Could The Syrian Conflict Irrevocably Change Global Geopolitics?

Yves here. This is a concise, high-level overview of the main issues at play in the Syrian conflict.

By Robert Berke, an energy financial analyst with experience as a government consultant to the State of Alaska. Originally published at OilPrice

Few meetings ever started with dimmer prospects for success than the recent meeting between Presidents Obama and Putin.

The real call for the meeting stemmed from the EU refugee crisis. With a human catastrophe brewing in Europe and the Middle East, EU leaders are urgently demanding that the U.S. and Russia set aside their differences and begin to work together in an effort to resolve the Syrian conflict, the major cause of the massive movement of people seeking sanctuary.

Now, U.S./EU leaders are no longer insisting on the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from office as a pre-condition to negotiations over a new government, although the U.S. continues to insist that al-Assad’s removal become part of any final settlement.

But how can such fundamental differences be set aside when the two sides can’t even agree on the enemy they’re fighting? The U.S. and its allies have defined the Syrian conflict as a civil war against a despotic regime. The Russians define the conflict as an invasion by foreign Islamic radicals, paid and supported by U.S.’ Middle Eastern allies.

The EU has made its demands clear: solve the problem, we don’t particularly care how, but it has to be done quickly. From that point of view, the U.S. and Russian leaders have little choice but to answer the call.

Russia is attempting to form and lead a UN authorized coalition against ISIL, the radical jihadists’ adversaries that conquered large parts of Syria and Iraq, while threatening to engulf the entire region.

Obama has stated publicly that he welcomes help from Russia and Iran in the fight against radical jihadists, ISIL, in Syria, while still insisting that al-Assad must go. On their side, the Russians have made no secret of their strong objections to NATO-led regime change, citing the results of failed states in Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.

In a recent New York Times article, an Administration insider stated that the President believes Syria is a lost cause, one that U.S. military presence could only worsen.

Obama has also shown little reluctance to lead from behind, when supporting NATO partners, particularly with a U.S. public largely opposed to America’s military engagement in any further Mideast wars.

But Russia is not NATO, and it’s clear that the U.S. has no intention of following the Kremlin’s lead in Syria, as its veto of the Russian coalition proposal at the UN Security Council clearly shows. Adding to that was the United States’strong condemnation of the Russian air attack on its first day of operations in Syria.

The urgency of the moment favors cooperation, while geography gives Russia major advantages in leading the fight. Russia’s relationship with Iran, already fighting on the ground in Iraq, with its ally Hezbollah fighting in Syria, provides Russia with a readymade army to complement its air attacks.

With the Russians initiating air strikes against ISIL in Syria, the great fear of world leaders is that an accidental collision between opposing U.S. and Russian forces raises the risks of war between the two nuclear powers.

While both sides deny any intent at military collaboration or sharing of military intelligence in Syria, the two Presidents have agreed to meetings of their military leaders, ostensibly aimed at reducing the risk of accidental conflicts between them. How that can be done without shared military intelligence about troop movements, and planned air attacks remains a mystery.

Adding to the confusion is the increasingly cordial meetings between Russian and Saudi leaders.

Many believe that the Saudis, and their Gulf Kingdom partners, hold the key to resolving the conflict, as the major backers of the ‘moderate Islamic’ rebels fighting the Syrian Government forces.

The Saudis have largely refrained from criticizing the Russian military buildup in Syria, even though it bolsters the Assad regime, and the Kingdom continues to hold its cards close to its vest regarding their position on the new Russian military initiative in Syria.

At the same time, there were conflicting signals in regards to the relationship between Iran and Russia. Reports surfaced in late September that the two countries, along with Syria and Iraq, were coordinating military efforts against the ISIL. But at the UN meeting, Iran’s President Rouhani made the surprising statement that Iran saw no need to coordinate military efforts in Syria, with the Russian goal to support its embattled ally in Syria, while Iran’s goal is eradicate ISIL.

