Reuters: NATO seeks to manage Russia’s new military deployments; Old Russian Joke

According to Reuters, U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti  told defense ministers that Russia was seeking, in military parlance, “escalation dominance,” according to people briefed on the discussions.

This is a reasonable assertion. But Britain’s ambassador to NATO Adam Thomson is quoted as saying, “It is obviously trying to signal but it is not clear that we know how to understand those signals.”

Scaparotti’s assertion is reasonable because Putin and his planners, like western planners, gravitate towards formal thought frameworks. But also like western thinkers, the formalities are impositions on instinctive thought patterns. Without the genes of conflict, there would be no conflict. When is the last time you saw two palm trees shooting at each other?

The roots of the current escalation of tensions are memorable. Some  Russian speaking knuckle-draggers (apes), took it upon themselves to “rescue” the eastern Russian speaking provinces of Ukraine from the evil Ukrainians of Kiev, whose sins were significant, but not of the mortal variety.

Within Russia, there was widespread support for the knuckle-dragging nationalists leading to a surge of Anschluss sentiment. There was even one supporting preauthored white paper, though the Kremlin denies it was theirs. After some weeks of temporizing, Putin’s choices were difficult: to harness this sentiment in support of his political machine, or oppose it. He apparently judged he was not strong enough to survive the latter course. He saw opportunity as well, but it’s a fine point.

The EU and the U.S. responded with sanctions at which the Russians originally scoffed. Perhaps they thought the Chinese would replace that West. It now appears that the Chinese have noticed two things:

  • In contrast to China’s drive against corruption, Putin’s state relies on strategies that, according to the revised Chinese standard of behavior, constitute corruption. Unlike China, Russia is not evolving  towards a Confucian version of Plato’s Republic.
  • While China is still a place of arbitrary detention, it is still a relatively safe place to do business.

The Fortune article How the KGB (and friends) took over Russia’s economy (Last Updated: September 10, 2008: 8:42 AM EDT  ) describes  the strong-arming of B.P, for which there is no comparable China story:

Consider the case of BP (BP), which thought its partnership with a group of Russian billionaires, TNK-BP, was a textbook joint venture. Instead, the British oil company finds itself under attack: Its Russia-based employees have been hit with dubious charges of industrial espionage, the CFO of the venture recently stepped down, and the CEO has publicly complained of “sustained harassment of the company and myself” by Russian authorities. Industry analysts believe they’ve seen this scenario before – last year Royal Dutch Shell (RDS-B) was forced to cede control over its Sakhalin oilfield to Russian companies (see “Shell Shakedown”) – and predict BP will eventually pull out in frustration, followed by a state-controlled energy giant taking over the business.

The result of all this, and Russia’s military posturing, is that, among  the most advanced countries in world, Russia is a pariah. Vladimir Putin could not have planned this. But from his upbringing, he is susceptible to the notion of cultural superiority. Searching for a new Russian ethos to replace communism, he happened to imagine the solution in a throwback to the time of the Tsars.

What Adam Thomson refers to are not signals, except in a very crude sense, explained best by the telling of an old Soviet joke:

A poor peasant lives with his family in a one-room hut. His only possessions are a horse, a cow, and and a pig. He asks the commissar for permission to add a room to the hut. The commissar orders him, “Take the cow into your hut and live with it!” After a week, the peasant entreats the commissar, “It is even worse with the cow in my small space. May I please enlarge my hut?” The commissar then orders, “Take the pig into your hut and live with it!” After another week, the peasant is going out of his mind. He asks the commissar again, “May I please enlarge my hut a little bit? There is no room to move.” The commissar sternly orders the peasant to take the horse into his hut. After a third week, the peasant has become a raving lunatic, but he gasps out one final request. The commissar replies, “You may take the animals out of your hut.” The peasant throws himself on the ground and cries, “Thank you, thank you!”

By  being incredibly nasty, the West will thank the Russians for any kindness that may be forthcoming.

