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Syria: With the US and Russia Fighting Terrorists in Syria, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

by John Brian Shannon | September 12, 2015

We explore three different scenarios in the fight to defeat ISIS and other terror groups operating in Syria.

Now that Russia has entered the frame, it may change the Syrian crisis for the better, or it may trigger concern by some nations already in the fight, or by regional nations that must deal with the consequences of the Syrian civil war.

What could possibly go wrong?

ISIS forces 100,000 Syrian Refugees to Turkey in 48 hours on September 23/24, 2014.

“The war has killed 250,000 people and driven half of Syria’s 23 million people from their homes. Some have traveled to European countries, creating a refugee crisis there.” — Reuters (File photo)

1. Israel vs. Russia inside Syrian territory

Israel. That’s what could go wrong. It’s not the only thing that could go wrong in this dangerous situation but it would be irresponsible to overlook that particular potential for catastrophe.

The state of Israel could decide that its best interest would be served by inducing the Russian military to leave Syria by bombing the Russian airfield, supply depot, and barracks which are presently under construction near Latakia, Syria.

And to prevent retaliation by Russian naval forces, Israel would need to destroy any Russian Navy vessels in the Mediterranean or tied up at any of Syria’s ports. It would be unthinkable from a military standpoint to neutralize the Russian airfield/barracks and not destroy the Russian naval component.

That would lead to a wider war, one that would have Israel calling the United States instantly. Geopolitics could change in the space of 15 minutes.

If you don’t think that’s very likely, people who know their history will recall how quickly the world changed when Japanese aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Two hours of bombing that dramatically changed world history.

For its time, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a massive effort and was seen in Japan as a major success against the United States. Indeed, most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was parked dockside with their sailors enjoying shore leave. Consequently, many ships were either sunk or damaged although few casualties occurred as the dockyards were largely empty at the time of the attack.

Just as few foresaw the attack on Pearl Harbor, few are of the opinion that Israel would launch a preemptive attack against Syria’s ally Russia, taking out the Russian airfield in Latakia, Syria or those Russian vessels docked in Tartus, Syria or sailing in the eastern Mediterranean.

It’s not like Israel hasn’t attacked ships or aircraft from other nations in the past.

The USS Liberty incident stands as proof of Israel’s willingness to attack foreign vessels that might be in a position to attack Israel, regardless of how unlikely an attack may be.

The USS Liberty was a U.S. Navy supply and communications ship of no significant size nor capability, a WWII relic that posed no real threat to Israel. Yet, because it appeared in the sea during a time of conflict between Israel and Egypt, it was neutralized by a combined force of Israeli fighter jets, fighter bomber jets, and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, because in the opinion of the relevant Israeli military commanders, the Liberty represented a threat.

If you’re of the opinion that Israel won’t act against something they perceive as a threat, then history says you’re wrong.

The opinions of observers who say there’s no threat to Israel posed by the Russian airbase, or of increased Russian Navy activity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, or of increased Russian troop numbers in Syria, are irrelevant.

The only relevant opinions are those who press bomb-release buttons in Israeli bomber-jets.

2. The U.S. vs. Russia inside Syrian territory

As recently as Friday, the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Sergei Lavrov, asked the U.S. to cooperate with Russia in Syria, saying on Friday that “we are always in favour of military people talking to each other in a professional way” as one-military-to-another operating in the same country it is “important for the avoidance of undesired, unintended incidents”.

Russia called on Friday for military-to-military cooperation with the United States to avert “unintended incidents” as it stages navy exercises off the coast of Syria, where U.S. officials believe Moscow is building up forces to protect President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States is using Syrian air space to lead a campaign of air strikes against Islamic State, and a greater Russian presence raises the prospect of the Cold War superpower foes encountering each other on the battlefield.

John Kerry the U.S. Secretary of State said, “We would welcome constructive efforts by Russia against ISIS, but that cannot be a function of continued support to the Assad regime. The most productive thing that they can do is to stop aiding the Assad regime.” — Reuters

3. The U.S. and Israel vs. Syria and Russia inside Syrian territory

Only a few dedicated think-tank fellows are missing sleep over that one.

