Playing at war

So, the Americans, British, and French have done their bit, and fired off 100 or so missiles at Syria. After all the fears expressed by pundits that this could be the start of World War III, it’s turned out to be a bit of a nothing-burger. That’s not to downplay the symbolic significance of the Western states’ assault on Syria, in which they acted as judge, juror, and executioner while the investigation into the alleged misdemeanour was still ongoing and chemical weapons inspectors were on their way to the site of the supposed incident. But, if early reports are to be believed, nobody was killed in the attack and the physical damage is fairly minimal. The Brits fired a mere 8 missiles; the French only 12. Those are hardly significant numbers. Given that the Brits and Americans have been meddling in the war in Syria for several years now, arming and training various groups, and bombing targets on their behalf (including occasionally bombing the Syrian Arab Army), this doesn’t really constitute much by way of escalation. Tomorrow, the Syrians will brush off the dust, and things will go back to the way they were. Russia (along with Iran) will continue to back the Syrian government, and the latter’s forces will continue to advance and regain more and more territory. It is most unlikely that this assault will have any meaningful impact on the outcome of the struggle in Syria.

What stands out for me is the choice of weapons in this attack: long-range missiles. The Brits, for instance, fired their missiles from close to their airbase on Cyprus. They didn’t come close to Syria. It seems that they were afraid of Syrian and Russian air defences, and they weren’t prepared to go to the effort of suppressing them, which would have required a long and costly campaign and would have run the danger of getting them into a war with the Russians. The Russian Ministry of Defence says that its own air defences didn’t get involved but that those of the Syrian army shot down 71 of the 103 missiles fired. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (not normally noted for promoting pro-Assad propaganda) claims that 65 were shot down. The Americans are currently denying this. The truth is hard to determine. It may be that the Western allies are right to be fearful of the Syrian/Russian air defence system. Or maybe not. What is clear, though, is that they don’t seem to be willing to take the chance. They also don’t want to get too deeply involved. So, they have limited themselves to firing a few missiles in an utterly pointless manner, while making some wild claims that this would ‘set back Syrian chemical weapons programme for years.’

This is playing at war. Unfortunately, it is symptomatic of how the Americans and the Brits wage war nowadays. They can’t resist getting involved, but the outcome doesn’t matter to them enough for them to commit the resources, and make the sacrifices, required for a successful outcome. So, in Afghanistan they committed themselves enough to stir up the locals, to flood the country with money which boosted corruption and filled the coffers of the Taliban, and generally to make everything worse, but not enough to win (which would  have required a simply enormous amount of resources). In Libya, they did just enough to push the country into chaos, but not enough to put it back together again. In Syria, they’ve pumped in enough weapons and money to thoroughly mess the place up (and in the process supply a whole bunch of people who really aren’t their friends), but not enough to overthrow Assad. And so on.

Now, to be fair, it’s a sign of some intelligence that they haven’t gone any further than they have. It would have been completely disproportionate to have done so. We must welcome the fact that in attacking Syria, they limited themselves to a symbolic gesture and stayed well clear of Russian targets. As I said in my last post, achieving the objective of regime change would require enormous destruction. It’s a good thing that our leaders aren’t prepared to go that far. The problem is, though, is that if they want to succeed that’s how far they have to go. If they’re not prepared to do so, they shouldn’t get involved at all in the first place. Unfortunately, they just can’t stop themselves. Consequently, they end up playing at war, failing time after time, while causing a lot of death and destruction in the process

These endless wars allow politicians to claim that they are being ‘strong’, or more precisely fend off complaints that they are ‘weak’. But they don’t make Britain, America, or France any safer, while those at the receiving end of Western militarism suffer greatly because of it. As far as Syria and Russia are concerned, I suspect that the net result of the latest assault will be to reinforce Russian perceptions that the West is hell-bent on a policy of military and political aggression in which Syria is the front line. They will conclude that Russia must see the war in Syria through to a successful conclusion, and also that the Western states, despite all their bluster, don’t possess the will to stop it. One can therefore expect Russia to press on, and because it has the superior will, it will most likely succeed.

