Wednesday, October 31, 2012

10/31/2012 Re-post/update

 We published the guest blog below on the situation on the ground in Syria back in August. We publish it again as an update, because more than 60 days later, the situation is largely unchanged. This is true despite the comings and goings of combined elements of Russia's Northern and Black Sea fleets   in the past weeks. After all is said and done the situation is still pretty much as Vic saw it back then.

A Background Guest Blog on the Situation in Syria by Vic Socotra. Link to the Daily Socotra at bottom of page. This is the situation that the Russians find their only Mediterranean Naval Base in the middle of. 
Secret Finding

U.S. sources familiar with the matter told press sources that President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing US support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his brutal government. I don’t know if the ink was dry yet on the document.

I mean, it is comforting to learn that there is a Presidential Finding on the matter, and I am getting resigned to the fact that the first thing people in power decide to do was rush out and find a reporter to tell about it. 

I thought there was at least a half-hearted effort underway to find the people who have been running their mouths about things that have potentially fatal consequences to real operatives in real places. This non-stop public affairs approach to national security is depressing. Who would trust us with a real secret?

Like yesterday’s speculation about Saudi Prince Bandar’s health and welfare. Did the Iranians kill the newly-installed Saudi Intelligence Chief in revenge for the suicide bombing against President Assad’s inner circle last month?

I had a colleague advance the proposition that it was far too early to accept the notion that the Prince was dead. I had to laugh- if the Prince was fine, the first thing Riyadh would do would be to trot the former fighter pilot out and have him flash that famous grin. 

The fact that the Saudis have not done so means one of two things. They either cannot produce him because he is dead, or he is badly injured. 

Of course it is actually more complex than this, something that the sound-bite society has a hard time conveying with nuance. Nuance is all about the Middle East, and to distill for truth you have to factor in the significant and sophisticated Syrian chemical warfare inventory and medium-range rockets to deliver them. 

There are some dangerous people- us included- who have a distinct interest in their security and whereabouts. 

The local players with skin in the game include, in no particular order: Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran directly as combatants or force-providers for combatants. Russia and the US (and China to a lesser degree) as the one-step removed super-players. 

Internal Syrian dynamics can only be seen in the context of the fact that many Free Syrian Army commanders are not Syrians, but Iraqi Sunnis playing a regional war against their Shia-majority countrymen back home. 

Progressives in the US support the uprising in the name of Democracy and in the interests of completing the Arab Spring. That is hardly what is going on here. In this version of The Great Game, the overthrow of the cruel Assad regime would likely result in a regional victory for the Saudis and the US, while the losers would be Iran and Russia. 

The beach areas around the Russian port facility of Tartus are pleasant, and I can certainly understand why Mr. Putin wants to keep a toe in the Syrian waters. It is the last offshore Russian military base, Al-Assad is the last Russian friend in the Muslim world, and you can understand the bluster. 

But it isn't even that simple. A pal wrote succinctly that the anti-Assad campaign contains elements of Sunni militants, Salafist and al-Qaeda-style jihadists.  The last two are thought to be coming in from Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, where the post-war calculus favors the Shia majority and the formerly dominant Sunnis are in eclipse. 

The short story the media is comfortable in depicting is that Syrian opposition figures are Sunnis fighting the domination of an Alawite Shia minority- the precise opposite of the situation in the Emirates and Jordan. 

In a macro sense, the Syrian population is about three-quarters Sunni, of various flavors, while the Shia Alawites are only 13%, with the Christian minority about the same percentage. There is a schism in the Sunni ranks- not all of them are Arabs, with fifteen percent of Kurdish or Turkman origin. 

Slice and dice that into regional distribution, and things get stranger. Most of the Christians are in Damascus and Aleppo. Alawites are concentrated in Latakia Privince, where they are an 80% majority. 

This is a mess. Prince Bandar’s mysterious absence is a symptom of the regional war, Saudi versus Iran, and we are now, according to really secret decisions, supporting Sunni expats from Iraq as we support a Shia majority in Baghdad. You cannot say we lack a certain inconsistency in all this, but like Libya, it is not the first time we have wound up aligned loosely with elements of al-Qaida. It should be a little surprising, but really is not. 

As a point of interest, Prince Bandar bankrolled a couple of the 9/11 terrorists, and he was at the same time a confidant of both the Bush Administrations and the Clinton one in the middle in his twenty-odd years as Ambassador to Washington. 

Between April 1998 and May 2002, the Prince provided as much as $73,000 in checks and cashier's checks to two families in southern California. Those families in turn bankrolled at least two of the 9/11 hijackers during their pre-attack sojourn in the States.

The story was investigated by the 9/11 Commission, but never fully resolved. The Prince decamped back to the Desert Kingdom before anyone could challenge his diplomatic immunity in a matter of mass murder.

It may be too late to ask the Prince what was really up- the 9/11 terrorists were Sunni, by the way- and although we may not be able to keep a secret, we certainly have placed ourselves foursquare on the side of…oh, hell. 

I don’t know either. 

Copyright 2012 Vic Socotra

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