gone”. All that is left now is a shattered collection of pieces.

“Syria is dying. The funeral will be declared in due time. This Bashar Assad, he will be remembered in history textbooks as the one who lost Syria.

“Until now he has lost 75% of Syria … He is, practically, governor of 20% of Syria,” Gilad added. “And his future, if I may predict it, is shrinking all of the time. And maybe we will have him as the president of ‘Alawistan.'”

Jordan is thinking about grabbing some of the loose pieces. “The Jordanian military is actively implementing plans to create a humanitarian buffer zone in the south of the country, Sam Jones, Roula Khalaf and Erika Solomon report for the Financial Times.” Israel has gotten into the act, moving to take some of militias under its wing.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon admitted Monday that the country was in fact doing more than just cheering on the good guys.

In a briefing to Israeli diplomatic reporters, Yaalon acknowledged that Israel was helping out selected rebel groups operating in Syria near the border of the Golan Heights. “We’ve assisted them on two conditions—that they don’t get too close to the border and don’t let Islamic extremists get too close and that they don’t touch the Druze.”

Obama, on the other hand, is having trouble getting anyone in Syria to trust him. Stripes reported that “the U.S. military’s program to train and equip thousands of moderate Syrian rebels is faltering, with fewer than 100 volunteers, raising questions about whether the effort can produce enough capable fighters quickly enough to make a difference in the war against the Islamic State.”

But it’s not just the Levant any more. ISIS is now engaged in driving Hamas from Gaza, intent on replacing it right on the border of Israel. “Islamic State insurgents threatened on Tuesday to turn the Gaza Strip into another of their Middle East fiefdoms, accusing Hamas, the organization that rules the Palestinian territory, of being insufficiently stringent about religious enforcement.”

Egypt has suffered its most devastating military losses since the 1973 Yom Kippur war in simultaneous attacks on its troops in the Sinai. The Washington Post reports that “militants linked with the Islamic State unleashed a wave of attacks on the military in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, briefly seizing key checkpoints and signaling a bold new campaign by insurgents in one of the region’s most stable countries,” killing at least 70 soldiers.

This follows on the assassination of Egypt’s most senior counterterror bureaucrat in a car bomb attack. “One of the architects of Egypt’s crackdown on dissent has been killed by a car bomb, as the country’s insurgency claimed its highest-profile victim yet.” The Associated Press reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a rebellion against president el-Sissi. Going West along the Mediterranean we come to Libya, then Tunisia.  The administration’s gambit of allying with moderate Islamists to fight radical Islamists does not seem to be working.

What is worse, ISIS has now struck multiple times across wide geographical distances.  It is hitting police stations, intelligence agencies and military targets in a calculated campaign to blind and humiliate the West. Once they take out law enforcement and inteligence they take out the state.  Intel hasn’t seemed to pick it up in time to warn the targets, which is worrying since they have every incentive to defend themselves.

The depth of the crisis is reflected in the fact that British parliament is considering air strikes in Syria in response to the massacre of British tourists in Tunisia. Downing Street has called up a “Dad’s Army”, consisting of retired police snipers and operatives, to meet the threat of an ISIS attack on Britain.

In the face of these physical threats all the administration appears able to do is respond with symbolic triumphs. Obama has reopened the Cuban embassy in America. “President Barack Obama said Wednesday that it was past time for the U.S. to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba as he announced that the two countries were reopening their embassies after more than 50 years”.  It’s “historic” but it also opens a base for Cuban espionage right in Washington DC.

Which brings the subject back to Greece.  The significance of Greece is that of the final tile in a house of dominoes.  If what underlay it were solid, then you could just toss it on.  But with the ramshackle palace of triumphs barely holding together, everyone is being very, very careful about handling Athens.  Let it slip and it might just start the whole house of cards tumbling down.

When president Obama began his term he promised to end wars.  He was going to “reset” with Russia.  There was — and he gave this assurance in Cairo — going to be a new period of love and understanding with the Muslim world.  He was going to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria.  There would be racial healing throughout the land.  We could look forward to a world free of nukes.  Now the only uncertainty in the public’s mind is whether the Washington Redskins will get a new stadium.

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