“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."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Shifting Sands in Syria - The Russian Game Changer

After Assad audience, Russia eyes seizing diplomatic initiative on Syria

MOSCOW (Reuters) OCT 22, 2015 - 20:38 - The Kremlin believes it has taught Washington an object lesson in how to take on Islamist militants in Syria. Basking in the afterglow of Bashar al-Assad's surprise visit to Moscow this week, it now believes it could lead the way diplomatically too. 
Russia's actions over Syria, from its decision to launch air strikes to the red carpet welcome it afforded Assad, have irked the White House, which does not want to be seen giving President Vladimir Putin a get out of jail card over the Ukraine crisis.
Yet there is a growing sense in Moscow, and among diplomats and politicians in some countries in the Middle East and the West, that Russia has a better chance than most to combine its increased influence over Assad with its military muscle in Syria's skies to broker a deal to end the Syrian conflict. 
"Right now Russia has more chances than any other country to settle this process," said Ivan Konovalov, director of the Centre for Strategic Trend Studies in Moscow.
"It cannot do this on its own of course. And Russia cannot control Assad. But it can guide him, make deals with him, and advise him as an ally. It's a massive ask but there is a chance that Russia could pull this off."
Others agree, albeit begrudgingly, seeing Moscow as a flawed interlocutor but one that nonetheless can play a constructive role.
Jamal Khashoggi, the head of a Saudi news channel owned by a Saudi prince, said Moscow is at least a more palatable potential broker for Riyadh than Iran.
"With Iran, it’s an issue of religion, of Shi’ite expansionism," he said. "But for Russia it’s about geopolitics and interests, so we can talk to the Russians," he said. 
Russian analysts believe their country's authority as a potential peacemaker had been strengthened by what they see as an effective show of military force in Syria and its repeated refusal to do a deal with the West that would have involved Assad stepping down. 
Western diplomats privately agree there is a window of opportunity for Putin to seize the diplomatic initiative, even if its chances of success are deeply uncertain.
"For me the question is less why is Putin doing this, but more why is he able to do it," said one Western diplomat, who works on the Syria and Iraq crises.
"And here the answer is, whether one likes it or not, because he is filling a void left by U.S. disengagement." 
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will try to push Moscow's so far unsuccessful initiative -- of a grand international coalition against the Islamists in Syria -- at a meeting in Vienna on Friday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will attend as will the foreign ministers of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Washington has rejected Moscow's criticism of its policies in the Middle East and reports that Russian strikes have been effective, arguing that they have focused their attacks mainly on Syrian government positions that are most threatened and made little inroads into defeating Islamic State.
"Secretary Kerry will once again reiterate our deep concern about the continued military support for the Assad regime," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters this week.
"In our view there’s not going to be a military solution to the civil war, and that any attempt to find one – certainly one that props up Assad – is only going to prolong it and make the threat of extremism deeper in Syria."
Russia expects the meeting to produce "an honest and objective exchange of views about the situation which will give an opportunity to map out a clear path for activating efforts to achieve a comprehensive political resolution,” said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry.
Yet the idea that Putin, the man the West loves to hate, could eventually emerge as the diplomatic broker-in-chief of the Syria crisis seems risible in many Western capitals and hard to swallow among key regional powers. 
The insistence that Assad must immediately step down may have softened somewhat, notably in Washington and Ankara. But it has not gone away, and is at odds with Russia's view that Assad is Syria's legitimate leader. 
Saudi Arabia, which is financing some of the militants fighting against Assad, has baulked at Russia's intervention. 
Speaking to reporters on the eve of the Vienna meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called Russian interference in Syria "very dangerous", accusing Moscow of escalating the conflict, backing a leader with blood on his hands, and of stoking a sectarian conflict.
"There will be no role that he can play other than to leave," the minister said of Assad.
Iran, one of Assad's and now Moscow's staunchest allies, says it is fully satisfied with the Kremlin's approach and that Moscow has kept it fully informed of its initiatives, including the Syrian leader's surprise visit. 
"We have supported Russia's measures in Syria. Russia and Iran and the Syrian government have close cooperation," a senior Iranian official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. 
But Turkey and Iraq, other key countries in the region, are a far more difficult prospect for Moscow.
Turkey, one of Assad's most vociferous opponents, has been incensed by the Russian intervention, which it says will only prolong the war, and by air space violations by Russian warplanes along its southern border. 
    Sources in President Tayyip Erdogan's office said the Turkish leader had used a call with Putin on Wednesday to emphasise his concerns about links between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state, and militia connected to the Kurdish PYD party in Syria. 
Opinion in Iraq meanwhile appears deeply divided. Although some politicians there want Russia to extend its campaign of air strikes to hit Islamist State targets in Iraq, others are fiercely opposed and sceptical of Moscow's aims. 
“There is a split between the Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs in regards to Putin. The Sunnis in Iraq agree with their Syrian counterparts in viewing Putin as a murderer who wants to keep Assad in power," Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi security analyst, told Reuters.
Some Shi’ites did favour growing Russian influence, he said, but they were also split and many Iraqis blame Washington for what they say is its own failed intervention.
Russian government officials say the Kremlin is not acting out of affection for Assad or self-interest. Moscow says instead it is trying to contain Islamist militancy before it spreads further afield.
A former Russian diplomat who served in the Middle East also said Moscow was not driven by any attachment to the Syrian president.
He said that Moscow, under Soviet rule, had close relations with then Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current Syrian leader but that there had been a cooling of relations when Bashar succeeded his father.
But now, after the strife in Syria, he said Bashar had warmed to Moscow. “He has no choice.” 
(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Moscow, Shadia Nasralla in Vienna, Yara Baroumy and William Maclean in Dubai, Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Saif Hameed in Iraq, Lesley Wroughton in Washington; editing by Anna Willard)


