“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."

Monday, March 14, 2016

Is this a “Mission Accomplished."

Putin withdrawing Russian forces from Syria: why now and why it matters

Updated by  on March 14, 2016, 5:00 p.m. ET  

On Monday, the same day Syria peace talks resumed in Geneva, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprising announcement: He would begin immediately withdrawing the “main" Russian forces from Syria, almost six months after he first intervened in the war.

To state the obvious, we should wait and see the degree to which Putin honors his word. Russia has sent large troop deployments into eastern Ukraine, which it denies, and its Syria intervention has heavily bombed non-ISIS rebels despite claims of targeting only extremists. So cautious skepticism is merited.

Still, there is real reason to suspect that Putin could be sincere — and that his withdrawal could be a positive step toward ending the Syrian conflict that has become the worst war of the 21st century.

To be clear, even if Putin does withdraw, I would still be surprised if Syria reached a peace deal even on paper this year, and I would be downright shocked if Syria's war actually ended before 2020. But if Putin does withdraw from Syria — which he says will begin on Tuesday — the world will be a little bit closer to that goal.

What Putin wanted in Syria and how he got it

Sasha Mordovets/Getty(Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
(Sasha Mordovets/Getty)

For all Putin's sweeping language about Syria as akin to the war against the Nazis, his aims always appeared quite narrow:
  1. To prevent Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad from collapsing 
  2. To win Russia some political leverage on peace talks
There is an odd tendency in Washington to treat Russia as a resurgent superpower on a terrifying march toward global domination, but in Moscow, Russian power is understood to be far more limited. It is often aimed at maintaining what little remains of Russia’s global influence, and that appeared to be the case in Syria.

Russia has military bases in only one country outside of the former Soviet Union, and that country is Syria. Military and politically, Syria is its toehold for influence in the Middle East and, to a lesser degree, in the Mediterranean. So when it looked like Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was going to fall, Moscow was desperate to prop him up.

In that, Putin succeeded. The Russian intervention, along with an even heavier Iranian intervention, helped Assad take back just enough territory to remain viable — though not nearly enough territory that Assad has any hope of actually winning the war outright.

So Russia did help to turn the tide in the war, though it's worth noting that Syria's war has, from the beginning, oscillated between rebel advances and Assad advances. Syria is a stalemate, and one with heavy outside intervention, which means the two sides are constantly escalating against one another.

Russia's intervention looked like something dramatically different, because it's Russia. But other countries — including states like Saudi Arabia and Turkey that back the rebels — have been intervening in Syria for years, pushing the momentum of the war one way or another.

That’s all to say that no one intervention (including America's) was ever enough to fix the core problem with Syria's war: It is a stalemate, which means that fighting will continue for years and to the detriment of everyone, unless there is a negotiated peace deal.

That brings us to Putin’s second objective in Syria: playing just enough of a role in the war to win Russia a seat at the negotiating table and thus ensure Moscow will have a chance to press its interests in any final peace deal.

Just before Russia intervened, there was strong indication that Russia was losing influence in the Syrian government, which was increasingly dominated by Iran's growing presence in Damascus. Indeed, some reports suggest that Assad even invited Russia's intervention to counter Iranian influence. While Russia and Iran are nominally aligned, they are also competitors for regional influence.
But now no one, not in Damascus and not in Geneva, can deny that Russia is a significant player in the Syrian proxy war. It has to be included in peace talks. Russia has its seat at the table, which it can use to guarantee that it retains its military bases in Syria and its high-level contacts in the Syrian military.

Why Russia would withdraw now

 John Cantlie/Getty Images
Posters of Bashar al-Assad burn at a protest in Syria.

The timing speaks to this: Peace talks are just getting started again. And for the first time perhaps ever, Syria peace talks look — well, I wouldn’t call them hopeful or even particularly viable, but at least substantially less doomed.

This is because Syria has been experimenting with a recent ceasefire, and while there have certainly been violations, and the ceasefire is very fragile and could collapse at any moment, it has seen violence drop dramatically. This has saved many lives, allowed humanitarian access to areas otherwise off limits, and made peace negotiations look a little realer.

This is, for Moscow, a good time to step back. Russia has already achieved its immediate aims, so it wins little by fighting more. The status quo is okay for Putin to accept and to use as a basis of negotiations.

But much more important may be Russia’s signal here to Syria.