Putin is an intelligent man, but few are the figures of history who successfully crafted a civilization, or even a national culture. The man has overreached. The other day, I had an enjoyable discussion with an intelligent German, who offered two opinions:

  • The West mistreated Russia in the Glasnost period.
  • Putin is bad, and has to be stopped. Otherwise, he asked, when will it stop?

The German’s two opinions are not contradictory. We can neither blame ourselves for creating a monster, or give ourselves a pass. Neither can we vilify Vladimir Putin for his attempt to found a modern state with a foundation of nothing modern.  But the time for admiration is past. The problem is bigger than he is, and I don’t mean it as a denigration. It’s a very big problem.

The  error of Putin’s Russia, possibly encouraged by some western actions, is to make the problem of Russia a version of the map-coloring problem. On a political map, how, using a limited number of inks, can the entities be colored so that no two adjacent have the same color? How can Russia’s internal stability be favored by cross-border tensions? The notion that internal stability is favored by neighborly relations is a modern, western notion. Post 2008, it is not a Russian concept.

Adam Thomson, and policy wonks in general, think of the “Russian signals problem” in terms of the SETI decoding of signals of an advanced civilization. But it involves dressing up  instinctive behavior with unjustified complexity, when an amoeba might suffice. The Reuters article refers to the Moscow troop concentration:

NATO says its decision to send 4,000 troops, planes, tanks and artillery to former Soviet republics in the Baltics and to Poland next year is a measured response compared to what NATO believes are 330,000 Russian troops amassed near Moscow.

They are around Moscow because that is where they can be seen, reinforcing domestic paranoia, and incidentally, to fend off Chechens, revolutionaries, nationalists, and the like.

Now that Putin’s Russia has converted national survival into a version of the map coloring problem, we’re stuck with a new version of Containment. But Putin won’t live forever. His RS-28 missiles, fueled by very dangerous chemicals, will rust or explode in their silos. Vigilance and patience are justified.

But let’s not try very hard to interpret Russian “signals.” If I were a Russian, I would want the West to believe that they exist. For the meaning, such as it is, refer to the joke.



CNN, Shame! Raise Your Standards! “Russia unveils ‘Satan 2 Missile”

CNN: “The warhead will weigh 100 tons…”


It’s tragic when a news outlet considers musical scoring of their “news” more important than accuracy. The last time I flagged CNN, it was in CNN and Yellow Journalism, “U.S. bomber flies over DMZ” In their endless quest for shock value, CNN have done it again.

Super heavy lift missiles exist, but the RS-28 is not one of them. The 100 tons referred to is the gross weight of the missile, not the warhead. The maximum payload, the combined weight of all the warheads it can carry, is about 10 tons.

It was already possible for Russia to destroy the U.S., and the U.S. possesses reciprocal capability. The strategy is called MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), and it is very old news. The greatest value of the new missile is in the inducement of irrational fear. CNN, in their quest for fear-driven readership, serves the Russian cause admirably. Of course, it helps when a weapon is named “Satan.” It’s just in time for Halloween.

Some points to consider:

  • The U.S. has never had the capability to defend against a Russian missile strike, nor does Russia have the capability. Hence the ability of the new Russian missile to evade U.S. defenses is meaningless.
  • The destructive power of a nuclear warhead increases by a small (exponent < 1) fraction of a size increase. For this reason, the U.S. has emphasized smaller, more accurate warheads. They work better.
  • DoD experts have studied the problem of deterrence for decades. The problem is well under control.
  • The real fear is on the part of the Russians. There is no such thing as a strategic arms race without the participation of both parties. I suggest we let it remain a Russian preoccupation.

The RS-28 is described as liquid fueled. In military use, for prompt launch time, the use of hypergolic propellants is required. Quoting The Register,

Further tech details are not forthcoming, although it’s assumed the RS-28s will use the same RD-274 engine cluster (4 x RD-273 units) burning a hypergolic mix of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and N2O4 (nitrogen textroxide) that lift the R-36M2 Voevoda. The advantage of this system is that the fuel components are comparatively easy to store over long periods, as opposed to cryogenic fuels.