  1. Putin has seized the initiative and seems to be determined to bring Iran into a Syrian solution. Iraqi politicians are already disposed to consider a partnership with Russia. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US is unhappy.

    Without a doubt the US Neocon decade has been a disaster for the ME and US prestige. The US military establishment has been particularly damaged.

    The Russians if successful in Syria and Iraq will undoubtedly have a look at Palestine.

    The consequences to these changes are unknowable but potentially very dangerous.

    I think this rises to be worthy of a government investigation.

  2. We can't, as a result of our support, and fealty, to Israel, be "honest brokers."

    The world has figured this out, and Washington's little fee-fees are hurt.

    We pretty much suck.

  3. Sometimes you almost have to feel sorry for Mitt Romney. He has one great achievement in life: the Massachusetts health reform, which acted as a template for the Affordable Care Act. If he were a member of a sane political party, he’d be boasting about that record. But he wanted to be president, which meant having to accommodate himself to his party; and in Iowa, 81 percent of Republicans say that Ben Carson’s statement that Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery makes him more attractive as a candidate. So he has to trash the best thing he’s done.

    Sometimes, it turns out, he can’t maintain the facade. The other day he took credit for setting the stage for Obamacare. Then he tried desperately to walk it back, claiming that Obamacare has failed — which is literally and figuratively the party line.

    Which raises the question, if this is a failure, what would policy success look like?

    Obamacare has led to a rapid drop in the number of uninsured, especially in states that have fully implemented its provisions. It hasn’t covered everyone, but it wasn’t expected to: it doesn’t cover undocumented immigrants, and the relative complexity of the program always meant that some eligible people would fall through the cracks. The original CBO estimates were that eventually 92 percent of non-elderly residents would have coverage, and in Medicaid expansion states we’re getting there.

    Meanwhile, the whole thing has come in well below projected costs; insurance premiums will rise for 2016, but after two years of remarkably small rises that still leaves things cheaper than expected. And overall health care spending has come in far below expectations.

    None of the other terrible things that were supposed to happen — job loss, destruction of full-time employment, a surge in the budget deficit — have happened either.

    But to be a good Republican you have to insist that it has been a disaster. And Mitt Romney is therefore in the position of trashing his own life’s work. Sad. But he has nobody but himself to blame.

    Delusions of Failure - Paul Krugman New York Times

    1. Once you remove those non-citizens that are excluded by law, the Uninsured Rate in states that expanded Medicaid, and participated in setting up marketplaces, is down to around 4 to 4.5%. Pretty damned good.