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20 thoughts on “Playing at war”

    1. Exactly

      It’s a disgrace that the a UK, France and USA ignored all international conventions and structures to launch this attack on Syria – without any evidence.

      100 missiles launched at a country that has been fighting proxy forces for 7 years is not a “nothing burger”

      The OPCW have announced they have arrived in Syria today -were the bombs to destroy the
      area and make it impossible to test???

      Thank god Syria had the USSR systems to protect them or Damascus would be destroyed along with countless casualties.

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  1. Again an excellent analysis – the west uses bombing as a virtue signal, look we are hitting the bad guys. It would be nice if the Anglos used something better such as health and education programmes as a virtue signal – e,g the British response to Ebola in West Africa a few years ago.

    I am obviously very grateful that the wiser counsels of military men, who now how cruel war actually is have let Trump have his symbolic tantrum, rather than a full on war which could have ended in Armageddon. I do fear however that many civilian western commentators particularly from the Centre-left don’t really understand that there is a real risk of nuclear conflict with a (justifiably?) paranoid Russia. Westerners are pathologically incapable of understanding other cultures and basically hold all others in a near racist contempt.

    I am not sure that the Anglos could have ever conquered / stabilised Afghanistan however. The Afghans may fight each other like wolverines but if any foreigner comes into their country and tries to impose their values on them they will resist like tigers. Iraq had full commitment from the US but still managed to resist because the US was not willing to continue with an indefinite bleeding wound. By the time of Libya the western public had at least learned that ground invasions in the middle east are bad ideas, but could not help bombing a strong man who surrendered his WMD

    I have just read a excellent book – Losing Small Wars by Frank Ledwige, a retired British officer who chronicles the failure of British arms in Iraq and Afghanistan

    The Soviets tried to impose values for 70 years – today’s Russia has learnt that lesson and has no desire to change or impose a vision on any other country. Russia basically wishes to live within its own country, under its own laws and values and ensure that its kith and kin are safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like your phrase about virtue signalling – it captures the dynamic well. You may be right about Afghanistan. There are some battles which can’t be won no matter how many resources you put into them. Indeed, putting in more resources just makes matters worse. All the more reason to stay out.

      Many years ago I was in the Oxford University Ottawa Training Corps with Frank Ledwidge. His analyses of Afghanistan and Iraq are right on the mark. It’s a shame nobody in power is listening.

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    2. …a real risk of nuclear conflict with a (justifiably?) paranoid Russia.

      We all seem to be on the same page but wanted to comment of the above snippet. The US is awash in self-imposed paranoia: Russia meddled in US elections; Russia controls Trump; Russia is hacking our infrastructure and Russia is everywhere! Facebook! Twitter!, Hacking Hilary’s email, blah blah blah.

      There is rampant paranoia in the US but not in Russia based on Russian media available in the US form what I can see.

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      1. The paranoia I refer to is not media hysteria – which is what you see in the west, So called Russian meddling is not in the end going to endanger the lives of ordinary Americans. The mainstream Russian media has been relatively calm by comparison

        What I am talking about here is the genuine background belief amongst the majority of Russians is that the west will ultimately wish to annihilate or enslave them – This belief may or may not be accurate today but there is historical evidence for it

        1. Use of mustard gas by the British RAF against Russians near Arkhangelsk during the western invasion of Russia during the civil war
        2. Operation unthinkable
        3. Plan totallity
        4. Operation dropshot
        5. Ronald Reagan’s the bombing begins in 5 minutes gaffe – not very funny
        6. Close call during Able Archer, Stanislav Petrov

        I also mention the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Germans in 1941, but the Barbarossa surprise colours all Russian security thinking as much as Pearl Harbor is a constant presence in American security thinking.

        The current western rhetoric is seen from that perspective, unfortunately the Anglos are not capable of seeing other people’s points of view (I don’t mean agreeing, I mean understanding even if you think that their POV is utter tosh). I fear that Bozos like Bumbling Boris could lead to a World War III. There will not be a World War IV.

