Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Saudi Price for Supporting the Iranian Nuclear Deal: The Election of Marine Le Pen and the End of the EU?

It is clear to me from reading the extensive coverage of what is being labeled Europe's refugee crisis that any period of "feel good" magnanimity and open-hearted welcome is going to be very short lived. The political response is going to be the election of right-wing parties; it is almost a certainty. The future of the European Union does not look bright.

It is always important to remember that this current crisis is just the latest of many resulting from the war on Syria. Whether the chemical-weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of two-years back, or the skyrocketing rise of ISIS shortly thereafter, the U.S.-GCC-Turkey regime-change operation directed against the Syrian Arab Republican has been a constant source of murder, mayhem and global instability. One could make the argument that the New Cold War triggered by the ham-handed U.S.-backed coup in Kiev at the end of February 2014 was payback for Russia's steadfast support of Assad's Syria.

At the end of last week a story written by stalwart USG mouthpieces Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt appeared. Based on information provided by unnamed "American officials," "Russian Moves in Syria Pose Concerns for U.S." alleged a new Russian military buildup:
WASHINGTON — Russia has sent a military advance team to Syria and is taking other steps the United States fears may signal that President Vladimir V. Putin is planning to vastly expand his military support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, administration officials said Friday. 
The Russian moves, including the recent transport of prefabricated housing units for hundreds of people to a Syrian airfield and the delivery of a portable air traffic control station there, are another complicating factor in Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated efforts to enlist Mr. Putin’s support for a diplomatic solution to the bloody conflict in Syria. 
The Russians have also filed military overflight requests with neighboring countries through September.

American officials acknowledge that they are not certain of Russia’s intentions, but some say the temporary housing suggests that Russia could deploy as many as 1,000 advisers or other military personnel to the airfield near the Assad family’s ancestral home. The airfield serves Latakia, Syria’s principal port city.

Other American officials say they see no indication that Russia intends to deploy significant numbers of ground forces, but they say the housing would enable Russia to use the airfield as a major hub for ferrying in military supplies for the Syrian government, or possibly as a launching pad for Russian airstrikes in support of Mr. Assad’s forces.

American intelligence analysts are also looking at ship loadings in Russia to determine what might be bound for Syria, and one official speculated that the Russian deployment might eventually grow to 2,000 to 3,000 personnel.

“There are some worrisome movements — logistical, preparatory types of things,” said an administration official, who added that there was no confirmation that large numbers of Russian soldiers, aircraft or heavy weapons had yet arrived. Officials asked for anonymity because they were discussing classified intelligence reports.
This story paved the way for a reproving phone call from Secretary of State John Kerry to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov (Michael Gordon, "U.S. Warns Russia Over Military Support for Assad").

It is helpful to recall that King Salman of Saudi Arabia was visiting the White House at the same time; the Saudi despot gave his blessing to the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.

The House of Saud's public acceptance of the Iranian nuclear deal was obviously purchased. What all was promised by Obama remains unknown. One thing though is clear: the story about the Russia's ramped up support for Assad, followed by Kerry's rebuke, was part of the price.

In a delightful story today, "Russia Answers U.S. Criticism Over Military Aid to Syria," by Neil MacFarquhar, Russia fires back. First, MacFarquhar provides a summation:
In Washington, the State Department announced on Saturday that Secretary of State John Kerry had telephoned his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, to warn against expanding Russian military aid to Syria. 
According to American intelligence sources, Russia is bolstering Syria’s air defenses in some key areas and possibly building a camp for Russian military personnel. 
Mr. Kerry warned Mr. Lavrov that such aid would further escalate the conflict, cost more lives, push more refugees to flee and risk a confrontation with other forces fighting the Islamic State, according to the State Department. 
In Greece on Monday, the Foreign Ministry said it was studying a request from the United States to deny Russia the permission it has sought for overflights to Syria, Reuters reported.
Then the wonderful Russian rebuttal:
MOSCOW — The Foreign Ministry here expressed surprise on Monday over an American warning to Russia against escalating the conflict in Syria, saying that the Kremlin’s Syrian policy — in particular furnishing military aid to help the government confront extremist forces — had been consistent for years. 
“We have always supplied equipment to them for their struggle against terrorists,” Maria V. Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said in an interview. “We are supporting them, we were supporting them and we will be supporting them” in that fight.
The sharp exchanges over Russian military aid to the Syrian government appeared to have dampened a brief spirit of cooperation, starting in early August, when Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed on a renewed effort to reach a political solution to the Syria crisis.

Some analysts see any possible Russian move to strengthen military aid now as a maneuver by President Vladimir V. Putin to embarrass the United States. 
“It is basically a chance to play on Obama’s checkerboard,” said Konstantin Von Eggert, an independent political analyst, with Mr. Putin saying: “You want to fight the Islamic State. I am there. I am ready. Ah, sorry, you don’t really want to fight.” [!]
Russia may try to use American criticism of any military aid as proof that the Obama administration is soft on the Islamic State and only wants to topple President Bashar al-Assad, he said, so “it can be presented as an American unwillingness to fight evil.”
Mr. Putin is scheduled to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month, for the first time in 10 years. That will give him a high-profile platform to promise to use Russia’s resources in the fight against international terrorism, including at a Sept. 27 meeting on confronting the Islamic State that the Obama administration is organizing.
“The problem is that the West cannot show one example of how they would manage the Syria story right after,” Ms. Zakharova said. “What is the West planning to do right after? Do they have a magic wand that will transform Syria from civil war to economic prosperity?” [That's the unanswerable question, isn't it?]
The main challenge in Syria remains the future of Mr. Assad. Russia is generally dismissive of the argument that Mr. Assad created the current chaos in Syria and fostered the rise of Islamic extremism by having refused to engage with the peaceful opposition when street protests started in 2011. Much of the opposition in exile insists that he should be barred from a role in any political transition. Russia has said such a position amounts to an unacceptable precondition for talks.
Both Russia and Iran have made a show of rejecting claims that their support for Mr. Assad has softened. The Iranians, whose military aid has been vital to the Damascus government, defended Mr. Assad on Monday for the first time in a while. 
“Those who have set a condition about the Syrian president in the past two years should be blamed for the continued war and they should account for the bloodshed,” Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said at a news conference in Tehran.
With Obama locking down the Iranian nuclear deal in Congress, the Saudis took what they could get; in addition to a $1 billion arms deal, what they could get appears to include an increased commitment to hostilities against Syria. The refugees will continue to stream through Serbia to Hungary, and from there to points northwest. The EU will fray. Marine Le Pen will probably be elected in spring 2017.

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