These chemicals, identical to the propellants of the retired U.S. Titan II,  are lethally poisonous, corrosive to the rocket, and tend towards explosions.  In 1965, a Titan II complex fire killed 53.  A 1980 Arkansas explosion resulted in one fatality, but destroyed the launch complex and blew the nuclear warhead 100 feet. This is why the U.S. nuclear arsenal includes no liquid fueled rockets such as the Russian Satan.  NASA’s advice here. The rocket may be more dangerous to the Russians than anybody else.

CNN, there is absolutely no excuse for this. None, nada!

U.S. Election; United States Going Forward, Part 1

The focus of this blog has been kept fairly narrow, so that the reader has a reasonable expectation before spending a valuable click. I broke the rule egregiously with a five part Address to Davos, a consideration of the period spanning the near future to 2038.  I broke even more egregiously with Why Russia Hacked the DNC; In Defense of Liberty, which is in effect an endorsement of the Democratic candidate. I would hope that this blog gives the impression of a thoughtful voter. In past elections, I’ve paid scant attention to party lines.

With the elephant and donkey rampaging through the china shop in place of the bear, it’s opportune to break the rule again. The theme of bite size posts will have to do with the electoral misrepresentation, or at least obscuration, of the issues affecting the U.S. position in the world. It is not a partisan sin. It results from strenuous attempts to reconcile, in a way the electorate would understand, the every-man desire for prosperity against the benefits and costs of relations with the external world that every-man benefits from  or pays for.

If you’re fond of hyper-dimensional geometry, draw a 6-dimensional cube on your Riemann tablecloth, and label the axis:

  • Hard power.
  • Soft power.
  • Globalization.
  •  Competition of economic systems (state sponsored capitalism versus laissez-faire capitalism.)
  • Moral idealizations.
  • Human development.

(I’ll have six-dimensional notepads in the website store for a million bucks a pop, as soon as the flying saucer drops them off. )

The first thing to consider is whether these axis truly independent. Can they be reduced to a fewer number by interdependence? Everything has costs.

To be continued shortly.






Battle for Mosul

In Battle of Ramadi, ongoing, the high water mark of ISIS, from 11/22/2014, I wrote,

ISIS will fail. This, even more than Kobani, will be known as the  “high water mark” of ISIS. Some may recall this phrase from the history of the U.S. Civil War, of Longstreet’s assault into the Union lines, at the Battle of Gettysburg, on July 3, 1863. This is of that magnitude.

 The argument weakened when Ramadi fell to ISIS in May of 2015. But significance remained, in the replacement of the myth of an unstoppable ISIS by reasonable chance of valorous success. In building the myth that supports a national army, the two battles of Ramadi and the recapture in December 2015 stand with the early battles of the U.S. in the Pacific Theater in World War II.

In Child Psychology, Iraq, ISIS, Tipping Point, Holy Grail, published 11/29/2014, I developed logic to support the rapid collapse of ISIS:

Put into the fewest possible words, with an implied reference of Western culture, the combatants exhibit labile affect. This is a useful result. It implies that, when the tipping point occurs, the collapse of ISIS, as an organized entity, will be as rapid as their ascent.

In Portrait of a Spaceman; Predictions for 2016, I used this assessment to predict

  • Mosul will be taken on schedule. The Obama Administration is now fully engaged with the problem of ISIS.

It appears that the actual date is likely to fall between the early aspirations of the Iraq government, and the more pessimistic estimates of military and intelligence professionals, who tended towards the view that the operation could not even be mounted in 2016. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide where my prediction falls on the scale of accuracy.

