“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Syria Buys a Russian Insurance Policy.

Kremlin sets sights on Middle East
Last week Moscow claimed territorial sovereignty over the Arctic -- now its navy is planning to operate out of Syria
August 7, 2007

JERUSALEM -- Days after Russia sent the diplomatic world reeling with its audacious flag-planting beneath the ice of the North Pole, the Kremlin is moving to reassert itself in warmer climes as well, plotting the return of the Russian fleet to a Syrian port on the Mediterranean Sea.

With much of the world still agape, and the Canadian government fuming, over the bold voyage under the Arctic ice by two Mir submarines last week, the head of the Russian navy announced that he wanted next to plant the white-blue-and-red Russian banner in the Middle East. The new Russian strategy envisions returning warships to a Soviet-era naval base at the port of Tartus.

"The Mediterranean Sea is very important strategically for the Black Sea fleet," Admiral Vladimir Masorin said as he toured a Russian base in the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol. "I propose that, with the involvement of the Northern and Baltic fleets, the Russian navy should restore its permanent presence there."

It would mark the first time Russia has established a military presence outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the USSR fell apart in 1991.

"It's a symbol, the planting of a flag. Just like the one Russia put under the North Pole," said Alexei Malashenko, an expert on the Muslim world at the Carnegie Moscow Centre. The intent, he said, is to declare that Russia has returned to the Middle East, where Moscow held wide influence during the Cold War, backing the socialist regimes of Syria, Iraq and Egypt against U.S.-supported Israel.

It's a move that many in Israel and the United States will have trouble separating from a broader pattern of renewed Russian support for countries and groups Washington and Tel Aviv see as enemies.

"The Russians are coming" read a front-page headline in yesterday's edition of Israel's mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot newspaper. "A Russian flag on Syrian soil has significant strategic implications. Firstly, it challenges the United States and the dominance of the Sixth Fleet stationed in the Mediterranean. Secondly, with its actual presence in Syria, Russia is announcing that it is actively participating in any process and conflict in the Middle East, that it has a stance of its own and that it must be reckoned with," the article read.

It went on to speculate that a Russian presence in Syria could handcuff the Israeli military in the event of another war over the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since 1967.

The planned return to Tartus is just the latest thorn the Kremlin has thrust in the side of the United States and its plans to remake the Middle East. Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush have both gone to great lengths to insist the two countries are not on the verge of another Cold War. But the Kremlin and the White House, already butting heads in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, are increasingly at odds across this volatile region.

Mr. Putin, who has repeatedly lamented U.S. dominance in what he derisively calls a "unipolar world," has allowed Russian technology to be used in Iran's controversial nuclear program despite the overt suggestion by the Bush administration that Tehran's pursuit of nuclear power, which Iran says is for civilian purposes only, could trigger a war.

Russia's relations with Syria have warmed even as Washington has sought to isolate Damascus over its ties with Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as its alleged support for insurgents in Iraq. Two years ago, Moscow wrote off a nearly $10-billion Soviet-era debt owed to it by Syria. Now it's reportedly in the midst of selling medium-range missiles and MiG-31 fighter planes to Damascus over Israel's objections.

The Kremlin has also happily bucked the White House line when it comes to dealing with Hamas, the Islamist movement that recently seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Israeli and U.S.-backed Fatah movement.

While Moscow maintains good relations with Fatah via Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (who speaks Russian and did his PhD in Moscow), it has been one of the few non-Muslim countries to maintain contacts with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

Though Mr. Putin voiced support for Mr. Abbas while he was in Moscow last week, Hamas officials announced the next day that Mr. Meshaal had been invited to Moscow as well. "The level of relations with Russia is excellent," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

While much of the motivation for backing Syria and Iran can be attributed to crass commercialism - there are few markets these days for Russian military hardware - the underlying policy increasingly appears to be that Russia supports whatever the United States is against, and will throw its lot in with anyone willing to stand up to U.S. hegemony.

But as dramatic as the Russian fleet's return to Syria might be, Mr. Malashenko said his country's navy remains in such a dilapidated state that it's unlikely to affect the balance of power in the region, given the overwhelming presence of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.

The Russian fleet's return to Tartus would, for now, be just a statement of future intent, he said


  1. Saw Mr Putin's soul, he did.

    Then told US all about it.

    Nuclear reactors and anti-aircraft missiles in Iran, planes and such to Syria and Venezuela.