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  2. commentary on the France, UK, US or FUKUS as they shall now be known from China’s Global Times – the main Chinese newspaper looking at foreign affairs and a voice of the Chinese Government
    http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1095361.shtml

    Key points

    The Chinese believe that after Syria, Iran and Russia they will be next on the target list

    “It is beyond outrageous how the US and Europe have treated Russia. Their actions represent a frivolity and recklessness that has grown to characterize Western hegemony that only knows how to contaminate international relations. Right now is the perfect time for non-Western nations to strengthen unity and collaborative efforts among one another. These nations need to establish a level of independence outside the reach of Western influence while breaking the chains of monopolization declarations, predetermined adjudications, and come to value their own judgement abilities.

    It’s already understood that to achieve such international collective efforts is easier said than done as they require foundational support before anything can happen. Until a new line of allies emerges, multi-national associations like BRICS, or even the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, need to provide value to those non-Western nations and actively create alliances with them.

    What Russia is experiencing right could serve as a reflection of how other non-Western nations can expect to be treated in the not-to-distant future. Expelling Russian diplomats simultaneously is hardly enough to deter Russia. Overall, it’s an intimidation tactic that has become emblematic of Western nations, and furthermore, such measures are not supported by international law and therefore unjustified. More importantly, the international community should have the tools and means to counterbalance such actions….”

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  3. The view of retired Indian ambassador MK Bhadrakumar

    http://blogs.rediff.com/mkbhadrakumar/2018/04/14/winners-and-losers-in-trumps-syria-attack/

    “f the former US Deputy Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, an experienced career diplomat, got the impression that POTUS was playing a video game, it comes as no surprise. Indeed, the most striking thing about the US strike on Syria is its futility of purpose beyond a symbolic value to impress the domestic constituency that POTUS is a forceful decision-maker, who unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, lays down ‘red lines’ and follows up.
    Actually, it is a cowardly stance. Trump hastened to strike just hours before the investigation by the team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was due to begin in Douma – as if time was running out to act with impunity. Clearly, Trump felt the compulsion to be seen acting. He had no authorization from the Congress nor did he secure a mandate from the UN Security Council to launch aggression against a UN member country.”

    “like in the Sherlock Holmes story, the dog didn’t bark – not a single move has been reported by Russia to intercept the incoming missiles. Moscow simply watched a brawl unfold between the US, UK and France on one side and the Syrian regime on the other. Moscow instead turned on its propaganda apparatus to take the maximum advantage of the senseless, almost bizarre missile attack. If the OPCW team turns in a ‘Nil’ report from Douma shortly, Russian propaganda can be trusted to go for Trump’s jugular veins.”

    “All eyes are on Iran. But Tehran will not speak its mind. Tehran’s eyes are cast on the May 12 deadline when Trump must decide on the sanctions waiver to the July 2015 nuclear deal. The big question now is whether Trump would tear up the Iran nuclear deal in the present circumstances when the US needs the support of its European allies.
    Syria constitutes Iran’s defence line. Significantly, even as Trump was ratcheting up rhetoric against Syria, the powerful Iranian statesman Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei landed in Damascus on Wednesday, met President Assad and toured Douma, the alleged site of the chemical attack. It was a defiant gesture and act of solidarity with Assad.
    Tehran has hinted at “regional consequences.” But Iran’s style will be to avoid direct conflict with the US and opt instead to intensify its political work and consolidate its wide networking with various groups on the ground, which systematically keep undermining the US presence in Syria and Iraq. No doubt, Iran will intensify the politics of “resistance” against Israel”.