  4. Original Sin and Global Stagnation

    OCTOBER 24, 2015 9:58 AM October 24, 2015 9:58 am 19 Comments

    For countries, getting trendy on Wall Street, and worse yet becoming part of a catchy acronym, is like finding yourself on the cover of BusinessWeek or Fortune: it’s a sure sign of big trouble ahead. So we should have known that the BRICs were heading for a nasty fall; and sure enough, emerging markets have gone from heroes to dogs in practically no time.

    But what are the implications for the world economy? Emerging markets are out, but advanced countries are in again, so isn’t it a wash? Unfortunately not, because there is an important asymmetry here.

    What is true is that all commodity exporters are being hit:

    Canada has kept interest rates low; it might even do some fiscal stimulus if the economy continues to weaken. But Brazilian policy is reinforcing the slump, with interest rates going up and fiscal tightening in prospect.

    This is not because the Brazilians are stupid. It’s partly because they came in with a relatively high inflation rate, so that they aren’t as relaxed about currency depreciation as the Canadians can afford to be. But it’s also because emerging markets still suffer to some extent from original sin — underdeveloped capital markets and a tendency to borrow in foreign currency. This sin isn’t nearly as strong as it was 15 years ago, when Barry Eichengreen and Ricardo Haussman coined the term, but corporate dollar-denominated borrowing after 2008 brought it partially back.

    The result is that as markets lose faith in emerging economies, these economies are pushed into contractionary policies; meanwhile, the advanced economies receiving the capital inflows aren’t responding with expansionary policies. So the overall effect of the new emerging markets disillusion is a global turn toward contraction. I still think it’s not enough to produce a global recession, but am less sure than I was a few months ago.

    1. Oh, and a US interest rate hike, which would not just hit the US economy but also, via a stronger dollar, hit the emerging markets via balance sheets, would do a lot to make things even worse.


  5. Report: Iraq Authorizes Russia to Strike ISIS Convoys
    Aims to Weaken ISIS Supply Lines
    by Jason Ditz, October 23, 2015

    According to a statement from Iraq’s Defense Committee leader Hakim al-Zamli, the government has formally authorized Russia to carry out airstrikes against ISIS convoys that have crossed into Iraqi territory from Syria, a move he says is key to weakening supply lines.

    The move comes amid a solid week of US officials warning Russia away from any involvement in Iraq, and threats to punish Iraq if they dared to accept any help from Russia, insisting Iraq had to choose between the two potential partners in the war.

    It’s unclear, however, if this authorization is a direct violation of US demands, since it appears to be limited just to operations in the immediate area around the border. Given how much of ISIS territory in Iraq is along the Syria border, however, it may be a subtle distinction.

    It may be sufficient, however, to avoid any public US retaliation, as it is clear the Obama Administration never seriously intended to end the war just because they weren’t getting their way, and can likely spin this as a concession from Iraq.

  6. It's kind of hard to pretend that you're taking ISIS seriously when you're turning down help - even if it is help from the Rooskies.

  7. Neo-Con Decade ?

    The last seven years the Democrats have been in the saddle.

    The trouble began when Obama pulled the troops out too soon.

    You are trying to re write history.

    After the Surge all was quiet for a good long time, then we elected a fraud, all the troops got pulled out and hell broke loose.

    So the Russians have walked into the vacuum.

    Does it really matter ?

    Hard to tell yet.

    I do hope Pooty gets bloodied up some, though I'd praise the guy if he saves some Christian lives.

    The very least USA should be doing now is supporting Kurdish Independence.

    We aren't, of course.

    We are doing nothing, really.

    At least Rufus has knocked off his daily tally of ISIS 'fighting positions', 'pick up trucks', 'ammo dumps' etc attacked or destroyed.

    And we hear very little these days of ISIS being eradicated from Iraq by - the Rufus extended prediction - Obama's end of office.

    We desperately need a new Commander - in - Chief.

  8. I doubt Russian bombing in Iraq will be much more successful than ours.

    Ground troops are needed and nobody wants to do that.

    So, the women get raped, the Christians, if any can be found, get beheaded, Obama hangs out at the lawn parties, history is re written at The Elephant Bar, General Rufus goes silent on his predictions, and my Niece rides her bike to work at Max Planck Institute of Brain Research, Dresden, Germany.