Russia has shown time and again that it has very limited influence over Bashar al-Assad's regime, which has proven itself to be reckless, often escalating the fighting even at moments when it was strategically unwise. If Moscow wants to freeze the status quo in Syria, it has to convince Assad to finally negotiate in good faith and not break the ceasefire outright.

Putin thus has to do more than just tell Assad to finally try for peace: He has to force him. Russia, by removing some significant chunk of its military force in Syria, makes Assad weaker, and thus makes negotiation more attractive. If you don’t believe Putin would coerce his own ally, consider that Assad was reportedly notified about Putin's decision just today.

Putin's wisest strategy, a few analysts have pointed out to me, would be to remove forces such that Assad feels pressured to negotiate for a peace deal, but to keep just enough of a Russian force in Syria so as to deter anti-Assad forces (Saudi Arabia, the US) from escalating, by implicitly threatening that Russia would just match them by re-intervening. And that indeed appears to be what Putin is doing.
If this analysis is correct, then this suggests that Russia is ready to negotiate in earnest, and also that Moscow believes it is at least possible that Bashar al-Assad is ready to do the same. That doesn't mean that peace is around the corner, that the parties can find mutually agreeable terms, or that either Putin or Assad is about to become our partners in peace. But even a possible willingness to accept a negotiated settlement is a good sign.

The costs of Russia's Syria adventure were exceeding the benefits

(Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin appears to be declaring mission accomplished in Syria, and it appears there's something to this: He has achieved his two immediate, if unstated, aims in Syria. But it’s a superficial victory, and underneath it were some real setbacks.

Putin has failed in his two stated goals in Syria: bringing Assad's military victory and leading a global coalition against Syria's extremists.

Such a global coalition, which Putin called for last year in his first United Nations General Assembly speech in a decade, would not just ensure Russia’s interests in Syria but would end Russia's isolation from the West — a problem that is far costlier to Russia, and far more important to Putin, than anything that could happen in Syria.

Assad still can't win in Syria and Russia is still isolated from the West, which never answered his implicit requests for a grand bargain, in which the West accepts his help in Syria and forgives his crimes in Ukraine. His withdrawal from Syria now (again, if it actually happens) is thus a declaration of defeat as much as a declaration of victory.

Syria was also not quite the domestic political victory that Putin may have hoped for. In 2014, he had intervened in Ukraine, which proved so popular with Russians that Putin’s approval ratings skyrocketed — something that wasn't just a feel-good moment for Putin but may have actually helped his regime survive a crippling economic downturn.

But Russian euphoria over Ukraine will inevitably fade, and the Russian economy is still a garbage fire, so if Putin wants to feel secure in his rule he needs to deliver another big political victory. Syria was never it. Public support for the war was initially low, and while it later improved, it was never as popular as Ukraine. Russian state media, often a good bellwether for Kremlin thinking, is portraying the war as a victory — but also as ending:
For all its trouble, Russia has, at best, returned to the status quo of 2014: when its ally Bashar al-Assad was neither winning nor losing the stalemate in Syria; when Russia, its economy sinking and influence declining, was isolated and sanctioned by the West; and when Putin had only one foreign war to worry about fighting. That's the baseline that Russia fought so hard to return to. But it seems to have gotten there.


  1. How many civilians did Russia kill?

    How many homes did it destroy?

    How many wounded?

    Why is it not important to know?

  2. Now Quirk is a Truther...

    QuirkMon Mar 14, 07:05:00 PM EDT
    Show me copies of the documents.

    Unless Quirk sees the actual documents of the peace offers by the Israelis to the Palestinians, they don't exist.

  3. He bombed a lot of hospitals, intentionally.

    Russian rules of engagement being more lax than ours.

  4. The interesting thing about the Russia draw down is WHY?

    My sources say that it's because Russia is fed up with Iran and Assad's war goals.

    Putin is cutting his loses and getting out...

    The truth about Syria is brutal.

    Assad, Iran and Hezbollah murdered 300-400 thousand civilians, made 12-15 million real refugees, wounded 1.5 MILLION citizens

    And for what?

    Massive destruction....

    So now Assad is in power, like Saruman beholden to Sauron, Assad is but a puppet of Iran. Hezbollah are the orcs.

    But what of the real damage?

    The Deuce and Jack Show LOVE to talk about the numbers of homes Israel destroys of the Palestinians, the number of dead, wounded... (at last count the last war in gaza killed 2200 palestinians)

    But what on scale?

    Assad (and his allies) KILLED 300,000 to 400,000.....