It’s widely recognized that since the Iran nuclear deal, Iran and the U.S. have sought to move closer in other important areas. Still, Rouhani’s UN statement seemed to belie the recent agreements between Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria to build an information center in Baghdad to share battlefield reconnaissance against ISIL.

That also falls in line with the new agreement with Iran, Iraq, and Syria to provide an air corridor for Russian military flyovers to Syria for Russian fighter planes and transport aircraft.

To observers, these agreements certainly smack of military coordination with Russia. Iran’s need to distance itself from Russia seems to be made with an eye on the U.S., where hardline Presidential candidates threaten to tear up the nuclear agreement.

The highly charged political atmosphere in the U.S., in the midst of a Presidential election, only adds to the fog of war in Syria, forcing public denials and secret agreements where there needs to be utmost clarity, making military cooperation in Syria almost impossible, while raising the risks of accidental conflicts between so-called partners.

What then of western sanctions against Russia? In the eyes of the west, the Syrian conflict is beginning to eclipse Ukraine in importance. The U.S. seems satisfied to leave the Ukraine issue to Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine for settlement.

The EU is most likely to be the first mover to ease sanctions, realizing, as a number of EU leaders have stated, that it is fundamentally incompatible to rely on Russia’s military might while starving the Russian economy.

In January, the EU sanctions are set to expire, requiring a unanimous vote of all member states for extension. The odds are rising that the EU will allow sanctions to expire.

If so, major global business will once again flock to Russia. That would include the return of major western energy companies that have played a critical part in Russian energy development. Once that starts, it will become far more difficult to reverse the momentum or re-impose sanctions.

Given the political atmosphere in Washington, it’s clear the U.S. will leave its sanctions in place.

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  1. Sam Kanu

    Given the political atmosphere in Washington, it’s clear the U.S. will leave its sanctions in place.

    Here you mean “Given the political instructions to Washington from Tel Aviv”. I dont see any general feeling in the American people that demands ongoing conflict with Iran. This is not politics at all – just pure old tail wagging the dog.

  2. Older & Wiser

    The un-named 1800 lb Mr. and Mrs. Gorilla couple in the room are oil & gas.
    Pipelines anyone ?

    1. Aj

      I agree with you here, and I can’t figure out why no one is discussing the role of the pipeline here. Can’t we just be honest and say that Russia doesn’t want to lose its monopoly to supply Europe with heating oil? I don’t understand why we’re pretending this conflict in Syria is about anything else.

  3. ambrit

    Given Russias’ long term relationship with Syria, I’m bemused that any Neo of any stripe could with a straight face suggest that the Russians would abandon the Syrian Government to a bunch of Western backed wreckers. Maintaining a foothold in the Middle East is basic Grand Strategy. America does it with Israel, so Russia does it with Syria.
    In the long run, the Middle East is beginning a shake up. The post WW1 borders were incompatible with the ethnic groupings of the region. Now those old ‘drawn on a map’ borders are being broken apart and the pieces reassembled. This process can take years or decades to work out. The time frame depends on how ‘responsible’ the Great Powers are in dealing with the realignment process.
    Do notice the framing of the issue in the MSM. “Irresponsible Russia” and “Assad Must Go” are everywhere proclaimed. Like the magicians they are, the MSMs rely on misdirection to try to pull off the ‘trick.’ While the West tries to browbeat the Russians, the Russians are persistently acting in their, and in the Syrian Governments, perceived best interests.
    On the air front, the Russian “incursions” look to be standard battlefield intelligence work. Send a plane or two ‘over the border’ and see what sorts of anti air radars ‘lock on’ to your aircraft. This is something any competent air commander would want to discover. This is also a thinly veiled threat to the West; “Look! Anyone can play this game!” The basic point being; there is no such thing as a ‘no fly zone,’ if you are willing to fight.
    The Russian message is basic; “Put up, or shut up.”

