Streetwise Professor

December 5, 2012

Samson Gives His Chains a Tug, To Prove a Point

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:56 pm

A quick comment on the situation in Syria.

First, I think a tipping point is nearing.  The rebels are chipping away at the regime’s forces.  The Syrian government is abandoning bases, and its perimeter is gradually but inexorably shrinking.

The way these things work is that the beleaguered force eventually cracks, and the withdrawal turns into a rout.  I think that point is coming soon.

Don’t believe what I say?  Look at what the Russians are doing: trying to create a pro-Russian opposition force.  Which strongly suggests that the Russians believe that Assad’s jig is up.

Second, there is considerable shrieking about reports that Assad is preparing chemical weapons for use.  The most recent report is that the Syrian army is mixing Sarin for use in shells/bombs.

Look.  Assad has no way out.  It’s a case of when you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.  If he tries to leave, abandoning the Alawites, they will hunt him down and kill him.  He has to see it to the bitter end.

And that’s exactly what Assad is signaling.  He wants the world to see these preparations.  He is broadcasting his willingness to play the Samson Strategy.  Given his lack of options, this threat is quite credible, and he is counting on this leading to an intervention that will allow him to save his hide-and the hides of friends, family, and co-religionists.

The relevant question is: what will the US do about it?  There are no easy answers here.  But by distancing itself as far as possible from the conflict, the Obama administration has allowed it to metastasize to a point where any culmination is likely to be near apocalyptic.  No outcome here would have been pretty-Libya would probably be considered a good outcome by comparison-but there is bad and there is worse.  By inaction (e.g., backing off whenever the Russians throw a fit) we have made the worse outcomes more likely.

And as if to prove my point, soon after completing the above, this WSJ article came to my attention:

The Obama administration and its allies are intensifying efforts to weaken Syrian rebels they believe are linked to al Qaeda and other extremist groups, as the battle to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad seems to gain ground, said U.S. and European officials.

The U.S. Treasury Department is preparing to sanction one of the militias fighting against Mr. Assad, called Jabhat al-Nusra, as a foreign terrorist organization. The sanctions bar U.S. entities from doing business with it and freezes its assets inside the U.S.

U.S. officials said the designation was designed to signal to the opposition coalition and Middle East governments that Washington won’t accept radical Islamist forces playing a central role in any government after Mr. Assad’s expected fall.

Yeah.  That will work.  We won’t accept it.  I’m sure they’ll pick up their AKs and RPGs and go home.

The strength of the jihadi element is a monotonically increasing function of the duration of the conflict.  Jihadis have advantages.  Zeal, organization, a network.

Revolutions always select on the most extreme, the most violent, the most fanatical, the least scrupulous.  Don’t want those people in charge? Don’t let revolutionary forces fester.  That’s what has happened in Syria, and there is no way-none-to put that toothpaste back in the tube.

It’s hard to exaggerate how pathetic this feeble-“symbolic”-attempt is, at this late date.  No doubt election considerations convinced Obama that this was something that could be dealt with later, post-11/6/12.  Later is now.  And it’s a helluva a lot harder to deal with now.

I think Obama is going to be the poster child for the expression “be careful what you ask for: you might get it.”  He wanted to be elected in the worst way-and was.  Now he will have to deal with a slew of crises foreign and domestic.  And no, I won’t rejoice in his agonies, because (a) he’ll rationalize that the problems aren’t of his making, so  he won’t really agonize, and (b) we’re the ones that will have to endure the agony of his inability to deal with these problems.

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  1. Chemical weapons are remarkably ineffective.

    Comment by So? — December 6, 2012 @ 2:43 am

  2. Prof

    It’s “Samson”, is it not?

    Comment by Green as Grass — December 6, 2012 @ 4:55 am

  3. The only way out with the least amount of bloodshed is probably discussion of a partition behind the scenes. If the Alwaites are given their own state where they will remain dominant, they can probably accept Assad going into exile. Of course, there may need to be other partitions for the Druze and Kurds so they feel protected as well. This will probably satisfy everyone to the extent that while it is not the ideal for the various factions (at least most of them – this is probably the Kurds wildest fantasy), it is probably something each side can accept. To hide the fact legally – so that certain people can save face – the partition might be disguised as a Swiss style canton system in a loose CIS style confederation that can be abandoned in a few years. As part of the deal, the chemical and other WMD will be destroyed under supervision.

    Whether this will happen is unknown. The system of international diplomats are loathe to accept anything where borders change. In a sitution like this, that fetish needs to be overcome.

    Comment by Chris — December 6, 2012 @ 11:00 am

  4. @Green-You’re right. Fixed. Thanks.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 6, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

  5. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin

    Comment by Green as Grass — December 7, 2012 @ 3:56 am

  6. There are going to be 2 or 3 Irans in the ME quite soon, are there not?

    Comment by Green as Grass — December 7, 2012 @ 4:01 am

  7. @Green-I can read the writing on the wall 😛 And yes, multiple Irans (not Shiite, but despotic theocratic regimes nonetheless). Egypt definitely headed that way. If @Chris is right, and Syria is partitioned, you could have several mini-Irans.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 7, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

  8. I don’t actually think Syria will be partitioned – at least not in a way that ends the civil war. The most likely scenario is a bloody end to the civil war with Assad being killed, and then sporadic mini-civil wars that may lead to de facto partition and long term instability or may lead to Sunni Salafists taking power. There is obviously very little long term thinking among the international diplomats about how to handle this.

    Comment by Chris — December 7, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

  9. If you believe that there are not special forces of Nato countries directing the fighting along side al Qaeda then I have a Bridge in Brooklyn, no sorry a Foreign Policy to sell you! Don’t you think it HYPOCRITICAL to TSA Nazify the US yet aid that same enemy abroad!

    Comment by Bob — December 8, 2012 @ 8:36 am

  10. One unsettling possibility is that Syria could be filled with militias that retain their weapons, as in postrevolutionary Libya, but without goodwill toward the United States or loyalty to a transitional government.

    “You could have dozens of militias, battle-tested and brimming with weapons, that don’t necessarily consider the authorities in Damascus to be sovereign,” said David Schenker, a Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration who is now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.,0,6941139.story

    Comment by Anders — December 9, 2012 @ 10:18 am

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