Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syria is not about Syria: Surrendering Europe to Putin's Russia

When Russia moved against a U.S. ally

On August 13, 2008, I expressed some optimism that President Bush's gesture of sending Dr. Rice and humanitarian aid to Georgia might stop further Russian aggression. As the outgoing president, with the country on the precipice of an economic crisis, with his positions in Iraq and Afghanistan consistently undermined by the Democrats, engaging Russian forces directly to kick them out of Georgia was not a feasible alternative for him.

He took Russia at their word that there is a cease-fire and sent the U.S. military to Georgia! This puts Putin in the position of choosing between attacking the U.S. military directly to stop the aid from coming in versus either withdrawing or again yielding to a stalemate with the same consequences as outlined above.

These two actions combined, unless Putin really is willing to wage all out war with the U.S., practically ensure that Georgia will not become a province of the new Russian empire for now. On the other hand, a return to status quo ante still seems impossible. Finally, even if Putin is stopped in Georgia, his desire to return Russia to the ‘glory’ days of the USSR will not be extinguished (and in fact, may become stronger).

In the coming days and months, it will be more important than ever for the U.S. and NATO to project an image consistent with the strength and determination they actually possess in defense of liberty.

Celebrity-wannabe is elected President of the United States of America

Then, the U.S. got a celebrity-wannabe as President:

Honey, the reason I’m running for president is I can’t be Bruce Springsteen. I can’t be Billy Joel.

Since then, the U.S. has abandoned Iraq and is preparing to abandon Afghanistan. American officials refused to support the Green Revolution in Iran and watched it crushed violently by the mullahs. They also have had front row seats to Iran essentially taking over Iraqi politics. All the while developing nuclear weapons.

Wherever I turn, I keep hearing about how the U.S. could not have stayed in Iraq or Afghanistan indefinitely. Besides, don't you know, rule of law, equal rights, free speech, free markets … those things and Muslims don't get along. Why waste American lives and treasure for them?

I do not advocate wasting American lives and treasure where there is not a clear American interest.

Yet, I also don't think watching the Rwandan Genocide as if it's just another crime report from Chicago is actually compatible with American interests around the world.

Why is the U.S. military still in Germany?

The U.S. has maintained a presence in Germany for the 68 years since VE day not just because of Germans' intrinsic worthiness. Do you think the day Hitler died all Germans became angelic beings? No, just as then, there are many evil Germans. For the record, there are also many evil Americans, Turks, Britons etc. No one race, religion, or society has sole claim to all evil in this world.

Quite simply, the U.S. maintained her military presence in Europe to stop the Soviets from taking over the entire continent. Not content with that, they also formed NATO, a coalition set up to ensure that meek European states did not have an incentive to abandon the alliance and switch sides so as to avoid a military attack by the Russians:

Article 5

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Incidentally, compare that to And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. Sacred Honor was in scarce supply in post-war Europe.

There is an interesting footnote to Article 5:

The definition of the territories to which Article 5 applies was revised by Article 2 of the Protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty on the accession of Greece and Turkey signed on 22 October 1951.

That is, an armed attack on Turkey is supposed to be considered an attack on all members of NATO and other members of NATO are supposed to help.

Of course, everyone understood that other members meant the United States of America. I mean, if the Russians decided to take over Iceland, what good would be assistance from Greece?

Turkey is the only obstacle on Russians' path to dominating the Mediterranean

The Russians' long-term goal is unfettered access to the Mediterranean, and thereby to Southern Europe, North Africa, the Suez canal … In short, total control of some of the most important global trade routes. The only thing that stands in their way is Turkey.

Russia exerts immense influence in Europe because of their dependence on Russian natural gas:

Russia remains one of Europe’s most important natural gas suppliers. Europe’s natural gas consumption is projected to grow while its own domestic natural gas production continues to decline. If trends continue as projected, Europe’s dependence on Russia as a supplier is likely to grow. And, while it could be in Europe’s interest to explore alternative sources for its natural gas needs, it is uncertain whether Europe as a whole can, or is willing to, replace a significant level of imports from Russia. Some European countries that feel vulnerable to potential Russian energy supply manipulation may work harder to achieve diversification than others.