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The post WWI borders are fairly similar to Ottoman administrative districts. The Kuwait city-state answered to the governor of Baghdad within their framework. The issue has been foreign powers using sectarian ties to divide the little people from cooperation which was achievable under the Sultan for 500 years. Even Hussein found the Shiites to be exceptionally loyal during the Iran-Iraq War.

      The rise of the Saudis, allowing the Israelis to knock over Lebanon and run an apartheid state, and supporting oppressive regimes which would have fallen or reformed (pretty much all the Gulf states which also have ancient borders) are major issues. There have always been states centered around the modern cities (Ur and Babylon were replaced by Baghdad) or provinces. I believe the creative borders argument was always a “White Man’s Burden” excuse to justify control. “Professor Scott, why do they fight in the Middle East?” Excuses about unfortunate cartography sound better than “I needed to build a railroad and did the want to pay the locals, so I cooked up a rape story in one village, handed out guns, and slaughtered the adult males in the other village.”

      On the other hand, Africa was carved up bizarrely based on rail and ship movements.

  4. todde

    KSA claims Assad must go and I doubt they will support Russia.

    Who is supporting IS? I find it hard to believe they can maintain armed conflict on several fronts without a state backer.

    Where are the 10s of billions of dollars in turkeys central bank in accounts called unknown foreign sources and errors and adjustments?

    Iran will support Assad regardless of American actions.

    1. blert

      Two factors.

      Iran was using Turkey as a front, Ankara collected its ‘cut.’

      Turkey was laundering monies from the Gulf, too, probably Golden Chain funding for the fanatics in Syria.

      Erdogan has more side action than Rick’s Cafe American.

  5. Eureka Springs

    Madness R U.S.

    US, Saudi, Turks and Israeli’s must be held at bay at the very least. It’s (Russia, Iran, Syria) who are the only entities resembling a possible humanitarian, rule of law base of action now or possibly working towards that kind of end game.

    That’s how low we are, R or D, … the creators and perpetrators of al Q and all of their newly named lackeys doing our dirty work continuously since the 1980’s. It’s not impossible to know who we are and what we have long done… Reading Obama’s words and Putin’s it is clear Putin is being far more honest and consistent in both action and words.

    Maybe we should stop blowing up hospitals and imprison leaders who order or even allow it to happen. Nah, there are too many unarmed citizens in wheelchairs who must be shot.

    1. blert

      Bin Laden has gone on record — time and time, again — denouncing your thesis.

      He never needed American funding — ever.

      He would never, ever, grovel to the kafir.

      It’s only recently that 0bama started funding AQ’s front organs, al Nusrah inparticular.

      BOTH ISIS and al Nusrah are joined at the hip and are al Qaeda fronts. They only had a falling out, circa 2011.

      The FSA is a total fiction. It’s a Western media construct.

      Syria is a fight between brutal Assad and two feral al Qaeda fronts… that can’t be controlled.

      The UK, US and Jordan trained most of ISIS’ cadres in the Jordanian desert back in 2011-12. They then went rogue. That (mostly Jordanian) force is still the dominant core of ISIS.

      Our crass media is complicit in covering up a reality that the rest of the planet is hip to.

      1. Eureka Springs

        Agree with you after your first three lines. I guess those shoulder fired missiles which al Q used to take out Russian helicopters in Afghanistan during the ’80’s were Costa Rican made and supplied.

      2. Massinissa

        So Bin Laden was actually giving money and guns to Kissinger instead of the other way around?

        You have seen that famous photo of Bin Laden and Kissinger right? Just google it.

      3. Massinissa

        My bad not Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski

        I am so sorry

        I requested deletion of the post above by accident, ill reproduce it here

        So Bin Laden was actually giving money and guns to Brzezinski instead of the other way around?

        You have seen that famous photo of Bin Laden and Brzezinski right? Just google it.

      4. Danny

        ISIS also has a lot of chechen rebels, which is one of the things strongly drawing in Russia to the fight against ISIS.
        But, yeah ISIS is also fighting with US tanks and armament driven by people trained to use them by the US.

