Donald “known unknowns” Rumsfeld was a nasty piece of work (“iron-ass,” as Daddy Bush would have it). Fellow neocon and current Pentagon supremo Ash Carter – whose job will last shortly over a year – now runs the risk of forging a reputation as a discount diva on the lam.
So Russia is guilty of undertaking “challenging activities” at sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace. Not to mention “nuclear saber-rattling.”After eight days traveling in Asia, Ash hit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California sounding like a stray ballistic whining missile. And he hit where it hurts: the Russia-China strategic partnership. How dare they? Don’t you step on my blue Pentagon shoes.
Ash once again enumerated all those “pillars of the international order” that Russia-China are allegedly violating; peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom from coercion, respect for state sovereignty and freedom of navigation. Considering Exceptionalistan’s recent record in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and myriad assorted latitudes, one can always count on the Pentagon to bolster the annals of hyper-unrealism.
Dr. Strangelove, sorry, NATO supremo Gen. Philip Breedlove, had already blurted out on the record he has no clue what Putin is up to in Syria. Ash, his boss, doubled down; Putin “hasn’t thought through very thoroughly” his objectives in Syria, and his approach is “way off track”. Certainly because one month of Russian air strikes did way more to debilitate ISIS/ISIL/Daesh than over a year of the “track” followed by the Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO) led by the US and featuring Salafi-jihadi/”moderate rebel” enablers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Ash deviated from whining just to concede it’s “possible” that “Russia may play a constructive role in resolving the civil war” in Syria. He wouldn’t elaborate on “constructive.”
Then back to a non-denial denial; “We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot, war with Russia … We do not seek to make Russia an enemy.” And yet Cold War 2.0 is actually in effect since Maidan in Kiev; and the hysterical demonization campaign of both Putin and Russia shows no signs of abating.
Earlier last week Ash was aboard a US aircraft carrier in the South China Sea demonstrating commitment to “freedom of navigation” – as in “our naval way, or the highway.” Beijing not so much reacted but floated, with Chinese subtlety, that any fooling around will come with a price; what about feeling the love of the DF-21D carrier killer ballistic missile with a 2,500 km range?
On China, Ash once again displayed Pentagon half-baked Orientalist condescending; it all depends on “how China behaves” when demonstrating commitments to peace and security.
Expect Ash’s whining missiles to proliferate unchecked. They’re embedded in the new US military doctrine, which ranks Russia and China – with Iran a not so distant third — as major threats. The British loved it so much they went copycat; “rising aggression from Russia” is among top potential threats included in the UK’s next national security strategy to be unveiled by David Cameron on Nov. 23.
Deterrence or bust
It all gets curioser and curioser — or at least muddier — when we remember that roughly a month ago Ash was warning, at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, that Russia would “soon” start paying the price for its “escalation” in Syria.
The price might have been paid via the Metrojet crash. Nothing of course links Ash and the Pentagon with it; wishful thinking, at best. Still, the possible bombing by the Sinai branch of Daesh was cracked by GCHQ in London profiting from its vast “we spy on everyone” NSA-style network. James Bond in Spectre – good old ground intel – would never had had that kind of knowledge.
The same meeting in Brussels also decided to boost NATO’s so-called “spearhead force” to “deliver deterrence,” in the words of NATO secretary-general, Norwegian figurehead Jens Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg even bragged that the sole existence of this force would scare the hell out of Russia – as well as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) – about alleged “incursions into Turkish territory.” Still, no NATO force was deployed to Turkey. After all, NATO was too busy invading Spain.
We’re excused for allowing a Bubba Clinton “I feel ya” moment as we consider Ash’s whining. There are so many “we didn’t have a clue” Pentagon instances he cannot possibly acknowledge on the record.