Russia has not been idle when it comes to protecting its share of the European natural gas market. Moscow, including the state-controlled company Gazprom, has attempted to stymie European-backed alternatives to pipelines it controls by proposing competing pipeline projects and attempting to co-opt European companies by offering them stakes in those and other projects. It has attempted to dissuade potential suppliers (especially those in Central Asia) from participating in European-supported plans. Moscow has also raised environmental concerns in an apparent effort to hinder other alternatives to its supplies, such as unconventional natural gas.

Right now, Putin can topple several European governments over a single winter.

Squandered: No good options left

During President Obama's terms, the U.S. has continually assumed the role of chicken and signalled weakness. Such signals, of course, were taken into account by adversaries such as Russia when calculating their moves.

See, in a tough neighborhood, you do not want to be mistaken for the chicken in a game of chicken. That's why, across the world, people in bad neighborhoods emulate the styles of the tough guys. Even if you're tough, it is not enough that you know that you are tough. Others must know it, too. Otherwise, they might pick a fight with you. And, fights are costly even if you win (see World War II).

Similarly, if you don't want nuclear war, the other side must believe that you are capable of using nuclear weapons. Even if you change your mind at a later date, earlier signals of lack of resolve may set in motion a chain of events that necessitates a costly fight.

Throughout ages, rulers in the Middle East have been able to send millions of their subjects to untimely and savage deaths without their own lifestyles being affected perceptibly. Operation Iraqi Freedom broke that cycle by taking out Saddam and his family. All of a sudden, the message was clear to the everyone: Go against the U.S. in the region, and you will not be spared. Because, to those despots it didn't, and still doesn't, make one bit of difference whether their people are suffering. No, all that matters is their own skin. Ordinary Syrians may love their children very much, but the people who control where the shells and bullets land don't care.

Iran and Iraq are on Russia's side. Syria is on the Russian side. Russia essentially has an unbroken chain of countries from the Black Sea, along the Eastern and Southern borders of Turkey, leading to the Mediterranean. Russia's navy still has to go through the Turkish straits to easily access the Mediterranean, however.

Let's say the U.S. wants a Syria without Assad. Well, Assad is winning. It doesn't matter to him if half the country dies in the process so long as he remains in place. However, the U.S. and Turkey have been actively supporting the rebels in Syria. Right now, with all the pronouncements about an impending U.S. attack on Syria, President Obama has two options:

1) Carry out the attack. Of course, such attacks rarely accomplish anything when you announce them several weeks ahead of time and place severe limitations on their impact as well. However, even the meekest attack can the provoke Syrians to fire off a few Russian missiles at Incirlik. What does Obama do then? If Turkey then attacks Syria openly, and the Russians want to send help to Syria through Istanbul, what happens? Does Obama invoke Article 5 and attack Russia in defense of Turkey?

1.a) Say Obama doesn't invoke Article 5, and lets Russia, Syria, and Turkey duke it out among themselves. What happens to NATO? Discuss.

1.b) Say Obama announces that he is going to invoke Article 5 and defend Turkey against Russian aggression. Putin says he'll fire nuclear missiles if any country tries to interfere. Does Obama back down? If he does, what does that do to NATO? Discuss.

2) Don't attack Syria. Of course, there is that uncomfortable bit about red lines and stuff. Now, you have established one more time that your threats are not to be taken seriously. Assad, with even more help from the Russians, wipes out the rebels. Then, turns to Turkey and Saudi Arabia to settle scores. Along with Iran's nuclear weapons, the duo don't even need explicit Russian involvement to bring the West down.

Mr. President knows there are no options to justify his Nobel Peace Prize. Compounding the problem, prior to becoming the President, he had never held any executive position where he had to make decisions. What does he do? He tries to shift the blame on to someone else, in this case the U.S. Congress, for whatever happens.

Every time an opportunity is missed to affirmatively signal one's strength and resolve in the repeated game of chicken, it becomes costlier to do so with the next opportunity. Because those opportunities all involve fighting. As we know, fighting is costly. We don't want to fight. But, to avoid fights, others must know that, if necessary, we will fight.

So far, all they know is that Mr. President will throw a fit and then yield.

The struggle has been lost.

Putin is the new boss.

And, if you think it makes no difference, you are in for a surprise.

This outcome could have been avoided.

Instead we got this:

This is my last election … After my election I have more flexibility," Obama said, expressing confidence that he would win a second term.

"I will transmit this information to Vladimir," said Medvedev, Putin's protégé and long considered number two in Moscow's power structure.

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