  6. tegnost

    “The highly charged political atmosphere in the U.S., in the midst of a Presidential election, only adds to the fog of war in Syria,” If there is a highly charged political atmosphere it is only in the MSM, everywhere I look it’s either complacency or disgust.

  7. Steven

    Somewhere I remember reading an analysis of the Syrian conflict along the following lines:
    It does indeed involve geopolitics – with the aim being to replace Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas with that from U.S. Middle-eastern ‘allies’. To do that it is necessary to build a pipeline across Syria – and insure the Syrian government is firmly in the pocket of the U.S. and its allies.

    Without wishing to denigrate the influence of AIPAC, this conflict has far more to do with preserving and possibly extending US global hegemony (with a continuing full-employment program for the country’s Congressional military-industrial complex) than it does Israel’s inordinate control over US foreign policy. All the blather about democracy vs. dictatorship and/or Sunni vs. Shia vs. Sunni is just offal fed to the cannon fodder used by powers great and small to get it to sacrifice itself for their ambitions.

    Like ambrit said, this is just “basic Grand Strategy”. It is way past time for US ‘leaders’ to recognize the full spectrum dominance they enjoyed in the aftermath of WWII was (charitably) an accident of history and come to terms with a multi-polar world and the concept of collective security to which they gave so much word of mouth to a population disgusted with the carnage and destruction of the second “war to end all wars”.

    1. Hespeler1

      Steven, Pepe Escobar has written extensively about the “pipeline wars” (“pipelinestan”), the Empire is trying to starve Russia’s finances in part by bypassing Russia’s pipelines. Greece was pressured into refusing to be the Turkish Stream’s terminus and distribution hub for Southern Europe. We all know how much they needed the revenue from that, but TPTB said no. Grand Strategy=break up Russia, steal her resources, put pressure on China. I fear that the Empire won’t stop until they accomplish this, or are buried.

  8. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    Sometimes things are just so obvious. US “veto of the Russian coalition proposal at the UN Security Council”. Could be because the US wants to lead a bigger, better coalition, maybe ours will include Samoa or something. Or, um, duh, could be because US doesn’t really want to fight ISIS since that’s our dog in this fight. Funny how a few days bombing by Russia has had a real impact on actual ISIS fighters…whereas US bombing tends to be on stuff like bridges and power plants and hospitals that hurt Assad more than they hurt ISIS.
    I mean how bleeding obvious when we get John McCain high fiving ISIS…and our grand plan was to find “moderate” maniacs that would do our bidding. “OK everybody, form a line, if you’re an extremist take the T-shirt on the left, if you’re a moderate take a T-shirt on the right”. That strategy has worked out so well for us in the past, we spent $500M and trained precisely “4 or 5” guys.
    Yankee go home.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I’m sure the Japanese will send some old segas for morale in an American coalition.

    1. Harry

      Iraq is part of the Russian coalition as well as China and you probably do know that Iraqi prime-minister already made a statement that he would not object against Russians decimating ISIS on the Iraqi territory. And look, oil prices are already going up – that’s what Putin really needed and this is one of the eight reasons why he started a war in the Middle East.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Started a war? You do realize training a day arming rebels is an act of war even if Congress hides the funding in the classified budget or if it’s done by the CIA instead of corporate approved soldiers. The U.S. government has started numerous wars without Congressional approval, mostly because Congress is still afraid of elections. Russia is allied with Syria. If anything Putin has shown remarkable constraint.

      2. cwaltz

        Russia started the war?

        I’m pretty sure the war in Syria was started by individuals interested in actually deposing Assad(Hint: that ain’t Russia.)

        Those swell freedom fighters are getting their money from somewhere and it ain’t Russia.

        The FSA was initially backed by some Syrians but also received funding from Turkey, Qatar, and our good friends the Saudis. So no, Russia is not responsible for starting the war.

