American Idol

Anyone who thought things could not possibly become worse in Syria should think again. The administration's efforts to halt the Assad/Putin advances on Aleppo -- or to seem to halt it -- by proposing a ceasefire could actually compound the disaster.  In the first place it is mostly a fake ceasefire.  As the New York Times points out, it will not even stop the Russian bombing. "Whether the accord will halt Russian bombing in Syria is unclear, stirring deep doubt among Western allies and some nations in the Mideast."

It will let Assad and Putin keep their territorial gains.  It has not been drafted with the input of  some of the principal combatants on the ground.  It does not address the accusation that the US "has let Russia dominate Syria’s skies". In the words of the Guardian's Simon Tisdall Obama's ceasefire does not change facts on the ground but merely creates yet another hope, not even of a negotiated settlement, but a temporary cessation of hostilities.

Even as an idealistic longshot the ceasefire seems limited.  The principal belligerents seem more interested in making war after the truce rather than continuing it. Hours after the ceasefire was announced Bashar al-Assad declared he would "retake the whole country". Turkey vowed to send ground troops into the war in Syria, even as it prepared Incirlik air base to support a Saudi deployment  -- something which might also include United Arab Emirates. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for his part has warned of the possibility of a permanent or “world war” if Turkey and Saudi Arabia begin sending ground troops to Syria.

"We have fallen into a new Cold War," Medvedev said.

Meanwhile the Russian airforce is anticipating the ceasefire by striking administration sponsored rebel groups at what the New York Times called a "furious pace"   Putin has also successfully co-opted forces on the ground so that "US allies [armed with US tanks and small arms are] now fighting CIA-backed rebels".

Not long ago, U.S. jets and Shia militias worked together to battle ISIS. Today, those militias are trying to take down American proxies in Syria.

Iraqi militias who once fought ISIS with U.S. help are now working with Russian and Iranian forces to crush American-backed rebels in the strategic Syrian city of Aleppo, two defense officials have told The Daily Beast." ...

The forces the U.S. once counted on to take back Iraq’s cities are the same ones the Russians now are counting on to get Aleppo back. And those militias are fighting units of the American-backed Free Syrian Army—including the 16th Division, elements of Jaish al Nasr, and Sultan al Murad—according to Nicholas Heras, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security.

The Institute for the Study of War believes that the Administration is only a short distance away from comprehensive disaster unless it rapidly alters its policy.  "The United States faces a geostrategic inflection in Syria that it has not yet fully recognized."  It is sleepwalking toward losing all its effective proxies on the ground and with it, its last options in the region. The situation on the ground is now desperate with no coherent response from Obama.

  1. The surviving proxies are now outnumbered by combined Russian/Syrian/ISIS attackers;
  2. The Russians are striking at their lines of communication at will;
  3. ISIS is moving to cut one of the remaining lines of supply;
  4. A Kurdish offensive sponsored by the administration has had the effect of isolating the rebels from the Turkish border;
  5. The Russians have bombed the power and waterworks, except for those controlled by Islamic militants, which control the remainder to punish supporters of the CIA-backed rebels.

The Western "desire to assist the humanitarian crisis" combined with a paralyzing "fear of an escalation with Russia" has actually put Putin in a position to extort concessions.  With the administration under immense pressure from Europe to prevent the Allepines from either starving or joining the flood of refugees bound for Europe, Obama is painted into a corner. The New York Times reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry, facing both anger and skepticism from European allies about the willingness of the United States to intervene more deeply in the Syrian civil war, promised on Saturday to help close off the routes migrants were taking to Europe and warned Russia that its military effort to prop up President Bashar al-Assad of Syria would ultimately fail. ...

The exchanges added to a gloomy mood at the conference, with leaders deeply skeptical about Europe’s unity, its ability to cope with refugees, to stop the war in Syria or even defend its own borders.

As the highest ranking official from the United States, Mr. Kerry had the immediate task of reassuring the Europeans that the United States understood the huge stresses created by the arrival of a million refugees in Germany, many of whom passed through the main Munich train station less than a mile from where Mr. Kerry spoke.

“We in the United States aren’t sitting across the pond thinking somehow we’re immune,” he said, adding that America “understands the near existential nature of this threat to the politics and fabric of life in Europe.”

Putin and Assad are now forcing Kerry to pay for the privilege of sending humanitarian assistance to the trapped civilians. "The United Nations is warning that about 300,000 people in the rebel-held part of Aleppo could be at risk of starvation. The Syrian government has also succeeded in turning humanitarian aid — food — into a negotiating chit. In talks to end the fighting among world powers on Thursday, allowing food deliveries was offered as a government concession."

With 300,000 hostages under his control Putin can drive a hard bargain. "Privately, Mr. Kerry has told his European colleagues that he is worried that the migrant crisis could pull apart the European Union. “He clearly is fearful that the great experiment of Europe could break on his watch,” one senior official said. So great were the administration's fears of a continental breakup that Kerry adominished the UK to remain in the EU "after it emerged Barack Obama would intervene to encourage a remain vote in Britain’s EU referendum."

The world is now falling down around Barack Obama's ears. Both internationally and domestically, the super-powerdom upon which he thought to underwrite his Hope and Change agenda is giving way under his feet.  It's uncertain whether there is even enough to ride out his term in peace.  While the foreign policy establishment still goes through the motions of offering him advice, deep within them they must know the president is incapable of changing course.  He will remain the same president who got them into this mess in the first place. Nothing will change him.

The unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia has precipitated a mini-crisis in domestic politics for the same reason.  The New York Times reports that it has united the GOP presidential hopefuls against Obama's expected replacement.. "The death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday thrust the Supreme Court to the center of the already volatile Republican presidential race, with the party’s candidates asserting Saturday that President Obama should not nominate a successor." But the GOP must have known that Obama would not offer any conciliatory or compromise gesture.  Just as nothing can alter his foreign policy of defensive passivity, nothing can swerve him from the goal of "fundamentally transforming America."

Indeed nothing can.  Just now President Barack Obama declared that he will nominate a successor to Scalia, breaking a nearly 100-year tradition.

With the next weeks certain to bring a foreign policy crisis, and the next months a likely economic crisis, the death of Antonin Scalia is a reminder of how few degrees of freedom the old order has left.  With the presidential races now dominated in both parties by outsiders; with actual war drums beating on the international scene; with domestic politics galvanized around a fight over the Supreme Court, the inflexibility of Barack Obama himself will soon become the main issue.  It's drained the system of the last degrees of flex.

He is like a great, deaf, stone god whose acolytes must either decide to continue worshiping or flee for their lives.  His immobility is a great source of comfort to the Leftist faithful who see in their high priest the inevitability of the progressive project even as thunder and lightning gather over the temple.  But it is also the source of unease among those who suspect the stone is just stone; that there is no there, there.  Events will soon put his fitness as Leader of the Free World to the test even as he finds himself under pressure domestically.

Antonin Scalia's death has raised the volatility index on everything by one more notch at a time when there is precious little Design Margin left to spare.  Ordinarily the death of a Supreme Court justice would not matter.  However these may not be ordinary times.

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