    How many is that per minute in the last 5 years Jack?

  5. The sunnis are resisting the idea of a federated Syria, with lots of autonomy for the regions, fearing that it will lead to the breakup of Syria, which is exactly what should happen, of course.

    1. .


      They don't like it because the other two areas are where the oil is.

      That's why there could not be a peaceful breakup in Iraq. That is why it was stupid to argue that the US could just wave a want and dictate Iraqia est omni divisa in partes tres.

      In a federated Iraq, Anbar will continue to take it in the ass more so even than they are taking it now.

      Iraq is a zoo.

      Thank you George Bush.


    2. Well, the fact is Iraqia est omni divisa in partes tres on the ground now. It would have been easier through an amicable divorce, a proceeding I always support, as being the civilized way of going about breakups.

    3. And, in case you were again confused by countries, a may be the case, it was Syria I was referring to:

      "The sunnis are resisting the idea of a federated Syria, with lots of autonomy for the regions, fearing that it will lead to the breakup of Syria, which is exactly what should happen, of course."

    4. as may be the case

  6. Unlike Bush II in Iraq, Putin had limited goals and accomplished them. His entry and exit from Syria was more akin to Bush I in The Gulf War .

    He wasn’t trying to dismantle Syrian authority and then build a Syrian democracy.

    Putin established limited goals and a reasonable time to achieve them.

    What were his goals?

    1. Maintain a regional ally and a military base in Latakia.
    2. He surprised the World by showing Russia was no longer willing to passively accept its interests being violated outside of Russia’s borders.
    3. He entered Syria without warning and did the same in his exit. His doing so he enhances his unpredictability, useful in statecraft.
    4. Putin’s intervention was strengthened Russia’s stature with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
    5. Putin is leaving Syria with an air defense system that will temper Israeli aggression in Lebanon and Syria.

    Bottom Line:

    Assad remains in power.

    Europe is fed up with ME wars that force refugees upon them and resist further US/Neocon adventures.

    Inadvertently he did us a favor in showing us how it can and should be done.

    “Mission Accomplished.”

    1. So the death and destruction of innocents doesn't matter to you when it;s not the Israelis doing it?

    2. .

      We didn't need Putin to show us how to do it.

      G.H.W. Bush showed us how to do it in the 1st Iraq War.


    3. Oh yes indeed, our Obama followed 'the Putin/G.H.W.Bush way' (in a different situation) and pulled all the troops home from Iraq, and look at Iraq class savagery....

      So it must all depend on......?

    4. .

      If you are a stupid hick from Idaho or not, I guess.

  7. galopn2Mon Mar 14, 08:34:00 PM EDT
    Lord have mercy. So this is how the 4th Reich comes to America.


    Idaho BobMon Mar 14, 08:40:00 PM EDT
    Yes, perhaps. Illiterate mobs trying to shut down free speech......

    I recall Obama saying, 'If they bring a knife to a fist fight, we'll bring a gun'.

    Remember that one, galopn2 ?

    I don't recall you being upset by it at the time.

    Idaho BobMon Mar 14, 08:47:00 PM EDT
    Ash ?

    Do you recall that ?

    I don't like some of Trump's rhetoric, by the way.

    But Obama was just as bad, or worse.

    I don't recall Republicans ever massing to form a mob and shut down free speech by the Democrats.

    And I hope they never do.

    Do you ?

    Buehler ?

    Condi Rice was forced to cancel a Graduation Speech by threats.

    Ayann Hischi Ali has been forced to silence on campus here in the USA by threats.

  8. Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, recently toughened her rhetoric on TPP after losing the Michigan primary to rival Bernie Sanders. She wants tougher "rules of origin" standards, which specify where motor parts must come from for a vehicle to enter the US tax-free.

    Tokyo regards access to the US car market as its main gain from TPP. "I don't think there is any chance of renegotiating over car tariffs," says Naohiro Yashiro, a professor at Showa Women's University in Tokyo.

    The growing threat that TPP will fail in the US casts a shadow over Japan's own debate about ratification, which is due to start after the budget passes this month.

  9. .


    Now Quirk is a Truther...

    QuirkMon Mar 14, 07:05:00 PM EDT
    Show me copies of the documents.

    Unless Quirk sees the actual documents of the peace offers by the Israelis to the Palestinians, they don't exist.