    Mr Putin is on course, but he's no lap dog. Ask the mussulmen, in Chechnya, where the Hama model was employed. not US style "shock and awe", but death, destruction and a razed city.
    Old school stuff

  2. I posted an article warning about this almost three years ago, I think, at Belmont.
    As in Waziristan and ABC, the media would be a better guide to our actions than the Rose Colored Glasses President.

    ...maybe he convinced himself he saw pink in them eyes, not red.

  3. The Brits do well in Afghanistan. What about the Afghans?

    But Afghanistan’s national government will have neither the manpower nor the favors necessary to control Afghanistan’s provinces. Kabul never has controlled the country and never will.

    Thus, what should be of interest is what the Americans, the British, NATO, and indeed Mr. Karzai are doing to empower local Afghan towns and villages to defend themselves against Taliban and al Qaeda re-infiltration. In the long run, no one else in Afghanistan will be able to do this job.

    Afghans in the provinces have two choices. They can develop a culture of local self-defense against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Or they can allow Taliban and al Qaeda re-infiltration and then suffer the devastating consequences of sporadic punitive raids as the Afghan national government, the Americans, and NATO strike back.

    A culture of local self-defense is clearly the better option. But what is anyone doing to help bring this about?

  4. And Ace on one of the previous links.

    MlR in the comments seems to make sense *cough*, *hack*...erm.

  5. "...most of us were well aware, course we were only thinking with single syllable words."

    Of course you were, Doug. It's only more interesting to hear it from someone who said it all along - back when you were doing background on dissenters (Worse Than Terrorists!) and the MSM was your...bete noir.

  6. "It was, after all, a conservative who said that politics is the art of the possible. Ron Paul is not possible. His candidacy belongs to the realm of dreams, not practical politics. But, oh, what sweet dreams!"

    What have conservatives gotten by observing "practical politics" after a century fundamentally, philosophically guided by statism?

    Ron Paul won't be elected. Nor is that the reason to vote for him.

  7. It was, interestingly enough, said mentioned Bismark who introduced the world's first modern social welfare system in Germany, to fight off the ever-rising Social Democrats. Didn't work.

  8. Come on, cutler, Mr Bush, Mr Cheney and Ms Rice all declared Basra a success when the Brits announced they were leaving, a few months ago.

    Surely they couldn't have been wrong. Could they?

    I mean, if they were wrong about Basra, they could be wrong about Ramadi and the balance of Anbar.

    From a resounding success to near collapse, in just a few short months. Those darn Iraqi, just not with the US program, are they?

  9. I don't know who you're shadow-boxing, but isn't me.

  10. The taxing Mr. Lang on O'Hanlon and Pollack:

    "They both said that for them success in Iraq now amounts to enough stabilization to allow our orderly departure."

    Now, which way will the administration go?

    Crocker has the far harder job come September, though expectations in that direction have been visibly lowered.

    US combat forces can sit on the lid in the current manner for about six more months - more if the 18 month tour materializes in January.

    They could declare success on the current surge and then go the way of a "diplomatic surge" - which would be an interesting time-waster, and if it's a time-waster that's desired (if you don't want to just dash on out after your first appreciable gains on the ground in years) then...someone's thought of it.

    You could consolidate forces and...begin dashing on out, going to strategic strikes until all's been handed over. Wouldn't be pretty. Won't be pretty anyway.

  11. Sorry, cutler.

    I wish there were more interest in Paul among mainstream Republicans. But I guess that's why they're mainstream Republicans.

  12. To my neighbors, fine Republicans all, he's another Stockdale, not quite rising to the credible idiosyncrasy of Perot.

  13. Why are you apologizing?

    I'd like to think I've learend a bit in the past 2 or so years, but I thinkthis still just about describes where I stand.

    Which is to say, very pessimistically, and struggling between pragmatism and idealism. I would walk over coals for a new Barry Goldwater.

  14. Of course there's some stuff in there that sounds riduculous some years later, but I think the conclusion stands. Ties in a bit with this one, as well: Is Classical Liberalism dead?.

  15. Thanks for the links.

    On the question of the death of classical liberalism (nicely addressed by Hayek in Why I Am Not A Conservative): My daughter is a small-l libertarian and her first foray into campus politics was with the fledgling big-L Libertarians. They were such a mess that they almost immediately offered her the chairmanship (if you could call it that). If only a new chair could cure their problems, which are legion everywhere.

    I offered that Milton Friedman was not unwise to work within a major party and that this would be the better route. But classical liberalism is not on the rise in the Republican Party, as it was when Friedman and others began their work of classical liberal revival. And the Democrats, some of whom recognize an opportunity to exploit, are going to be busy for some time attempting to answer to their Progressives.

    It's a bleak picture.

