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Syria Chess Or Checkers – Putin And Obama On Collision Course

Politics / GeoPolitics Sep 12, 2013 - 03:09 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop

Politics

OBAMA HOUNDED BY HIS OWN PRESS
Since September 10, things have gone downhill fast for Barack Obama. Called everything from doing a Laurel and Hardy show with slapstick partner John Kerry, to repeating Jimmy Carter's lame duck presidency, Obama has been pasted by the US press. Another cruel gibe at Obama was that he and France's President Hollande are playing checkers – while Putin plays chess - to win.


Conversely, Vladimir Putin is given his own full cover page and story on 'Time' magazine. The differences couldn't be bigger.

Further down we find the analysts looking for the big picture but finding it is under constant change, even outright mutation. The parameters they use for ongoing examination and assessment of the events which started with the use of chemical weapons in Syria, have changed as the crisis evolves into a confrontation between the United States - and several countries headed by Russia. This is a fast-evolving standoff, but the big picture changes do not stop there. The threat of one kind of war – call it diluted regime change war in Syria – has been added to by the threats of military, strategic political, and even economic war involving a swath of different countries.

The US president's minimalist war claims – made laughable by John Kerry's talk about “unbelievably small strikes” - are still in place, but they are under serious debate. Simply due to the agonizing time needed to not cobble a Coalition of the Willing together, Syria's chemical weapons are likely to have been moved around and shuffled about on a daily basis, making it ridiculous to think there is any chance of a decisive attack on stockpiles, over and above the fallout risk. Therefore, if there is an attack, it has to be on command and control centres and so-called political targets. Military advisers to both Obama and Hollande have placed a huge range of options on the table.

DIVIDE AND DENY
What has happened is that all public statements, whatever they meant before, are now meant to obscure real plans and intentions. The “psywar” role of these statements has blossomed as the flower of war on the ground did not even bud. They are intended to shape the environment, and that means tactics, and nothing more than that until we see a new global strategy emerge.

At the first level and already serious, the issue has morphed into a US-Russia political strategic confrontation. Russia's goal is to be the political equal of the United States. If it wins, Russia will be equal protagonist to the United States in an already two-year-old remake and redraw of frontiers right across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).  This Alpha Male sparring has already won Putin a pullback of Washington's intent to attack Syria, because of Russian maneuvers. Moscow's MENA regional weight has risen dramatically – that is along Russia's southern periphery, where regional doubts about the USA's real intentions, and the reality of American power abound.

Putin's article for 'Time' magazine can be seen as including a buy-in proposal to Obama. When or if the United States buys into an undefined Russian MENA regional framework, it can be trumpeted by Putin as proof that the United States lacks the will to act and is being pushed out of the region because it refused to stand up to “djihadis” and extreme Sunni militias flying the flag of al Qaeda.

Russia will be defending civilization while the US of Obama worries about Wall Street and the Taper.

Obama isn't able to let Syria become the focus of his presidency, because he has so many other real and pressing items on the agenda. If he does sink into the political quicksand of Syria, few if any persons will not say it was the direct result of the Russians laying a trap for him. Maybe the trap isn't yet too clear, and few know how the giant trap called the MENA is going to evolve, but Obama has a countdown on how long his domestic political borrowed time will last. He bought time using the current American distaste for military action in the MENA. That can change, fast, with dangerous potentials for his hands being forced by false flag atrocities on the ground.

EMPIRE GAMES
The Russians, Gulf State monarchies, Iran, Israel and Turkey are all active in the region. To wide-ranging and different degrees, these players want or don't want a “military solution' to the problem called Bashr al Assad. The proxy fighters in theater and on the ground, always growing in number and probably above 50 000 at present, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and al Qaeda groups, may already have reached a “tipping point” or critical mass. Due to simple numbers the fighting has to go on, regardless of what happens to the al Assad regime. After that we get a “Libya scenario”, another lost country dissolved by clan and warlord fighters loosely claiming Islamic credentials.

Only very large-scale external force is able to and could stop that. Putin himself made a point of mentioning that threat in his 'Time' article. He didn't say Russia could bring back the MENA we knew.

Whether Russia can solve the Syrian chemical weapons problem, is in fact unlikely because the weapons are spread far and wide. They can also be purchased, or their precursors can, and deadly weapons can be produced “in situ”. This is unlike the collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya, which unlocked and unleashed his huge arsenals of weapons – but these were mostly small caliber infantry arms like the “iconic” AK47 assault rifle, anti-tank missiles and anti-building weapons.

Obama's speech on Sept. 10, constrained by domestic opinion, came across as unwilling to confront the Russians or al Assad. He ignored the range of in-theatre, local imperium hopefuls. On first analysis it looks like Russia is facing down al Assad's opponents, to make them use the Russians as their interlocutors, instead of America but this in no way has to succeed – like the USA's previous attempts at playing No. 1 interlocutor and peacemaker in the MENA. Both have failed before, due to the region's own dynamics rejecting “traditional great powers”, accelerating all the time since the 1990s. Likely, the Russians gauge they will have lost nothing, if they fail. They can say they were statesmen, but failed, just like the US.

The weakness of both positions has become stark. The so-called great powers have no real weight. The limit on American military action – fighting “djihadis” or local militias – has been cruelly shown by the Afghan war “experiment” in a somber remake of Russia's own Afghan experience in 1979-88. The US will quit Afghanistan at latest in December 2014, in a lost war that Americans will be happy to no longer pay for, and even happier to forget than Vietnam.

Outside of the US and Russia, as the present Syrian crisis shows, nobody wants to take on “the heavy charge of stewardship”, redesigning the MENA's 1920s-era colonial frontiers and trying to enforce new ones. Only inside the region are appetites for regime-and-border change white hot, but these appetites are only driven by purely domestic politics. 

The idea this imbroglio will somehow disappear like a Persian Nights djinn might appear entertaining to Obama, in Laurel and Hardy mode, but events in the MENA will not let Obama off the hook – or Putin. Whether they compete or cooperate, the pace of regional breakdown and reassembly of nations and groups of nations will continue.

When they do act, and things still go wrong, we will get another snapshot of how fast the world is changing from what was called “great power hegemony” to something resembling anarchy.

By Andrew McKillop

Contact: xtran9@gmail.com

Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2013 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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