If my prediction has value, it is of the quintessential open-source, intuitive kind, discovered by Philip Tetlock in research dating back more than 20 years. Why it is possible for some individuals to compete successfully against expert knowledge hasn’t been nailed down. But it is likely that the human mind tends toward capture by the systems of thought with which it is most familiar. The various sides of the ISIL conflict, and the broader one which includes Syria as well, place emphasis on the things they feel intimately familiar with, and underweight the rest:

  • The Iraqi government forces, until recently, counted paper orders of battle and uniform decorations. Characteristic of undeveloped societies, this kind of assessment is biased towards failure.
  • The U.S. counts training , discipline, logistics, and alliances, without, perhaps, understanding that these characteristics can stem only from an overarching social order of a broader society. The failures of this type of analysis have been  both sides of the coin.
  • The ISIS adherents count “faith”, a manipulation of psychological state without understanding why or how. With no factual basis, it relies on emotional domination of the opponent. This is the justification of prediction of a rapid collapse.
  • They all count bullets, because the bullet is a simple thing, an extension of personal assault to a few thousand feet.

IARPA would prefer not to rely on oracles, particularly the unexplained kind, for prediction. In the mind of each “super forecaster“, there are unexplained methods for combination and weighting of the modalities of the above list.

What are they?



U.S.S. Mason; 3rd Missile Attack; Asymmetric Warfare with Iran

The Mason has been subject to missile attack for the third time (Reuters): U.S. warship targeted in failed missile attack from Yemen: official. The conclusion of Houthi Missile Attacks on U.S. Destroyer…  is that the attacks are an Iranian weapons system test, intended to test the viability of the Chinese C-802 missile with specific Iranian tactics.

The conclusion requires the assumption of rational purpose, which is not necessarily true. But unlike suicide attacks or sprays of bullets, the C-802 in Yemen is part of a distributed command-and-control system, the most complex kind. Keeping the missiles operational requires a constant supply of consumables, such as batteries, and calibration with specialized equipment. This entails a supply line that reaches back to Iran, and ultimately China. Yemen has no industrial base. There are no Radio Shacks in Yemen (back in the 80’s, the U.S. military was known to resort to weekend runs to Radio Shack for temporary patch-ups of support gear.)

This further supports the assertions of the Houthis that, if they were not totally ignorant, neither are they the prime movers in the attempt to damage a $1BN warship. But Iran has staked their military strategy on asymmetric warfare, in the ability to deny the Persian Gulf to the U.S. Navy. For Iran, the launches are the crucial test of a highly rational actor.

Apart from the qualitative horrors of war,  the goal of asymmetric warfare is to do more dollar damage to the adversary than received in return. The unit cost of the C-802 is not quotable. But as a figure we can plug into a calculation, $400K per unit is reasonable. It’s about an order of magnitude more than the cost of some Chinese antiaircraft missiles. If the Iranians can score one hit on the Mason with 2000 missiles, they break even.

But even among highly rational actors such as Iran, there are fine gradations. Has the test been structured simply to sink a ship? The answer lies in the degree of sophistication of Iran’s military-industrial complex, about which open sources are not very informative. It cannot be determined by the alleged specifications of their weapons systems, or their ingenuity at keeping their F-14 Tomcats flying. It is a different ball of wax.

In an open loop deployment of a weapons system, the system is tested in the lab and on the range.  But the reports from the battlefield are crude by comparison: Hit, or miss?  But in operation, the most sophisticated weapons engage in an electronic dialog of lies with the adversary. To analyze the dialog requires both sides of the conversation.  This is why the U.S. flies the RC-135 “Rivet Joint” in the Baltic Sea, and why it infuriates the Russians so much. The distance from Russian airspace distracts from the real issue, which is the information acquired in a stimulated two-way dialog with Russian weapons systems.

I  don’t want  to make an estimate that unintentionally damages the security interests of the U.S.  But it is possible to speculate further while remaining within the bounds of knowledge public to the world’s militaries. The sophistication of the effort of Iran’s military-industrial complex currently deployed to Iran has one of these characterizations:

  • A simple test by the IRG of their effectiveness in power projection; an open loop weapons test.
  • A crude attempt at data collection, such as CEPs (circular error probabilities).
  • Some basic ECM capture — the “dialog of lies” between weapons systems.
  • Complete characterization and capture of the events, allowing Iranian weaponeers to efficiently optimize control system parameters and radar parameters. This is closed loop.

