Monday, March 21, 2016

Russian Military Power, Syrian Federalization and Merkel's Refugee Deal with Turkey

Recently I've been wrong about two of the biggest issues facing the West: war in Syria and the European refugee crisis that it has helped to create. I didn't think that the February 27 U.S.-Russia negotiated ceasefire in Syria (minus territory controlled by Nusra and Islamic State) would work. It has for the most part. There have been violations from the outset, but the agreement has held; so much so that last week Putin announced the withdrawal of the bulk of Russian forces from the war-torn country. (The S-400 missile defense system will stay of course.) Then in Brussels on Friday Turkey and the Europe Union actually settled on a Rube Goldbergesque plan to stem the flow of refugees to Europe.

What is going on? It looks as if the warpig Western leaders are -- finally -- turning the battleship around. We should be incredulous since the neoliberal coin of the realm is stamped with the motto "In war we trust." But something is definitely happening here.

Whenever the reporting largely goes blank in The New York Times you know that it is not for lack of action on the ground but because a political decision has been made to put out the lights. It happened in Ukraine after the junta got its clock cleaned in Debaltseve. The paper, which had three reporters -- Andrew Kramer, David Herszenhorn and Neil MacFarquhar -- regularly filing dispatches, basically stopped reporting on the Donbass conflict. Debaltseve impressed upon the Obama administration the ease with which Russia could take Kiev. So I suspect the word went out to ratchet down coverage of the New Cold War in Ukraine, and editors of "the newspaper of record" complied. The free press at work.

I think what happened in Debaltseve at the beginning of last year in Ukraine is something similar to what the Russians accomplished in Syria with the recent victories in Aleppo Province. A game changer. The West and the Gulf sheikhs were forced to the table; we got the ceasefire and now the gradual press blackout.

There has been little coverage of the ongoing peace talks in Geneva. One thing seems clear though, federalization of Syria is the country's future. It is hard to believe that Turkey will accept any form of Kurdish statehood. I think this is where the refugee deal with Europe comes in. Beginning this summer, provided certain unnamed conditions are met, Turkish citizens will be able to enjoy passport-free travel to Europe. If Turkey and the EU manage to accomplish this, then Turkey's membership in the European Union is closer to becoming a reality than ever before; such a historic achievement for Erdogan would likely grease Turkish support for a federalized Syria.

As for Merkel's Rube Goldberg scheme to block refugees in Greece for rapid return to Turkey at the same time admitting to Europe a refugee warehoused in Anatolia, I think it is bound to fail. Just supplying the administrative manpower needed to process migrants in Greece for return to Turkey is an enormous logistical feat. What about corruption? What prevents smugglers from pursuing an Italian route? The agreement only covers Greece. How long can the heinous canard of listing Afghans as "economic migrants" be maintained? At least there is a partial ceasefire in Syria; in Afghanistan there is nothing of the sort. What about international humanitarian law? Merkel's EU plan is in violation. Refugees will not be allowed to seek asylum. They will be registered in Greece and then whisked back to Turkey.


  1. Underlying all this is the eternal Western struggle for energy. If the House of Saud loses in Syria and is mired in Yemen, when does blowback come to them? The US is still eyeing Central Asia, which would require breaking legs in Russia, and without Crimea as a jumping off point that could get dicey. It'll be interesting. Hillary certainly is onboard for more war in that region. Trump is all over the place, but I'm sure his ego understands who runs American foreign policy (not the president). Cruz would be all in. I suspect that Sanders' silence regarding foreign policy is that he realizes what a big task it will be to turn around the ship.

    PNAC was supposed to be the cherry on the top of our imperial goals. It's not working that way, thanks in large part to the people living on top of the oil.

    The other, unstated, issue in the controlling petroleum is that there are lots of renewable options. At some point solar, wind, wave, whatever, will assert itself over oil and the world will be a better place for it. That goes directly into the heart of our ruling class.

    In a sense we are still fighting last century's energy wars when the whole petroleum economy is being kept alive in the face of the future.

    Someone in the cabin of our ship of state is going to have to recognize this at some point. Maybe then we'll stop this unending war.

    1. I was going to mention in the post, Bob, but it slipped my mind, the oil glut and prolonged price drop and how it has to have factored in the sheikhs willingness to support the ceasefire. They can't keep financing jihad forever if the new normal is $30/barrel oil (though Brent Crude was up to $41.63 today). A good article is Michael Klare's "A Take-No- Prisoners World of Oil.