    Evidently, you accept the fact that these peace offers from the Israelis to the Palestinians exist. Does that make you a truther or merely credulous? You are continuously offering up factoids here and when they are checked out many prove to be false.
    Don't I have the right based on passed experience to be a bit skeptical?

    An example (from the last stream):

    What is "Occupation"Mon Mar 14, 01:45:00 PM EDT

    In 1973 Israel offered to give up the west bank for peace and the collective arab world famously said NO...

    I don't recall that (well, to be honest in 1973 I was too busy hitting the bars and partying to be worrying about Israel). What I should have said is having gone around on these issues with you before I don't recall seeing anything about Israel making a peace offer to the Palestinians in 1973. All I recall is the 1973 war.

    I took a quick look for what Golda Meir was doing or saying or offering in 1973 regarding the West Bank. Couldn't find anything specific. The only things that came close from 1973 were...

    1. Arab sovereignty in Jerusalem just cannot be. This city will not be divided — not half and half, not 60-40, not 75-25, nothing.

    o Time (19 February 1973)

    2. In July 1973, only three months before the outbreak of the war, Meir announced that it was her intention to "hold on to every inch of occupied territory until the Arabs [are] ready to negotiate — on Israel's terms."6

    Of course, the main thing is that I couldn't find anything indicating Golda Meir made any new proposals regarding the the Israeli/Palestinian peace process.

    Yet, you insult me for asking for a link?


    1. It's common knowledge that the USA under Clinton made an offer to both the palestinians and the israelis, the israelis accepted it and the palestinians refused.

      What do you want?

      the easy button?

    2. .


      What has that to do with the alleged Israeli offer you mentioned from 1973? Are you denying your comment on the Israeli offer in 1973. If not, give me the details or a link so that we have something to talk about.

      As for Clinton, get specific, what offer are you talking about and when? There have agreements, well actually, principles agreed to going back to Carter, Nobel prizes have been handed out, but all they amount to are agreements to negotiate. They never seem to get around to talking about actual issues, Jerusalem, right of return, borders. When there is a sympathetic Israeli PM actually willing to talk about these issues, he seems to get bumped off by the Israeli right or to go to prison for corruption. Such was the case through the 90's with the Oslo Accords.

      If you are talking about the 2000 Camp David Summit, that's a different matter.

      You can read about the Summit here including the positions of both sides,

      Strictly my opinion, but agreeing to what was offered by Barak and Clinton would have not amounted to negotiations but rather to a complete capitulation on the part of the Palestinians.

      As I jokingly noted on the last stream, offering someone a Hobson's Choice is not a negotiation it is 'making them an offer they can't refuse'.



      So I ask again, so that we can talk about specifics, what offer are you talking about?


    3. Quirk is a misogynist. He keeps arguing for another woman suppressing moslem state. Which would only try to become an armed camp trying to destroy Israel, like Gaza. These people do not deserve a state. It would be misogynist, an apartheid state ('no Christians or Jews will ever enter our land'), an armed camp trying to destroy Israel.

      It would just be trouble, and sadness.

      But Quirk doesn't seem to care about misogyny, apartheid, military aggressiveness....

    4. .

      Damn, Bob, how stupid are you? I'm not advocating for anything. I am not saying that the PA leadership is not as bad as the Israeli. How many times have I said there would be no two-state solution?

      What I am doing is calling bull-shit on WiO's constant complaint 'Israeli has offered the Palestinian's a state numerous times in the past and the Palestinians keep refusing it."

      The Israeli's don't offer Palestine an actual state. They offer them a state in name only. They offer trinkets for the natives. They don't negotiate they demand. WiO talks about 2000 and cites what he calls common knowledge. It may be common to low-information or low-intelligence people who are fed their talking points by AIPAC, Likud, and Bill Clinton who had already pick out the furniture for the 'Bill Clinton Middle East Peace Room' in his presidential library but not to people who actually read what Israel was putting on the table.

      I put a link up. Read it. Then come back to me and we can talk; otherwise don't bother me with your stupid straw man. You are starting to get me pissed and it's a little early in the morning to be calling you out for your bullshit.



    maybe Putin is getting out before he loses his airforce?

    BEIRUT – Syrian rebels near Hama purportedly downed a regime fighter jet with a surface-to-air missile, according to one of the videos that emerged from the mysterious incident, contradicting previous rebel claims that anti-aircraft fire brought down the plane.