The goal is an affordable kill ratio, which  could be very low, by western standards a complete failure. The problem for the U.S. is summarized by the saying, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

This is an intelligence  question of the highest importance. It would be tempting to write more, but I don’t want to inadvertently be of assistance to an adversary.

CSIS Report, “The Kremlin Playbook”

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, the preeminent think tank on the subject, has released The Kremlin Playbook; Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

In contrast to classic Soviet subversion, the methods used to extend Russian influence in the contested states could be judged to have a  remarkable degree of overlap with domestic Russian methods of control.

As companion reading to the CSIS report, you are invited to download Putin’s Character and the Intersection of Russia, available from With comparison to the findings of the CSIS report, you are invited to reach your own conclusion on this question:

To what degree is current Russian subversion in eastern Europe an extension of domestic methods of control?


Houthi Missile Attacks on U.S. Destroyer; Iran Culprit

Reuters: Navy destroyer targeted again by Yemen’s Houthis. Unlike the Sunday attack, electronic countermeasures alone were not sufficient to insure against impact, so two SM-2 missiles were launched, and one short-range Sea Sparrow. Popular Mechanics offers an everyman explanation of countermeasures. This is for the reader who would like just a little bit more, permitting a prediction of the actual culprit.

The simplest explanation of the most basic radar (radio-detection-and-ranging) is that some kind of radio signal is broadcast, or sent in the direction of a target, which echoes a very tiny amount of it back to the station. This description dates to before World War II. A system based solely upon it might have the ability to detect a bomber fleet several hundred miles away, but with barely enough precision for the RAF to send Spitfires to intercept. If one were to compare basic radar with the human eye, it would be a that of a person almost blind from cataracts. The bare radar image is not a point, but a cloud of uncertainty.

A radar system that can actually find a target requires the combination of:

  • Frequencies.
  • Pulses.
  • Polarizations and modes.
  • Scans, from one location, or integration (help) from multiple locations. Historically, the transmitter and the receiver have not always been in the same place.
  • Detection in a cacophony of noise.
  • Signal processing to remove all kinds of spurious indications, such as ground clutter.
  • Estimation, linear stochastic  filtering, extracts the likely position of the target hiding within the echo cloud.

All of the above can be forged, faked by the target. This is ECM (electronic countermeasures.)

  • Conversely, radar can potentially use the ECM signal of the target to gain information (locate) the target.
  • Conversely again, two targets equipped with ECM can cooperate to make a phantom appear between them, guiding a missile to empty ocean.
  • Conversely again, a radar station can change its parameters of operation in an unexpected way, defeating ECM unless it is agile.

The Chinese C-802 anti shipping missile is an old, widely exported weapon. As with most of these weapons, the actual, as opposed to advertised kill probability against a target with ECM is not publicly known. All antishipping missiles have two guidance systems:

  • To get it on its way, the likely position of the ship can be programmed into the missile, which then knowingly adjusts for where it is and where it wants to be. The most simple type is inertial guidance. In more advanced systems, such as a hacked C-802, the missile can receive updated information in flight.
  • As the missile approaches the ship, it switches to its own tiny radar set for terminal guidance. But it is hard for the missile to hear its radar echo, because the target is doing its best to yell louder — with false information.

The closer the missile gets to the ship before relying on its own radar, the greater the chance it will be able to hear its own, truthful echo. But it can have help. A large, stationary radar system can broadcast a signal which the missile’s radar receiver can listen to, in addition to its own weak transmitter. The C-802 missile has been widely hacked by small contractors — improved and customized in a multitude of ways.

In order to get around the ECM that frustrates shore based radar, the Houthis put some observers in tiny boats near the Mason. From the current open source reports,  these  possibilities cannot be distinguished:

  • The boats were within optical range. Using something like a surveyor’s total station, the position of the Mason was obtained by optical triangulation.
  • A radar station in Houthi territory, possibly for  civil aviation, was used to illuminate the Mason. The Houthi boats could have used directional antennas with widely available spectrum analyzers to perform a cruder-than-optical triangulation.

