Belmont Club

When's the Noonday Train?

The Washington Post reports the situation in Syria has “forced” president Obama to meet with Vladimir Putin — something Obama was previously loathe to do.  “President Obama has not met one-on-one with President Vladimir Putin for more than 15 months but agreed Thursday to sit down with the Russian leader in New York on Monday as part of a broader effort to resolve the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.” The White House strove to give the impression that Putin was asking a favor of Obama.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that the meeting came at Putin’s request and that at the top of the agenda for Obama will be Ukraine, where, he said, Russian separatist troops remain in “clear violation of the territorial integrity of that sovereign nation.” …

Earnest said that when the two leaders talk about Syria, Obama would encourage Russia to join coalition efforts to combat the Islamic State but warn that “doubling down on the Assad regime is a losing bet.” He added that “a face-to-face sit-down seems appropriate at this juncture.”

Willing or not, Obama’s been dragged to New York to meet a man he would rather not. The Russians and Syrians for their part, are pushing the story that Obama has already pre-surrendered to Putin and is merely looking for a way to put the best face on it. AFP reports: “Russia and the United States have reached a “tacit agreement” on ending Syria’s bloody crisis, a senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said.”

Allegations that it’s all over bar the shouting were half-heartedly denied in the Washington Post story which said, “the administration says it has no interest in Putin’s still-vague proposal for Syria — that the West drop its insistence that Assad must go and that all parties join together to defeat the Islamic State. But administration officials still believe there are grounds for U.S.-Russian cooperation there, if Putin is willing.”  The administration’s line is that the president is doing the manful duty of meeting an unpleasant thug, but nothing has been settled with the lowbrow bruiser.

The Russians are working behind a fait acompli and that is a strong card.  Moreover, Moscow is amping up the pressure by sending a fleet for “drills” into the Eastern Mediterranean.  The message is: we’re here to stay and you’re not man enough to push us out. Sources told Bloomberg that Putin will go it alone if Obama balks. “President Vladimir Putin, determined to strengthen Russia’s only military outpost in the Middle East, is preparing to launch unilateral airstrikes against Islamic State from inside Syria if the U.S. rejects his proposal to join forces, two people familiar with the matter said.”

Putin’s proposal, which Russia has communicated to the U.S., calls for a “parallel track” of joint military action accompanied by a political transition away from Assad, a key U.S. demand, according to a third person. The initiative will be the centerpiece of Putin’s one-day trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, which will include a meeting with President Barack Obama, both the White House and Kremlin said Thursday.

“Russia is hoping common sense will prevail and Obama takes Putin’s outstretched hand,” said Elena Suponina, a senior Middle East analyst at the Institute of Strategic Studies, which advises the Kremlin. “But Putin will act anyway if this doesn’t happen.”

The manner of Putin’s air deployment to Syria resembled a wartime movement rather than an administrative evolution. The Aviationist describes how a combination of deception planning, evasive routing and close formation flying enabled Russian combat aircraft to tuck in under the expected transports.

According to one source close who wishes to remain anonymous, the Russian combat planes have probably deployed to Latakia trailing the cargo planes that were tracked flying to Syria and back on Flightradar24.com, something that other analysts have also suggested.

There is someone who believes that during their ferry flight, some if not all the formation (each made of a cargo plane and four accompanying fast jets), may have made a stopover in Iran before flying the last leg to Latakia. This would also explain why some Il-76s (with an endurance that would allow a non-stop fly from Russia to Latakia) were observed stopping at Hamadan on Sept. 18-19, just before the Sukhois started appearing on the tarmac at Latakia.

This was probably Putin’s way of showing his opponent that his hands could move faster than Obama’s eyes could follow. Israel probably caught the movement however. The same Aviationist article noted that the IAF tracked the Russians with a radar surveillance plane.

Also interesting is the activity of several Israeli aircraft, including a G550 “Nachshon Aitam,” a sort of mini-AWACS equipped with 2 L-band antennas, on both sides of the fuselage, and 2 S-band antennas, on the nose and tail of the aircraft.

The G550, a so-called CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) asset, flew a mission over the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon on Sept. 20 (and could be tracked online on Flightradar24.com…). Just a coincidence?

Obama’s hand appears to have been considerably weakened by Angela Merkel. Rick Noack of the Washington Post reports that Merkel wants Assad to be part of the negotiations and feels that Iran should be part of the negotiations as well, developments which sources characterized as “groundbreaking”.

In a statement that surprised many, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said early Thursday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be part of negotiations with the West.

“We have to speak with many actors, this includes Assad, but others as well,” Merkel was quoted as saying at a news conference following an E.U. summit in Brussels. Many German commentators and journalists described the statement as groundbreaking. “Approaching Assad would be an about-face in the way the West is dealing with Syria,” Der Spiegel concluded in its online edition….

Merkel’s willingness to bring Assad and Iran to the negotiating table will be met with skepticism in other Western countries, primarily in the United States and France. Last weekend, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said that the United States was “prepared to negotiate” but that “Assad has to go.”

These developments must certainly create unease in the Leader of the Free World, who looking behind him at his expected support, has found them all dwindling away. In the coming confrontation, Putin appears to be holding some very important European cards. Besides gas, one of them is the fate of the EU border-free dream. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, warned the EU has lost control of its borders and risks total collapse if they are not sealed.

“Today we are talking about millions of potential refugees trying to reach Europe, not thousands.

“It is likely that more refugees will flow towards Europe, not less. Especially as almost all of them feel invited to Europe.”…

“The most urgent question we should ask ourselves…is how to regain control of our external borders.

“Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to even speak about common migration policy.”

The EU’s plaint about the collapse of its dream should not be understood as a statement of determination to defend its borders so much as the hope that the Russian bear can be bought off or otherwise mollified.  If Obama thinks the EU will be right behind him on the lonely road to meet Vladimir Putin he might find they are all in the saloon or holding a service or sitting in the parlors of their homes all waiting for the clock to strike 12.

The Russian moves appear to be part of an deliberate plan prepared long in advance to bring the Western Alliance into an ambush zone. The most disturbing aspect of it is that president Obama didn’t even see it coming. Not even close.  He walked into it, got up, asked for the number the truck and walked into it again.  When he comes to himself he’ll be ready to ask a boy about a clock.  Maybe that way he’ll get the time of day.

Charles Krauthamer notes that Putin always seems to be one step ahead of the Obama. Yet despite the apparant truth of that assertion, it is hard to actually test the proposition.  Obama’s position on Syria has been so vague that he can plausibly convince his followers that, whatever the result, it was what he intended to begin with.  It’s pitiful to watch.

Obama has truly achieved a fundamental transformation in America. Once it may have thought of itself as Will Kane. But while nobody’s seen that sheriff lately, Frank Miller and his three men are very much in evidence down at the depot. But in 2015 nobody meets the Noonday Day Train  if there’s a train to anywhere out of town before then.

Open thread: who remains standing in New York?  What are the outcomes of the deal?

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