For instance, the performance of Russian Kaliber missiles compared to Tomahawks. Launched by the Caspian Sea fleet, they flew over 1,500 km before hitting their ISIS/ISIL/Daesh targets, which implies their maximum range, according to Russian military sources, is about 1,800 km – much larger than the Tomahawks. On top of it, each target was hit with only two missiles, and in very few cases, three. This suggests ultra-high precision and reliability, considering that the US usually targets command centers or depots with as many as four missiles.
Russia has also deployed ultra-sophisticated electronic warfare systems in Syria, such as the Krasukha-4, easily capable of jamming AWACS and satellites. Ash cannot possibly admit on the record Russia de facto controls the skies over Syria. Sultan Erdogan at least was clever enough to understand that his no-fly zone across the Turkish-Syrian border will never fly.
What’s left is, well, a Vietnam post-modern remix; send more troops. Ash is enthusiastic, as long as the US can find more “capable” local forces to partner with.
So let’s take a quick look at the “capable” local scenario.
ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is active in central Syria alongside Jaysh al-Fatah, an Islamist coalition with quite a few members affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria. In the Hama frontlines, the fake “Caliphate” and al-Nusra are de facto allies. Ash cannot possibly find “capable” allies here.
But there’s an enormous back door. Al-Nusra got into camouflage, changing their gear for Ahrar al-Sham’s, which the Beltway hails as “moderate rebels.” Ahrar al-Sham is in fact a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, fully supported by Turkey.
So no wonder everyone wants to join the “moderate rebel” bandwagon, hoping to be showered with made in USA anti-tank TOW missiles. That includes outfits such as the brigade Tawhid Al Asimah in Damascus, the brigade Wa Atasimu also in Damascus, the Abu Amarah batallion in Aleppo, the brigade martyr Ahmad Al-Omar, and the Binaa Umma movement active in Deraa and Quneitra. Working with this lot may be Ash’s opening. But that implies sending fresh American troops all over Syria.
And now, the 50 immortals
But first the Special Forces deployed to northern Syria — Obama’s 50 immortals — need to fulfill their mission. Say one name: Kuweyres. Everything depends on what happens in Kuweyres, a military airbase.
Here are the facts on the ground. The SAA, at least for now, has secured its all-important supply route to Aleppo. What they’re aiming for next – supported by Russian air strikes – is much more complicated; cut off for good the resupply routes from Turkey for the gaggle of Salafi-jihadis/”moderate rebels.”
Arguably the only local “capable” force for this mission is the Syrian Kurd YPG. But to solidify their position, the YPG need to build a strong link between Kobani and the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.
And guess why they can’t do it; because the Pentagon is telling them to strike south instead, towards Raqqa, ISIS/ISIL/Daesh “capital.” And Turkish intelligence – which controls the resupply corridor – warned the YPG they will be bombed to oblivion if they try to expand their northern Syria base.
So the YPG needs protection to keep moving. It won’t come from Ash’s people. And the Russians are far away, with no boots on the northern Syrian ground.
The SAA though is only a few kilometers away from Kuweyres. It will be a nasty battle. But if they capture the military air base, they get the perfect hub for Russian and Syrian jets to protect the YPG as they close the gap between Kobani and Afrin.
The Pentagon well knows the Russians have made a deal with the Syrian Kurds; the SAA, with as much Russian support as possible, takes Kuweyres; the YPG advances towards Afrin; and the Russians keep the Turks in check. Without this chain of crucial events, it will be virtually impossible for the “4+1” – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah – to cut off the Turkish-enabled resupply corridor for the myriad Salafi-jihadi/”moderate rebel” gaggle.
And here’s where Obama’s 50 immortals come in. They have been sent to the YPG command to “assist” them in not fulfilling the deal. What else is new? It makes more sense for Ash’s boys to work side-by-side with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s goons. The Pentagon and al-CIAaeda; what could possibly go wrong? Gotta keep the global war on terror (GWOT) as much an endless war (remember Rumsfeld?) as possible. Now that’s a good reason to stop whining.
This piece first appeared in Asia Times.