The attacks comprise an ingenious, if unsophisticated, attempt to leverage outmoded military technology against a sophisticated, high value target. The signature elements are:

  • Small boats, potentially in large numbers.
  • A low tech run around high-tech ECM.
  • Possible innovative use of a technique derived from bistatic radar.
  • The gadget on the boats, the product of a small industrial base, attempting an outside-the-box solution.
  • A hacked Chinese missile.

The open source estimate is that this is an Iranian test of a “weapons system”, for which the Yemen conflict offers a scenario of perfect deniability.

In dollar cost of weapons expenditure, Iran won. Retaliation is likely in order to equalize expenditures.

Edit: As of 11:55 PM ET, Wed October 12, 2016, CNN reports “Three US strikes hit radar sites in Yemen, Pentagon says”.  The size and static nature of radar sites make easy targets. Some radars have limited mobility, but it’s a big trucking job. The strike is likely to be followed by a protracted effort to attrit the missile launchers, which are mobile.

Syria: Predicting Rebel Atrocities

The better known, famous aspect of intelligence is “clandestine.” By spying, information is obtained about the intentions of governing elites, and military and technological secrets. But while clandestine intelligence might give us a peak behind the curtain, it offers little of the stage itself, the masses of humanity. In the middle east, as elsewhere, the elites manipulate the masses, who in turn reflect back on the elites with what some call the zeitgeist, the “spirit of the times.”  If  the West is favorably distinguished from this dynamic, perhaps Walter Lippmann offers the best explanation of how western democracy actually works.

Perhaps surprisingly, clandestine intelligence informs poorly on this dynamic. It might tell us that a particular leader intends to manipulate public opinion in his country in a certain way, but it does not explain why the leader expects the zeitgeist to be receptive. Open source approaches are much better at this. The classic example is the rise of Adolf Hitler. The zeitgeist of German society was primed for the event, waiting only for someone to step into the role.

In Wall Street Journal: “Aleppo Is Obama’s Sarajevo”, I wrote,

Presently, the deaths of rebel atrocities number only a few dozen at a time, scarcely reported in the press. But what if they found it expeditious to kill more? The history of new revolutionary states is that of bloodbath.

If open source is truly a craft, the statement is insufficiently justified. The counter could be, “You’re assuming the worst about people; you have no objective, or even systematic justification.”

Open source imposes on the thinking of the liberal arts, drawing liberally and in bastardized fashion from mathematics and the hard sciences. We must, because the requirement is to actually decide something that can be practical input into further processes of decision. In  2000 years, philosophers couldn’t build a car. We don’t have 2000 years.

So, following the shining example of Lofti A. Zadeh, who invented fuzzy logic, we appropriate a concept from mathematics,  the “least upper bound”. Simplified and bastardized, this means some kind of a function, the LUB, that can be graphed above another function, or distribution, so that it is always greater. Things cannot go higher, or get better, than the least upper bound.

The LUB is offered by the (Reuters) Saudi attack on on a mourning ceremony that killed 140. I’ll now borrow Zadeh’s phrase “fuzzy logic” and repurpose it to get a LUB. This is not Zadeh’s system.

The LUB is a behavioral prediction, of  the level of Syrian rebel atrocities were they to assume a governing role. It asserts that the rebels cannot behave better than the bound. Think of the number of atrocities as a downward increasing arrow. Saudi Arabia, an advanced society, is used to generate the LUB. The “>” symbol is the math symbol for “greater than”, which is used here to signify both a higher moral plane and a more disciplined society:

  • Saudi ethics are highly organized and rigorous, > (better) than Syria rebel ethics.
  • Saudi military are highly disciplined > Syria rebel discipline.

This offers a 2-axis LUB. It asserts that the rebels cannot do better (behave better) than this. If you like, you can swap “<” for  “>” and replace LUB with GLB, the greatest lower bound. The number of rebel atrocities is now bounded from below, as in “cannot be less than.”