But in a war zone, events happen in seconds and then the politicians race to catch up with what has happened during the night.

It’s at least conceivable that the U.S. or Israel decide to show their colours to Syria or Russia and a number of fighter jets are shot down in less than a minute — even before a telephone call can be placed between the various politicians to resolve the issue, and by then the initial attack and the guaranteed-to-be-devastating-counter-attack is already over.

A parallel situation could occur at sea with any number of ships being attacked and counterattacking within seconds of the first shot being fired.

Many ships could be sunk in the space of 15 minutes (which is about the same amount of time it takes to properly brief a decision-maker/politician) on the many events that are occurring simultaneously.

If there aren’t clear communication links between the various forces fighting ISIS in Syria, and if each group follows different rules of engagement, it’s a recipe for disaster

If the ultimate goal is ‘a world war over Syria’ we’re running headlong towards it.

It’s an insult to the intelligence of people everywhere that any nation would refuse to participate in and abide by the standard communications and rules of conduct in conflict zones, especially when so much is at stake.

Secretary of State for the United States, John Kerry, and his State Department spokesman John Kirby, risk far too much for too little. Risking a wider conflict in an attempt to belittle the Russians is feckless at best and criminally irresponsible at worst.

Without a proper communications plan, there’s no doubt that an incident between the various military units operating in Syria will occur at some point.

Lives will be lost. Of that, there’s no doubt. Citizens of one or more countries will become enraged and demand a response, and consequently the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about (a.k.a. the so-called war economy) will be back to full production again!

An astonishing lack of diplomacy enabled the Syrian crisis to occur and now we’re willfully blocking standard communication plans. What next?

Let us hope that superior minds overturn this seemingly deliberate march towards conflict between superpower U.S.A. (perhaps with Israeli involvement) on the one hand, vs. Syria and Russia (a former superpower but still extremely powerful) with Iran and China assisting.

It’s the worst B-movie script that I’ve seen. And we’re on course towards catastrophe if the present script is allowed to continue…

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Refugees Flooding the EU: Just the Beginning

by John Brian Shannon | June 09, 2015

Q: Why are hundreds of thousands of people fleeing North Africa?
A: Because of the Western inspired, aided, and abetted, Arab Spring (failure)

Hundreds of thousands of economic migrants from North Africa make the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe each year, with thousands dying in the process. Image courtesy of historiana eu

Hundreds of thousands of economic migrants from North Africa make the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe each year, with thousands dying in the process. Image courtesy of historiana.eu

The ‘Arab Spring’ was supposed to depose dictators or very nominally democratic regimes in North Africa, and replace them with forward-thinking democratic leaders and democratic societies.

Which sounds great on paper doesn’t it? Especially in the proposal stages one could be forgiven for backing such a plan.

Good intentions towards the north African nations simply weren’t followed-up by EU leaders in the aftermath of the Arab Spring — and that is why hundreds of thousands of economic refugees are landing in Europe now.

I’d expect *millions* more, if conditions in the failed Arab Spring nations don’t improve — even though hundreds have died at sea to date — thousands more still make the crossing every day. It says a lot about the living conditions that these people are leaving behind.

Prior to the Arab Spring, relatively small numbers of people risked everything to cross the Mediterranean.

As the West was the main cheerleader lending military aid and action against north African dictators, and lent moral and financial support to promote overthrowing north African dictators — the West bears responsibility for the situation which is now playing out.

Some call it an *unfolding crisis* and one that looks likely to get much worse every decade. While others call it *poetic justice* the sort that mediocre post-Arab Spring policy is responsible for.

Instead of the EU devising policies to deal with the ever-growing symptoms, it’s time to quickly transform EU policy in the region to a proactive one where there is no need for millions of north Africans to leave their countries for the EU.

See: A Lifeline for European Solidarity (Project Syndicate)

If you don’t think *millions* of people might migrate to the EU as economic refugees, take a look at Egypt’s present population (84 million) which is about the same as Germany’s present population at 82 million.

But in 2050 the population of Egypt will be 121 million people, while Germany’s population in 2050 will be 72 million.