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  4. 1.THIS MISSILE ATTACK SHOWS THE WEST’S POWER.
    2. WEST WILL HAVE MORE CHANCES TO DO THE SAME OR EVEN MORE ATTACKS IF ASSAD TRIES TO LIBERATE IDLIB PROVINCE AND IF CHEMICAL ATTACKS HAPPEN FALSE FLAG OR REAL .PRECEDENT HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED.NEXT TIME IT COULD BE UNDER NATO FLAG.
    3.RUSSIA IS ISOLATED & IS NOT RICH AND HAS NO THICK FRIENDS LIKE NATO COUNTRIES.
    4.IT IS SURROUNDED BY STATES WHICH ARE TURNING HOSTILE AROUND IT’S CORE AREA.
    5.IT WAS SANCTIONED ECONOMICALLY,DIPLOMATICALLY AND NOW ITS MILITARY WAS ALSO DISREGARDED.
    6.IT HAS CRISIS SITUATION DUE TO UKRAINE,TURNING HOSTILE
    7.AS IT TAKES LOT OF TIME FOR A WAR(AND AS UK DOCUMENTED -10YEARS OF AGGRESSION BY RUSSIA) SOME THING MIGHT HAPPEN WITHIN THE NEXT SIX YEARS AS USA IS ANGRY WITH RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN ITS ELECTIONS.
    8.MAY BE AN ANNOUNCEMENT OF A REAL ECONOMIC & MILITARY ALLIANCE WITH CHINA & IRAN &CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRIES WILL HELP RUSSIA .MAINLY ECONOMICAL.

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  5. Main problem is that Trump has locked himself into an escalatory cycle. The jihadis now know that all they need to do to provoke geometrically expanding retaliations against Assad is to continue setting up false flag gas attacks. Talk of perverse incentives.

    As this cycle plays out, the chances of Russian forces entering into hostilities with US and coalition forces will continue to increase. Maybe next time Bolton/Trump will win out over Mattis. Or maybe Israelis or Saudis launch an attack on Russian forces under the cover of the next coalition strike against Syria.

    Either way, Russia has zero chances of winning an aeronaval battle over Syria, so in this scenario, it would be forced to either (1) suffer humiliation, retreat, and hunker down against the inevitable domestic backlash, or (2) retaliate in areas where it has escalation dominance [e.g. ranging from least to most serious, the Ukraine; the Strait of Hormuz (if Iran agrees); the Baltics].

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    1. Your analysis misses this key point;

      These air strikes proved one thing – threats by Russia to escalate if they were hit were enough to ensure that these strikes thankfully had little impact on them; and allowed Syria to clam a PR victory because they stood up to three nuclear powers.

      The USA showed they were not prepared to escalate over Syria the fight is lost.

      Syrian armed forces have developed into a highly effective force.

      Russia can now give them better air defences as all previous agreements not to became null and void after these air strikes.

      Israel and Saudis Arabia really overplayed their hands. The air strikes did not cripple the Syrian govt – they repelled a simultaneous attack by ISiS and live to fight another day!

      Iran can also upgrade as it is clear they are threatened to.

      China has woken up to the threat to them by attacks on their trading routes and allies.

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  6. I noticed that the Germans and Italians refused to participate in the attack. How far we have come since 1945 when it is the US & UK launching aggressive, unprovoked wars while the lands of Hitler and Mussolini are now the voices of restraint.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The government of the land of Hitler did back the attack.
      They just did not participate in the attack.
      Considering the sorry state of the German army, that is not surprising.

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      1. Being dependent on a reliable supply of Russian gas through Nord Stream II also concentrates the Germans’ minds wonderfully.

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  7. An interesting information from the last night emergency session of the Security Council – I did devote some time to listen to some of the speeches. Research centre bombed 24 hrs ago was inspected by the OPCW inspectors last year and certified to be free of poisonous substances. It really starts looking like Iraq 2.0.

    Regards,

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This reminds me of bombing the pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum 20 years ago.

    This geopolitical period begins with Bush I proclaiming in 1991: “The U.S. has a new credibility. What we say goes”. The new American century. Escalates to the Khartoum factory, bombings of Serbia. Culminates to “reshaping of the middle east” with the Iraq invasion, Libya, attempting to destroy Syria, drone strikes all over.

    Still happening. Although apparently losing steam, quite a bit.

    Like

  9. 103 missiles fired. Each costs $1.87 million to make. Instead they could have give that amount of money to the Ukraine, which looks bombed out right now even without airstrikes. Gan’ba!

    Like

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