How much worse would the rebels be?  Here’s an off-the-cuff social theory:

  • With centralization, the Saudis have a limited number of “actors”, where an actor is a nucleus of people who make a single decision.
  • Each actor has a limited appetite for atrocity. Having killed 140, the responsible Saudi actor might not want more blood right away.
  • The Syrian rebels contain many more independent actors.
  • The potential for atrocity =  number-of-actors X the number of atrocities per actor.

The product  is much greater.



Wall Street Journal: “Aleppo Is Obama’s Sarajevo”

In  “Aleppo Is Obama’s Sarajevo”,  Daniel Henninger writes,

“The more fundamental failure is that Mr. Obama has refused to permit the arming of people who are willing to fight on their own behalf against a dictator committed to the mass slaughter of innocent civilians.”

Everything Henninger writes about in the WSJ article about  the cruelty of the siege is true. Depopulation is the goal of indiscriminate bombardment and starvation, because it facilitates military control. The Economist expresses the same sentiment in “Grozny rules in Aleppo”, with very reasonable concerns about what might have been done, and hasn’t.

It’s our desperate desire to identify the good side, and back it. But what if there isn’t any? Read Syria Policy Review Part 2 before you decide. The considerations do not simply involve religious doctrines. The crucial question is how the opposing forces would behave towards populations under their governance. Presently, the deaths of rebel atrocities number only a few dozen at a time, scarcely reported in the press. But what if they found it expeditious to kill more? The history of new revolutionary states is that of bloodbath.

Henninger’s article contains  a factual error with a big emotional payload. He writes,

The more fundamental failure is that Mr. Obama has refused to permit the arming of people who are willing to fight on their own behalf against a dictator committed to the mass slaughter of innocent civilians.

The “Syrian people”, which means only people who have the misfortune to live there, are not the fighters of Aleppo. Aleppo is not the Paris Commune. It was noted in 2013  that the composition of fighters had a high proportion of foreign jihadis. This has doubtless shifted towards a more domestic weighting, as the reward of Paradise becomes too imminent.

But the fighters of Aleppo are not the denizens of Aleppo. The residents stay, not because they like the rebels, but because they are justifiably frightened that the regime will slaughter them, or drive them into the desert to die. Ras-Al-Ayn, one of the principal death camps of the Armenian Genocide, is only 170 miles to the east.

Perhaps the current administration carried the concepts of disengagement, and “lead from behind”, too far. But a remarkable aspect of American post-WWII foreign policy has been that most of it was fruitless,  the expensive follies of our advanced civilization and values — compared, at least, to most of the rest of the world.  The triumph of Containment was not to be repeated.

So  a more vigorous approach at the outset, one which preserved more of the dignity and reputation of the United States of America, might have resulted in a very similar endpoint of human suffering. The problem then was the inability to identify leaders who  shared our values and could also command the allegiance of fighters, most of whom had  jihadist inclinations. There have always been Syrian patriots of intellect and political capacity, but lacking a popular base. This is the perpetual Arab tragedy.

The Syria conflict is very typical of history,  between the primitive dynamism of the rebels and the more advanced social structure of Iran pressing in from the east. The more advanced civilization usually wins. This is likely the root of the current administration’s determined passivity.

Like Henninger, I feel a personal outrage that is hard to suppress. I see a duel-to-the-death between two monsters, superimposed in a double image on the helpless trampled underfoot. Had the rebels been given MANPADs a few years ago, the Russian ambassador to the U.N. might not be able to state (Yahoo),

“Had it not been for our involvement in Syria it might well be that the black flags would be flying over Damascus,” Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin told reporters in New York. “It could well be. This is the reality of the situation.”

Turkey makes MANPADs under license, and the Gulf States can buy them. The U.S. has not openly objected to the transfer. A choice not to supply them would be  entirely up to Sunni states, religious compatriots of the rebels. The reasons for denial, should they ever come to light, could be useful to incorporate into our own thinking.