  9. Synoia

    There are three sides to Syria:

    1. New Caliphate – Includes Turkey & Saudi Arabia – Look at a map and think contiguous empire -ISIS is their tool.
    2. US dislike of Assad, and allied with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but dislikes New Caliphate and ISIS.
    3. Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah etc, dislike New Calipahe, becue of potential threat to Russia from Muslim arc from Iran through to China (the Stans).

    Which leaves the US’s allies in direct opposition to the US’ goals, and leads to lies, deceit and deception from parties (1) and (2).

    The role of ISIS is to destabilize Syria and Iran, to create an opportunity for Turkish Troops (500,000 man army), and Saudi money to enter, the region “to keep the peace,” thus furthering their imperial ambitions.

    The US is trying to eliminate Assad, but not enable a new Caliphate, and undermine Russia’s and Iran’s influence in the area, because Oil and exceptionalism (for exceptionalism see collective ego, or stunning arragance).

    Russia and Iran see the solution to a New Caliphate as Assad in power, and a weakening of US influence.

    aka: Quagmire

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The U.S. government’s side* is childish at best. The only real plan was Sunni elements of the army would assume power when Assad was removed from power with a little Saber rattling much like Libya with the GNC. Obama’s ego prevents him from recognizing what a stupid idea this was and how radically different types Assad a day Gaddafi’s power bases were.

      *They are hiding behind the war powers act and approval from post 9/11 legislation. Congress an otherwise President are too cowardly to call our actions acts of war which is what they are.

  10. washunate


    But seriously, it is interesting seeing what the Oilprice guys think their audience wants to hear. They are clearly inside the MSM echo chamber. You have everything from dichotomous balance (because truth has two sides) to the charged political atmosphere (which sadly forces otherwise honest and transparent leaders to engage in secrecy and deception against their will).

    I particularly love how casual the author is with the notion that the President of the United States has an explicit policy goal of deposing the leader of a sovereign nation. Ho hum, just another head of state that must go.

  11. susan the other

    This summary by Berke also reflects my puzzled observations. It wasn’t that long ago that we worried about a fundamentalist insurrection in SA and so we politely made ourselves scarce to help the Saudis out. There’s probably now a pre-arranged trade off for the Saudis and Iran: SA gets to take over Yemen; Iran gets to create a corridor through Syria. Who knows. I thought the meeting at the UN between Obama and Putin was such thinly disguised cooperation that surely some MSM would comment – but none did. And the EU has stated (above) that sanctions against Russia are incompatible because the EU is “relying on Russia’s military might” and shouldn’t therefore starve the Russian economy. Wow, let’s hear the story on that please. So did Holland send in the French bombers to help out Russia? Maybe SA and RU are chummy because Russia is going to get the contract to build the new pipeline from the Gulf to Europe.

  12. Synoia

    because Russia is going to get the contract to build the new pipeline from the Gulf to Europe.

    Got a link? I’d like to see the possible routes…

      1. Synoia

        Such a pipeline would be a mistake for the Saudis, unless well buried. It would become a target.

        People opposed to the Saudi’s could then hold the Saudi’s hostage — nice pipeline you’ve got there, pity if anything happened to it.

        To stop the flow of oil in Tankers would require many hijacks of Tankers, or damage to a oil loading terminals, which are probably well guarded.

        1. ambrit

          Or closing the Straits of Hormuz. There’s a very good reason the KSA doesn’t go up against Iran out in the open.

    1. blert

      Actually all of the load growth, for OPEC, is towards India and points east.

      American fracking has released a glut of oil into the Atlantic Ocean market space.

      Nigeria essentially lost North America as a customer — all together.

      If Libya and Venezuela get their act together, the glut becomes even more pronounced.

      Then toss in Brazil’s new out put.

        1. skippy

          A giddy operator with the rights to a gas-rich parcel of land can’t just drill willy-nilly. Well design considerations are very complex and attention to detail must span the construction, testing phase, and decommissioning of the well post-production. Moreover, drilling wells are often constructed uniquely with regard to the geology and geography of the specific location. For instance, because much of the shale formation in Pennsylvania lies beneath a shallower gas formation, it is easier for the shallower gas to escape

          during the initial drilling process. This in turn has made it difficult for drillers to design failproof wells that can be sealed off from the younger deposits completely.

