Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Hornet's Nest: TheRussian Bear in Syria is stung in Turkey, and an Islamic radical strike in Berlin

 American Committee for Relief in the Near East poster from World War One.  The tragedy of the Middle East just keeps going on and on.

Yesterday brought us two terrible news stories that relate to the ongoing disaster in the Middle East.

The first of them was the assassination of the Turkish Ambassador to Turkey by a Turkish policeman.  Before he was shot down himself he claimed his act to be an act of vengeance for Aleppo and Syria in general.

Time will tell if he was part of a larger movement, or merely enraged to extreme violence by the  Russian participation in the war.  Anyway you look at it, and saying something that you are not supposed to, this was pretty predictable.

Here on this blog, from the very onset of the war in Syria, I've taken the position that getting involved in the Syrian mess would be a huge mistake.  I've thought that we should take on ISIL, but I have also thought all along that people who thought that there was a nice way in and out of Syria were delusional.  Recognizing that I would have simply stepped back from there except to take on the specter of ISIL which grew as time went on.

Russia, lead by neo-Tsar Vladimir Putin, took the opposite course and in so doing reverted to a heavy handed type of warfare the world has not really seen since World War Two.  Nations simply do not bomb cities into oblivion anymore.  It isn't done, as it isn't right.  A person can (and quite a few do) go back and debate the morality of what occurred in the Second World War, but everyone accords that this is not allowable now.

Russia's mere presence in Syria is an odd thing, quite frankly, and in some ways we can take a little of the blame for that.  Delusional in our own right, we supplied arms to factions that we knew little about and which had (as I noted here all along) no chance of winning. But even poor combatants can lengthen a war and make it worse.  That may well be what we achieved and as that occurred the forces we really opposed grew in strength there.  In the end a Syrian government that was always fascistic but which looked somewhat to the West turned to the only friends it could find, Russia and Iran, and Russia took the role in that civil war that Germany did in the Spanish one, with similar results.

Well, he would live by the sword will die by it, and now inflicting violence on Syria has been revisited on a Russian diplomat in Turkey.  The Russians will react badly, but this won't end there.  Putin is one of those characters who can read the signs in his own times, but can't seem to read history accurately.

In terms of not reading history accurately, President Obama, while he played out the combat in this region masterfully (and contrary to the way I would have gone about it) may deserve a bit of blame as well for drawing lines in the sand he wasn't prepared to enforce.  It would have been better to draw no lines at all, but perhaps that was not possible.  At least one commentator has noted that drawing "red lines" and then doing nothing about them probably taught Putin that he could steal cyber secrets and nothing would happen to him.  I suspect that was a lesson badly learned, as something will likely happen now.

In a lot of ways, quite frankly, Russia is a paper tiger.  It's a mere shadow of the USSR with large scale suppressed internal opposition and an involvement in two internal wars. The USSR could not endure an arms race with the West and Russia can't either.  I don't know what the US will do to counter Russia (and with Trump coming in its really difficult to tell, to say the least) but mounting a counter electronic attack would likely be pointless.  They have a lot of hackers, but we depend on computers a lot more than they do.  

But they do depend on oil for their economy.  They are vulnerable there. The US domestic oil industry has been crying for assistance in the wake of the crashed prices and that same phenomenon has hurt Russia.  Closing Russian oil experts would devastate Russia, and it wouldn't hurt us a bit.  It would hurt Europe however.  Still, there may be an avenue there, if cooperation for the effort could be amassed.

Beyond that, a nation involved in two smouldering wars can't really afford to have their opposition really supplied.  Getting into Syria now would be an error for us, but backing the Ukraine to a much greater degree may not be.  Even simply training and supplying a good Ukrainian army is a problem for Russia.

Of course we'll see what actually occurs.

What did occur also yesterday  is that another Islamic attack occurred in Europe, this time in Berlin.  The suspect in the bus assault is Pakistani, so he falls outside of the region, for Europe, that we'd expect this to occur, but that may show the power of Islamic extremism to attract the Islamic dispossessed everywhere.  The sad fact is that this is not going to be the last of this.

On a more positive note, however, while the story has been barely noted, exposure to European culture and an open society is corroding Islamic adherence amongst the refugee population at large at the same time its attracting some to violence.  Priests in Germany and France have noted that in some places their pews are now full. . .with Arab refugees who have converted or are converting to Christian faiths.  A faithful people, in the free market of ideas, that faith is going away from Islam.  And even here in the US a couple of weeks ago a nominally Islamic Washington Post reporter announced that he was being baptized a Catholic, as was the former Miss USA who was the first Muslim to obtain that title.  

Changes in the wind.

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