Note to President Putin re Syria/Aleppo

This post is titled as if to imagine that Vladimir Putin reads this blog. It is public knowledge that he reads the Internet widely.  The F.B.I. reports that American “Russia analysts” are of interest, because Russian intelligence thinks that the group is a good aggregate source of what American decision makers really think. They seem to think that the information gleaned is more useful than  the presentations of mass media.

So it’s not out of the question. This post is prompted by two events. Sputnik News carries a warning by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova:

My task is to explain why it is so important to remain in line with agreements. If the US launches a direct aggression against Damascus and the Syrian army, it will lead to terrible, tectonic shifts not only on the territory of this country but also in the region in general,” Zakharova said during a talk show, which is to be broadcast fully later on Saturday by the TV Tsentr channel.

The other event, almost in anticipation of the above, is (Reuters) the suspension of the plutonium cleanup program, which is so urgent it was signed in 2000 and took 10 years to get going. This is pie-in-the-face stuff. Putin just threw a lemon-meringue with whipped cream topping.

I hardly envision myself as a peacemaker, but the U.S. mass media has been villifying Putin so broadly, it might have finally gotten under his K.G.B. hardened skin. I am very much against broad vilification. Putin might not understand that it is just a U.S. electoral tradition, and that he should feel honored by his inclusion. The foreign policy issues that have caused U.S. — Russia relations to plummet are enumerable and substantial. Whatever Putin has done with democracy in Russia is not one of the crucial considerations.

Ukraine is one issue of substance. The other is Syria. This is about Syria.

American policy has thus far exhibited a relative lack of sensitivity about the possibility that Syria could be taken over by a Salafi jihadist regime that, in time, and with inevitable acts of terrorism, could ignite the Russian Caucasus, and even the greater 14% of Russia’s Muslim population. But is hard to gauge the threat of U.S. policy in Syria, because nobody in the U.S. State Department knows what the policy is. There is a difference between “position statements”, paper policies, and actionable judgments. This is why Secretary Kerry lost the argument for use of force against the Syrian regime.

In Syria Policy Review Part 2, I all but called the Syrian opposition a frenemy. While the relationship between Russia and Assad is one of trust, the U.S. relationship  with the rebels is not. This is why the Syrian opposition has not received game-changing weapons. The U.S. is unwilling to risk civil aviation deaths to ensure their survival. The Gulf nations may have other ideas about MANPADs, especially if they can be “safed” by technical measures against the threat.

This bears on the now contemplated U.S. use of force against the regime. But Russian thinkers may be curious as to why we are so concerned about the fate of our frenemy. Here the Russian side exhibits an  insensitivity reciprocal to the American. It has to do with tradition in war, and how it carries into peace. The Russian tradition of war, which we have seen in Chechnya, is that the civilians caught in the middle may in some instances be considered expendable. This has certainly been the Alawite tradition in crushing Islamist uprisings of both the past and present.

So the American apprehension is that if our frenemies are vanquished, the Sunni population of Syria, who are the majority, will continue to suffer with all the horrors of the past and present.  Assad cannot be trusted to do otherwise. If a poll were taken of the State Department, this might be the dominant concern. Who could presently believe in a “free and democratic Syria”? A slaughterhouse can’t be democratized.

The treatment of civilians in Aleppo should have been a showcase of Assad’s future intentions towards the majority Sunnis of Syria. But it has been a horror show. (CNN: Sunday’s airstrike was the latest in a growing list of systematic attacks on hospitals throughout Syria.) With this in mind, what choice has the U.S. but to continue conditional support of our frenemies? If U.S. force is used, it is likely to be used conditionally, to even the odds, not crush the regime.

The U.S. has not been hypocritical with respect to targeting civilians. U.S. mission planning teams, tasked with assisting the Saudi Arabia in Yemen, were withdrawn due to civilian targeting that was not adequately explained.

See bitch slap. More and more, the U.S./Russia tone resembles a bad marriage.