          1. ambrit

            There is also the problem of Hydrogen Sulfide, a colorless, very poisonous gas found in many natural gas deposits. The cost of extraction of the substance will often make production from a well prohibitively expensive.
            The treatment of natural gas after it is collected above ground is complex.

  13. Jim

    At this point in the Syrian crisis it appears that the national security network (several hundred high-level military, intelligence, diplomatic and law enforcement agencies) are still debating among themselves what the U.S. response will be to Russian military initiatives in Syria and potentially Iraq.

    For all Bernie Sanders supporters, it will be interesting to see what his stance on Syria will be. Will he break( at least rhetorically) with these national security elites( who since WWII have basically dictated Presidential moves in the national security arena) or will he cave to this present structure of networked power despite his “democratic socialist” credentials.

    Will Sanders maintain this continuity of American foreign policy that so shocked Obama supporters?

    Will the United State continue on its path of greater centralization, less accountability and emergent autocracy despite whoever wins the increasingly powerless Presidencyj?

      1. James Levy

        Unfortunately, I concur.

        The amazing thing is watching the utter horror and confusion of the MSM and the Talking Heads as the Russians do things (bombing ISIS! Firing cruise missiles!!!) that the US does just about every other Tuesday, as if these things are some kind of massive breach of the peace on the order of Hitler invading Poland. The lack of any self-awareness is stunning.

          1. JTMcPhee

            …as my ex used to say to me, “When YOU do that (whatever that was), it’s WRONG. When I do it, that’s DIFFERENT.”

        1. ambrit

          Somewhere there is a group of people with ‘interest’ who are somberly living in a world of their own; said world being characterized by existential self absorbtion and cynicism.

      1. Eureka Springs

        Let’s see…

        Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry…. Biden. Biden is definitely sub Mondale and Gore… Biden is between Dukakis and Kerry I would say. We should line them up, remove the makeup all at once and see if they are the same boring loser robot. Definitely the same manufacturer.

        5 of 2,471 reasons I am not now nor likely to ever vote democrat ever again.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Who would vote for Biden? The kind of person who knows who Bernie is already knows what a clown Biden is.

          All four of those candidates are incredible compared to Biden. I cant think of anything nice to say about Biden beyond that he likes trains. Biden is the candidate of Democratic right wingers who are worried Hillary is falling apart. Despite the media black out and the focus of Hillary’s personality, Bernie is raising tens of millions of dollars, drawing crowds, and polling close in Iowa and ahead in New Hampshire. The Southern states are younger, and Hillary is less popular with young people because she is a known commodity that young people haven’t voted for her husband. Her support in the South is soft at best.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Conventional wisdom also was that Bernie would go no where and in particular could never raise money.

        Your call is awfully premature. The oppo on Biden has only just started. Politico pointed out that it was Biden himself that planted the story that it was his son’s dying wish that he wanted Biden pere to run for president.

        If Bernie does well or merely holds his own in the debate next week, all bets are off. He’s raised more net money than Hillary, since he incurred almost no cost, while Hillary’s came via fundraisers.

      3. sal

        Or a Biden run guarantees a Sanders primary win. Biden will split the Hillary vote, more than anything else. That’s why the DNC et al are waiting for her to completely implode before unleashing the Biden Juggernaut. (lol)

  14. Oregoncharles

    “Russia is attempting to form and lead a UN authorized coalition against ISIL”

    The obvious solution, especially if it does not include the US. I’m anti-interventionist in general, but ISIL poses us the problem the Nazis did: this cannot be allowed to stand. They’re actually taking us back to the 7th Century, morally, and for that matter doing things Mohammed probably wouldn’t have stood for. Except in degree, most of their actions are not unprecedented, even in modern times; what’s unprecedented is their extreme openness about it. Hypocrisy is an acknowledgment of morality; these people are trying to CHANGE morality, reversing hundreds of years of hard-won progress. They’re a kind of monster we thought we were rid of. And they’ve been successful enough militarily, at least in that deeply destabilized region, to present a real threat.

