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Are we witnessing the end of Syria?

French Mandate of SyriaReuters has a report on how Quds Force Commander Gen. Soliemani mapped out Russian involvement to save beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad, “How Iranian general plotted out Syrian assault in Moscow.”  The strategy unraveling now is a joint air and ground assault to carve out an Alawite bastion in Western and Northwestern Syria ejecting CIA and Coalition-trained opposition, Al Qaeda Al Nusrah Front and Free Syrian Army forces. The air assault to date has focused on attacking these units in a strategic line north out of Damascus. The ground component is composed of fresh Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah units. The Russian air assault contingent based in Latakia province is being bolstered by Russian “volunteers” a page out of Putin’s playbook for seizure of the Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. In the absence of significant US trained Sunni opposition contingents in this scenario; it would appear that Syria may devolve into a series of sectarian cantons akin to the  French Mandate for Syria granted by the League of Nations in the early 1920’s.

The objective of Iran is to build a virtual Shia crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean coast including bringing in Shia extremist Imams and resettling  Shia refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan in Syrian areas depopulated of Sunnis and Christians. The Alawites, who are secular, are troubled by this development and many have fled abroad. The Kurds have their de facto canton in Northeastern Syria abutting the Kurdish Regional Government in neighboring Iraq.

Turkey is clearly upset with the Russian presence in Syria, as is NATO, while the US is clearly dithering on what to do. Once again Obama has been outfoxed by Soliemani and Putin. That leaves allies like Israel, the Saudis and the Emirates seeking alternatives for their own sovereign protection. The Saudis and Emirates are talking about a jihad akin to that they funded in Afghanistan with CIA and Pakistan’s ISI in a secret war in the 1980’s that led to the rout of the Soviet 40th Army and gave rise to Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.

A Der Spiegel article, “The Iranian Project: Why Assad Has Turned to Moscow for Helpportrays  President Bashar al-Assad as caught in a dilemma; “fear of friends”, meaning Iran versus “fear of opposition.”That former fear stems from reliance on Iran Revolutionary Guards, Shia auxiliaries from Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Sadr Brigade in Iraq and Shia fighters from Afghanistan and  Pakistan. They are under the command of Quds Force Commander Soliemani and make up for the decimation and desertions of draftees from the Syrian National Defense Forces. Iran’s intention is to build an Islamic Revolutionary State within  the areas along the Mediterranean coast and Mountains of Northwest Syria. To that end Iran has sent in radical Imams to create Shia religious centers directed at conversion of secular Alawites and Sunnis causing them to flee the country.  Thus, Assad has welcomed the Russia military assistance as Putin has allegedly no such interests in the current campaign, excepting protecting Russian interests in naval and military bases, as well as offshore gas developments.

Note these excerpts:

“Assad and those around him are afraid of the Iranians,” the Russian says. Anger over the arrogance of the Iranians, who treat Syria like a colony, is also part of it, the Russian continues. Most of all, though, the Syrians “mistrust Tehran’s goals, for which Assad’s position of power may no longer be decisive. That is why the Syrians absolutely want us in the country.”

Tehran’s goals go far beyond merely reestablishing the status quo in Syria. In early 2013, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Taeb, one of the planners behind Iran’s engagement in Syria, said: “Syria is the 35th province of Iran and it is a strategic province for us.” For several decades, the alliance between the Assads and Iran was a profitable one, particularly in opposition to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, which long had the upper hand in the region. But today, Assad depends on Iran to remain in power, and Tehran is taking advantage of the situation.

It is, however, primarily in the civilian sector where significant changes are afoot. Just as in Damascus, Latakia and Jabla, increasing numbers of hosseiniehs — Shiite religious teaching centers — are opening. The centers are aimed at converting Sunnis, and even the Alawites, the denomination to which the Assads belong, to “correct” Shiite Islam by way of sermons and stipends. In addition, the government decreed one year ago that state-run religion schools were to teach Shiite material.

All of this is taking place to the consternation of the Alawites, who have begun to voice their displeasure. “They are throwing us back a thousand years. We don’t even wear headscarves and we aren’t Shiites,” Alawites complained on the Jableh News Facebook page. There were also grumblings when a Shiite mosque opened in Latakia and an imam there announced: “We don’t need you. We need your children and grandchildren.”