    Anything else new ?

    1. It might be though, when I think of Chechnya.

  9. What really went wrong here is that the Deuce, Bob, Rufus, Bush War (we all voted for the guy) went awry when US A voted in a true nimcompoop to the White House who willy nilly took all the troops out and let the whole thing go to hell.


    Garry Kasparov
    Henry Kissinger
    Uncle Bob

    For alternative history on West Bank Affairs see:

    The Criminals Malcolm X, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael

    1. Even The New York Times has taken to calling Obama's foreign policy "hallucinogenic"

      Not good, not a good situation at all.

  10. PUTIN

    On NATO
    Do you imagine we could be opposed to having democracy on our borders? What is it you call democracy here? Are you referring to NATO’s move towards our borders? Is that what you mean by democracy? NATO is a military alliance. We are worried not about democracy on our borders, but about military infrastructure coming ever closer to our borders.

    On talks with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad
    I asked him: How would you react if we found armed opposition groups who are ready to confront and really fight ISIS? How would you react if we supported their efforts <…> He replied: I would take it positively.

    On the Syrian conflict
    The division of Syria is totally unacceptable. This will not resolve the conflict; the conflict will acquire a permanent character. Nothing good will come out of it.

    I hope this [transfer of anti-air defense missile systems by the Americans to the Syrian opposition] is not going to happen. It will create danger also for American pilots; the American leadership are reasonable people, after all.

    On the U.S. missile defense system
    Does this [the creation of the U.S. missile defense system] not create a threat for us? Of course it does, and it changes the very philosophy of international security.

    Recently the United States conducted the first test of the anti-missile defense system in Europe. What does this mean? It means we were right when we argued with our American partners. It was about an attempt to destroy the strategic balance, to change the balance of forces in their favor not only to dominate, but to have the opportunity to dictate their will to all. They were simply trying yet again to mislead us and the whole world [on Iran's nuclear problem]. To put it plainly, they were lying.

    On assistance to Iraq in the fight against terrorism
    We contribute in the direction of Iraq by supplying weapons and ammunition. We cooperate not only by supplying arms and military equipment, but also by sharing information through a center established by representatives of Iraq, Russia and Syria. But we do not plan to expand it.

  11. Pooty has said the break up of the Soviet Union was the worst geo-political disaster in history.

    Did you notice that, when given the chance, ALL THOSE COUNTRIES in eastern Europe flew flew flew as fast as their little feet could carry then to The West, To EU, To NATO.....

    I will try to give a list of these countries off the top of my head ....

    East Germany
    Czech Republic

    I am forgetting and leaving out some, the list is so long.....

    The break up of the imperialist military system of the Soviet Union, a hold over from World War II, was the best political event of my lifetime.

    1. Let Pooty cry about it.

      I don't.

      He is a fraud of a fly fisherman too, one of his worst characteristics.

      He has taken the Cross.

      But he does, admittedly, know how to kill Sunni moslems.

      Religion has returned to Russia !

      If you are a journalist, and cross Pooty, your life expectancy goes down dramatically, but he has taken the Cross !

      He's just another asshole that loves to play 'the game'.

      C R A Z Y

      All of it.

      But at least all those European countries that were under the Bear can now go their own way.....

    2. He loves to play 'the game'.

      He has not a righteous truly spiritual thought in his entire criminal murderous Russian brain.

      Let him save some Christians as a by product.

      I will send him a 'thank you' note.


    3. But at least all those European countries that were under the Bear can now go their own way.....

      And, by God, I, at least, shall always praise the good old US of A for standing firm through all this shit, and particularly Ronald Reagan.

      "Tear this wall down!"

      Now all these languages of Europe, all these countries, can be something of themselves, create their own cultures, go their own way, make some choices on their own, and not have to mumble about 'dialectical materialism' with a Russian gun to their brain.

    4. And we hear tell on these pages of how USA is an "imperialistic" country.

      It is total 100% percent pure bullshit.

  12. And finally, on the lighter side, we can put this world controversy to bed rest --

    Germaine Greer: Transgender women are 'not women'.......Drudge

    Gaitlin's mom, by the way, lives in Clarkston, Washington.