    Ultimately, they will have to be suppressed; it won’t be easy or bloodless. The Russians’ proposal may be self-interested, but it’s the only approach likely to work. American bombing certainly won’t.

    ISIL’s PR skills bother me on another level: they’re extremely convenient for the interventionists. They’ve even got me going. And there are real connections between it and the US authorities, especially in Iraq, to say nothing of the Saudis. I can’t help but wonder whether it’s a CIA operation, either run amok or conceivably still under control. (If you aren’t paranoid, you aren’t paying attention.)

    1. Brian M

      In a world where 3 MILLION people died in the Congo, largely so their neighbors can steal rare metals for western and Chinese tech companies, I’m not seeing ISIS as so uniquely evil.

      This is rather hysteric, even if one despises ISIS.

    2. Calathai

      There’s really nothing uniquely horrific about ISIS. Spend any time on websites like Liveleak (for the sake of your mental health I urge you not to do this) and you will quickly realize there is literally nothing ISIS has done that the drug cartels south of the US border aren’t also doing. ISIS just has professionally shot HD video of their killings.

  15. Gaylord

    Russia will win the race to oblivion through fossil fuel dominance. Earth will say good riddance to the plague of the human species.

      1. Brian M

        As you are both Westerners using your “share” of carbon, he is certainly speaking for you as well, Just Ice.

        It’s inevitable.

  16. papicek

    A little late to the party here. The cold war has already been rekindled:

    Georgia > Ukraine > Syria.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I would separate Georgia from other events. I always thought that was the plot of the current Governor of Odessa to be a big man by forcing a U.S. response during an election year. Saakshivilli is so odious everyone but Palin pretended the whole incident never happened after the Russians crushed NATO calober troops.

  17. Steven

    I keep wondering how much of what goes on here in the commentariat of Naked Capitalism is just preaching to the choir and how much represents (well deserved) contempt for the official government / MSM (but I repeat myself) line among the population at large. That contempt – if it exists – is in my humble opinion – a national security issue / crisis.

    1. Synoia

      That contempt – if it exists – is in my humble opinion – a national security issue / crisis.

      What’s that droning noise……

      And would anyone here act differently if in the shoes (or held the position) of those held in contempt? Probably not. The position alone is under significant pressure from events.

      1. JTMcPhee

        Quoth the captain of the Titanic, “More steam! Full speed ahead! We gotta show the world what this baby will do!”

  18. Ottawan

    Why would the Russians be in any hurry to take on ISIS? Call me naïve, but Russian aircraft will be responding to the needs of the Syrian/Hezbollah forces, and they appear to be focused on the non-Al-Nusra/ISIS rebels. The bellicose Russian talk about ISIS may be PR.

    Worse, its not clear to me that Russian crews will refuse to run the same terror bombing missions as Assad’s planes. Hope they show some professional esprit.


    1. Synoia

      Look at the map of Asia, and ask yourself:. Would you want a powerful Caliphate orchestrating unrest in the Muslim ‘stans on your very long southern (exposed) border?

      Chechnya is not a sneeze in Russian.

    2. blert

      Russia is engaging in classic close air support — per WWII doctrine.

      ISIS is simply too far away. But things can change quickly.

      Russia intends to have Assad’s army occupy the battlefield.

      0bama does not intend to put down one boot.

      BTW al Nusrah and ISIS are ALLIES — both are al Qaeda fronts — still chatting it up with Dr. Zawahiri.

      He’s their mediator. (!)

    3. Massinissa

      Look at the map. This Caliphate nonsense could easily spread north to Russias tender underbelly on either side of the Caspian. There are ISIS forces moving into Afghanistan, I here. What if they spread to the other ‘Stans like Kazakhstan?