Talib Ibrahim, an Alawite communist from Masyaf who fled to the Netherlands many years ago, summarizes the mood as follows: “Assad wants the Iranians as fighters, but increasingly they are interfering ideologically with domestic affairs. The Russians don’t do that.”

Putin may have been prompted by Quds Force Commander Soliemani to aid mutual client Assad because he saw an opportunity to make a power play against the US in the region.  However, the secular Ba’athist Syrian tradition has been virtually suborned by the influx of Iranian Revolutionary Guards ‘and Shia proxies’ with the objective of creating a Khomeinist Revolutionary state. The confluence of those opposing interests, secular and religious, may ultimate end the decades’ long rule of the Assad family. That might lead to an ultimate apocalyptic conflict in Syria between nuclear equipped Shia Iran and the Sunni Salafist Islamic State.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Obama’s War on America is His Top Priority

We all know that the “sanctions” Obama has placed on a few of Putin’s pals thus far and those Obama wants the European Union to impose will have no effect whatever on Putin’s decision to annex the Crimea from Ukraine.

One of Obama’s solutions to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty includes giving it a billion dollars because Russia has raised the price of the natural gas it sells to the Ukraine. This means Putin just made a billion while reacquiring Crimea.

One way to bring Russia to its knees would be for Obama–if he could–to impose the same things he is doing in America on the Russian Federation:

  • Require Russia to adopt Obamacare.
  • Ban the mining and use of coal in Russia.
  • Do not allow any drilling on Russian publicly-held land.
  • Redefine the Russian work week to 30 hours.
  • Raise the Russian minimum wage.
  • Mandate overtime pay for Russian government workers.
  • Demand that Russia pay welfare benefits to its illegal immigrants.
  • Require Russia to enact the same regulations as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Increase the Russian national debt by $6 trillion dollars.
  • Require Russia to reduce all elements of its military force and capabilities by reductions to its military budget.

These policies since 2009 have weakened the United States and, if applied to Russia, they would have the same effect. It’s bad enough what Obama has done and is doing to the U.S., but neither we nor the rest of the world would be better off with a weak Russia. Its economy is too tied into the world’s.

Putin insists that it was the West led by the U.S. that resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 after seventy years of communist rule, but it was Communism that brought it to its knees. The other element was a decline in the prices of oil and natural gas–still the primary source of income for the Russian Federation—that undermined its economy.

While a panoply of experts keeps talking about the prospect of Russia aggression toward its former satellite nations in Eastern Europe, the simple fact is that Putin’s reacquisition of the Crimea just added to Russia’s financial pressures. He can barely afford Crimea. All the hand-wringing about its annexation ignores the fact that it was part of Russia for hundreds of years.

Ruchir Sharma, the head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, recently spelled out Russia’s economic woes in a Wall Street Journal commentary titled “Putin’s Potemkin Economy.”

“Mr. Putin’s real power base, the economy, is crumbling,” says Sharma. “Russia’s economic growth rate has plummeted from the 7% average annual pace of the last decade to 1.3% last year,” adding that “the Central Bank of the Russian Federation has been fighting to prevent a ruble collapse since the Crimean crisis began.”

Does that sound like a Russia that wants to invade its neighbors at this time?

“The result,” says Sharma, “is that the Russian state has few new sources of income outside of oil and gas, at a time when it is taking on more dependents” in Crimea. As for the rest of the Ukraine population, it’s only the younger generation that did not grow up under the oppression of the former Soviet Russia that thinks giving up its sovereignty is a good idea. Ukrainians with a memory of the pre-1991 days know better.

Europe, much of which depends on Russian gas, will be in no hurry to punish Russia beyond a few relatively meaningless sanctions. It’s all a charade.

It’s true that Europe went to war twice for far less reason than the Crimean annexation, but its present leaders have no wish to repeat that error for all the talk about international law.

What is being debated now is whether Putin will, for whatever reason, invade Ukraine. Only Putin knows that and the decision would be a bad one for him and everyone else.

As we strive to survive Obama’s war on the U.S. economy and the current havoc resulting from Obamacare, it is doubtful that even Obama has any inclination to see Russia collapse and could not reverse the Crimean situation even if he cared about it.

He doesn’t seem to care about what he’s doing to the rest of us so it’s the war at home which we have to survive.

© Alan Caruba, 2014