ISIS Attacks Russian Base T4; the Kremlin’s Missing Musical Notes

CNN: Did ISIS attack Russian military equipment at key Syrian base?

This is asserted by STRATFOR, a reliable organization. The analysis is good. The open-source conclusion is that, Russian assertions to the contrary, the strike occurred.

The success of ISIS in damaging Base T4, at which advanced weapons were stationed, doubtless evokes the shudders of the Soviet-Afghan War. After ten years of Soviet presence approximating 100,000 soldiers, Soviet losses forced a withdrawal in February 1989.

In New Cold War, Not!, I wrote

All labels carry baggage. The Cold War label carries this: We are in conflict with a powerful, implacable enemy. But it’s not true. The canary is Syria, and the cat is going to have serious indigestion.

Since I wrote that, I have been wondering whether some of the readers of this blog would be interested in a more explicit warning as to how bad it could get. Has the Kremlin considered the consequences if one of the regional enemies they have recently made decided to supply the insurgents with MANPADs?  Three things drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan: the indigenous mujahideen, the CIA, and Stinger MANPADs.

Some of the irritation Russia has supplied to the West has been trivial, such as barrel roll intercepts of reconnaissance aircraft. Some of it has scared the West enough to spend good money, as with the five new NATO “tripwire” brigades. Some of it is just a pain in  the ass,  little pinpricks intended to erode, by infinitesimal degrees, American “hegemony.”

But with all that, the U.S. is too sane to give MANPADs to the Syrian opposition. Other regional powers, to whom the Russian presence is a more existential threat, could break the unspoken compact. ROKETSTAN, a Turkish company, manufactures Stingers under license. But even without the MANPAD complication, the Russians are now to have the experience of indigestion.

This is because the effectiveness of the opposition, whatever the composition, is not simply a matter of arms, or even politics. On a very basic level, it is the nature of an indigenous resistance to adapt, and therefore, become more efficient. One of these steps has formal recognition in the literature, the emergence of an insurgency, as happened after the American conquest of Iraq.  But as the Syrian insurgency has existed from the start, it is important to recognize other steps. Even as the military order of battle of an insurgency deteriorates, it can become more efficient through a process of evolution. As the Russians know well from their Chechen experience, the only cure for it is scorched-earth warfare with massive commitment of forces.

The Russians recently proposed, again, that Russia and the U.S. commit to joint airstrikes against ISIS. This was personally surprising. Henry Kissinger has explained that Vladimir Putin, at some point, was a client. Kissinger explains that Putin is not a friend, but that “they want to know how things work.” If some things were left unexplained,  Kissinger’s “White House Years” explains everything. It’s a big-hearted look at diplomacy that explains why this is not in the cards.

Thus far, Russian diplomacy resembles the musical pentonic scale, missing some notes to which the Western ear is accustomed. Adeptness with surgical saber thrusts is the base note. Ascending the scale,  It blusters, it threatens, and it occasionally makes nice. The “Year of Friendship” with North Korea was a nice gesture. The fifth note of the scale might be the Russian emphasis on the reliability of their friendship, as was granted to Hafez Assad in the Soviet era, apparently without restrictions on subsequent behavior.

American policy is not exempt from criticism. Failing to recognize that hope is inadequate justification for  foreign policy, it lacks a prospect for the Russians to grasp. And with their musical limitations, the Russians are apparently unable to synthesize it themselves.

The five notes of Russian foreign policy are not enough. The Kremlin must find those missing notes, stat.

Leave a Reply