      Would that still not be Russias problem?

    4. washunate

      In addition to the answers above, there is another part of the equation if you’re curious. The Russians have a long history of working with the Syrian government, in particular a military base in Tartus. So it’s not just that terrorism or Islamism (or both) may one day broadly threaten Russia’s borders. It also threatens bases outside of Russia. Unlike the US, the Russians don’t have hundreds of bases at their disposal. The ones they do have in places like Crimea and Syria are thus extremely valuable to them.

      Also, isn’t it interesting that that is precisely where trouble has appeared, almost as if the instability is not a coincidence…

      More generally, I would question the framing you bring to this. It’s the Americans that are obsessed with ISIS specifically, not the Russians. The Russian goal is to protect the stability of a sovereign government. They will go after all “rebels”, not just the “bad” rebels. It is interesting you aren’t willing to call them terrorists, and it is interesting you support the American distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. That mindset is itself interventionist and imperialist, as if we westerners have some capacity to pass judgement. That is antithetical to the basic concepts of self-determination and national sovereignty.

      As far as it being a quagmire, a quagmire for whom? This isn’t a civil war or an invasion by Russia. It’s an effort financed and encouraged by foreigners to destabilize Syria. Russia is providing military assistance to the recognized government in response to this outside agitation. That’s about as unquagmirish as military activities get.

      1. Ottawan

        Good questions and criticism!

        I didn’t intend to signal a good/bad paradigm, sorry ’bout that (all). I was just pointing out that the focus for Russia is supporting the Syrian forces and the Syrian government has its own priorities.

        In terms of quagmire, I was just riffing off another comment.

        The real Q:
        Do you think Russian assistance will be decisive in the long run? (kinda unfair, Q, really. But still)

        1. washunate

          Agreed, I didn’t think it was intentional. I’m more interested in the unintentional, almost subconscious paradigms we have, the ways of framing things where we haven’t separated ourselves from the MSM guidelines…

          Anyway, I claim pretty much zero expertise at predicting the future. What I think we are approaching is a point (or more precisely, a period of time rather than one particular event) of increasing uncertainty, where trends that have held in the recent past no longer do. A couple decades ago, we could see pretty clearly the outline of the decline of the unipolar world. I remember vividly in the 1990s discussing things like financial speculation and terrorism and cooperation between Russia and Iran and the impacts of population growth and environmental concerns and so forth. NATO expansion alone was a huge cause for concern. But these next couple decades are much more uncertain, because they are what comes after that decline. It’s a bit like the difference between seeing the end of the tunnel and seeing what is on the other side of the tunnel.

          So not to avoid your question. I actually don’t think this specific Russian assistance will be that decisive in the long-run. The way I see the geopolitical map is that we are leaving the age of the national superpower and entering the age of a multipolar world, regional blocs where one power (or group of powers) can no longer dominate the planet. More smaller countries, not fewer big ones (nevermind the Near East, just look at how Europe’s official political borders have changed over the past century, for example). Russian refusal to roll over for USUK in Ukraine and Syria is a marker on that trail to the next period of human civilization*, but I think the trail would get there anyway without this particular assistance. American hegemony specifically, and even a Cold War dynamic more generally, no longer possesses any inherent equilibrium; at some point, the authoritarians won’t be able to hold it together. Of course, the folks in DC, NY, London, and elsewhere will probably be the last to understand this. We’re always fighting the last war.

          Or perhaps to answer that differently, I think as late as the 1990s we could have preserved a central role for American leadership, one built on modeling behavior rather than enforcing it. But now, events have moved far enough along that is no longer possible. Even if the warmongers take out everybody from Tehran to Tripoli.

          *note, I am assuming one important prediction about the future: I believe there will be a future for humanity. To that extent, as cynical and pessimistic as I can come off sometimes, I’m actually quite the optimist. I find the doomsday scenarios on both the left and the right, while possible, to be pretty unlikely.

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