  16. I'm a Cato conservative, though, rather than a Bill Bennett conservative, and this again brings to mind the observation, readily apparent to any scanner of The Corner on any given day, that conservative alone has no good definition.

  17. I figured you were a CATO-type, which is why I was surprised when you didn't support the President's immigration snafu.

    If you had to place me, it is probably where I am also. Without serious brainstorm, some of my hang-ups with CATO are:

    1. Globalism, which makes me worry that non-interventionism is obsolete.

    2. I do believe that American power stabilizes significant parts of the world (i.e. the new European, post-realism man is a bunch of bullshit).

    3. Distrust of ideology, which is man-made and flawed. With regard to CATO, it means I'm leary of what I consider one-world libertarianism, including, for example, open borders. It also means that, as you probably know from arguign with me before, there are some things, like the morality of the draft, where I occasionally wander off the libertarian reservation. Another example where I'm torn before idealism and pragmatism.

    I agree with Friedman and what became known as "fusionism," but also agree that we're currently losing in the Republican Party, as in many places. Frankly, I've already written off the Democrats for the foreseeable future. They're statist and group-politico to the core.

    If you think "conservative" means nothing, then what about "progressive"? The former at least claim to represent the past, while the latter attempts to monopolize the future.

  18. "I do believe that American power stabilizes significant parts of the world (i.e. the new European, post-realism man is a bunch of bullshit)."

    At the risk of getting over-technical, I'm generally more of an offensive, classical realist, rather than a defensive realist. But once again, I've also got that ideological hangup which prevents me from committing to any generic explanation of human interaction.

  19. "...I was surprised when you didn't support the President's immigration snafu."

    Hard to support a snafu. They were going to have to deliver the law, or quietly deliver nothing.

  20. If you think "conservative" means nothing, then what about "progressive"?

    - cutler

    I think Progressive is more philosophically coherent, owing to its ideological root. I vehemently disagree with it, but that's another matter. "Conservative" has no ideological root. It is a defensive action against the Left and Romanticism without comprehensive philosophical grounding, or any at all, really. A true grab bag. Anyone can capture the title of Conservative.

  21. "I think Progressive is more philosophically coherent, owing to its ideological root. I vehemently disagree with it, but that's another matter. "Conservative" has no ideological root. It is a defensive action against the Left and Romanticism without comprehensive philosophical grounding, or any at all, really. A true grab bag. Anyone can capture the title of Conservative."

    I don't find it all that surprising that an aggregate movement would disagree on specifics and the definition of their movement. Part of this is exaggerated due to the fact that our two party system reinforces the desire to create large umbrellas. I think if we went and picked apart the coalition currently calling themselves "progressives" we'd find they have their own idiosyncracies.

    Forgive me if it seems like I'm going over the obvious that you already know, but even that "reaction" has philosophical roots, for example the importance order and slow change. I.e. that things developed for a reason, we are not infinitely smarter than our forefathers, and therefore we should tinker carefully and not in a revolutionary manner (which leads to, of course, obvious critiques of our Iraq misadventure).

    The European version is a bit more difficult for me to rationalize me because there is no starting point, since their aristocracy and most of the old institutions are long gone. American conservatives, on the other hand, can point to the Constitution as the starting point (which has its own philosophical grounding in natural rights, seperation of powers, etc).

  22. And we shall never forgive that first-rank scold and "conservative", James Watt, for banishing the Beach Boys from the Mall on the Fourth. It's been all downhill ever since.

    Anyone can be a conservative, cutler. Anyone.

  23. "for example the importance order and slow change."

    Please read Hayek's essay online. I do appreciate your point. Really, I do.

  24. Even Goldwater was, compared to today, a social conservative. Hard to build a movement without them.

  25. Been a while since I read it, though I recently went through Road to Serfdom again. I'll do so.

  26. I part ways at the banishing of the Beach Boys - who only ever had the afternoon venue, after all. I'm sorry.

  27. You are right about attempting to build a movement without them, though. Or with them, for that matter.

    Thus in Reagan we ended up with the Moral Majority.

  28. Conservative has to mean something more than cracker barrel homilies, cutler. And no one can finally determine what that "something" is. So we drift.

  29. On the pragmatic side, out of all the possible negative results of politics and political coalitions, no Beach Boys is a relatively minor one, I think...said as an "oldies" fan.

  30. So says you, young man.

    The finest Mall Fourths we ever had ended there. Or maybe it was actually later when Mancini gave up his nighttime West Lawn gig.

    Just illustrating a point.

    As long as you continue to take ideas seriously. That's what matters.