    On March 12, the Jaysh al-Islam rebel group claimed responsibility for the shoot down of a MiG-21 jet conducting bombing raids over Kafr Nabudah, a small town 40 kilometers northwest of Hama.

    The rebel faction stressed on Twitter that it had downed the jet with an anti-aircraft gun, releasing a video showing insurgents firing the weapon system—which was mounted on a pick-up truck—in the direction of the plane.

  11. All I ask is that on matter of illegal immigration and deportation we get up to Mexico's speed -

    March 15, 2016

    Do Mexican flag-wavers know what happens to illegals in Mexico?

    By Silvio Canto, Jr.

    On Friday night, we saw Sanders placards and a few communist flags at that anti-Trump rally. I guess you'd expect that at a leftist rally with Bill Ayers in attendance.

    It was the Mexican flags that caught my attention.

    I don't know for sure who was holding the flags but my reaction was the same. In other words, do these kids understand how Mexico treats illegal immigrants or even legal foreigners engaged in politics?

    Let's take a look at Mexico's immigration laws:

    What would Mexico do? The answer is easy: deport them on the spot. In 2002, a dozen American college students, in Mexico legally, participated peacefully in an environmental protest against a planned airport outside of Mexico City. They swiftly found themselves deported as law-breakers for interfering in Mexico’s internal affairs.

    Another person had a sign that read: "Liberation not deportation".

    What in the world does that mean? Does the young woman understand that every country has immigration laws and deports people violating them?

    Donald Trump is not my candidate. He has made some foolish remarks over time, specially his "in your face" campaign talking point that Mexico will pay for the wall. The "rapists" and "criminals" lines painted way too many people with the same brush.

    At the same time, opposing a Trump visit by waving a Mexican flag shows incredible ignorance of Mexico and what Trump is saying.

    P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

  12. :)

    I don't recall that (well, to be honest in 1973 I was too busy hitting the bars and partying to be worrying about Israel).

    Admirable honesty !!

    The readers are beginning to notice Honest Q often has 'missing places' in his memory bank.


    1. .

      Luckily, we now have Google to fill in the blanks.


  13. Arrest the Thugs

    The Left’s bullies cannot be allowed to hijack freedom of speech for an entire nation.

    March 15, 2016

    First the Left unleashed anti-war rallies against President Bush in support of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Then it brought out Occupy Wall Street to push the radical Marxist agenda that Bernie Sanders is now riding like a red wave through the Democratic Party. Finally, it unleashed the racist hate mobs that looted and burned neighborhoods and cities, singled out white people for harassment over the color of their skin, terrorized campuses and incited the murder of police officers.

    The common agenda of all these hateful campaigns was to radicalize, intimidate and terrorize Americans into submitting to the totalitarians of the Left. From the inner city neighborhood to the Ivy League campus, from a couple having brunch in the morning to a police officer on patrol being shot in the head, from a political rally to the Thanksgiving Day parade, these thugs of the Left are out to enforce their tyrannical Party Line through political terror.

    While the media call these so-called protesters “non-violent,” they completely ignore the fact that suppressing someone else's free speech is an act of intimidation. To prevent someone else from speaking is not a debate. It's the refusal to have a debate. Protesters have the right to be heard, but silencing views you disagree with is not a protest. It is the exercise of totalitarian power. And the Left’s organized efforts to prevent opposing points of view from being heard have now migrated from the campus to the city. The media call these crybullies the victims. But they are not victims. They are thugs who are using brute force to suppress the free speech and political freedoms of others.

    Donald Trump has as much right to hold a rally as Bernie Sanders. His supporters have as much right to come out to hear him speak. The Left's refusal to accept this is a definitive rejection of freedom of speech and democracy.

    For all his faults, Donald Trump is to be commended for standing up against all this, and for his cool under fire. When a leftist fascist attempted to attack him recently at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, and succeeded in grabbing his foot before he was subdued by Secret Service agents, Trump quipped: “I was ready for him but it’s much easier if the cops do it, don’t we agree?”

    Trump’s opponents, both Republican and Democrat, and the Obama administration should realize what’s at stake – if, that is, they have any interest in preserving the American tradition of non-violent political disagreement. The unseemly haste of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich to blame Trump’s rhetoric for the violent shutdown of his Chicago rally is extraordinarily disappointing: they should realize that the same violence can and will be turned against them if they stray too far from the thugs’ idea of what constitutes acceptable political discourse.

    There is only one answer to a movement that is determined to thuggishly shut down the speech of others. And that is prison....