If bad economic conditions in the former Arab Spring nations don’t soon improve, it won’t only be millions of Egyptians flooding the EU, it will also be millions of other north Africans too!

It’s time to take a serious look at creating stable and nominally democratic governments in north Africa (and that’s only half of the equation, obviously) combined with huge employment growth in a region where youth unemployment surpasses 50 percent.

Breeding grounds for future terrorists, much?

Something that could be done quickly but isn’t being done to solve several growing problems at once — is to install millions of solar panels and tens of thousands of wind turbines in the north African nations to power southern Europe.

We have the technology to run undersea power cables (this is done in many regions in the world) and solar and wind power is now at parity with fossil fuel power generation (assuming the subsidy levels are the same)

Creating hundreds of projects across the Arab Spring countries would stimulate those economies, lower youth unemployment, lower the lure of extremist ideology for poor and unemployed youth in that region, and work to reduce migration to the EU from north African nations.

Perhaps by orders of magnitude.

Trying to design policy to deal with ever-growing symptoms is a fool’s errand, while designing policy to solve many of the underlying north African and related EU problems is the obvious path.

Syria: The Wisdom or Waste of ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Iraq and Syria

Syria: The Wisdom, or Waste, of ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Iraq and Syria | 08/10/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

President Barack Obama has charted a wise course with regards to the developing terrorist situation in Iraq and Syria, thus far neither committing too much nor too little in an attempt to mitigate the threat posed by ISIS to the U.S.A.

A lack of reaction to the threat might have emboldened the terrorist entity known as ISIS or ISIL, while overreacting may have turned every American voter against the President and his party which would have been incredibly bad timing with midterm elections just weeks ahead.

Rather than veer to either extreme, Obama has pursued a unified effort aiming to build a broad-based coalition to fight ISIS with airpower in Iraq and Syria. And he has succeeded in building that broad-based effort.

It is a mature response to a rising threat which could, conceivably, cause harm to America, someday

So far, the threat from ISIS is 95% ‘smoke’ and 5% ‘fire’ as ISIS seems content with murdering it’s own countrymen and women. It’s true, that could change in the future. But the President must react to what is real and present now — not to ‘sky is falling’ scenarios — that may or may not ever occur.

Addressing ISIS with a measured response and a ramping-up humanitarian aid as Mr. Obama has done has taken much of the wind out of the sails of ISIS, which had been poised to loudly accuse the West of being the biggest bully on the block, of killing huge numbers of civilians in major air campaigns and street-to-street fighting and of wreaking wholesale destruction in the region.

While the President has skillfully charted a middle course, the expected cry of; ‘We need Boots on the Ground to contain and destroy ISIS’ is becoming louder by the week.

The political hawks can barely contain their excitement — imagining all of the additional capability that ‘boots on the ground’ could add to the fight against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria! They could name it; Operation Déjà Vu.

So if all that, is so good; Why didn’t 10-years-worth-of ‘boots on the ground’ work in Iraq?

At the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, the United States alone had some 356,000 combat troops along with hundreds of warplanes and artillery pieces inside the country. Not to mention a formidable US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf that fired hundreds of Tomahawk missiles into Iraq from positions in the Gulf.

But ten years of combat, $1 trillion dollars, and 4487 deaths/32,223 wounded, didn’t solve the terrorist threat in Iraq. Now it’s worse than ever. The very definition of failure

Yet, the cry of; ‘We need Boots on the Ground in Iraq and Syria to deal with the growing terrorist threat’ persist! What is it with some people? A failed policy, is a failed policy, is a failed policy — and you can shoot the messenger all you want — but at the end of the day it’s still a failed policy!

Raise your hand if you honestly think that yet another 10 years of war, another $1 trillion dollars and another 5000 U.S. troop deaths/32,000 wounded, will solve the ISIS problem for good

If you put up your hand, go turn in your Drivers Licence and your gun permit right now — you are too dumb to drive a car and too dumb to own a gun. You’re not smarter than a 5th-grader! If you need help with any of this ask your kids.

It didn’t work the first time and it won’t work the second time. By the way, it didn’t work in Afghanistan either. There are thousands more terrorists there now too

Out of a handful of bad choices, President Obama has, so far, chosen the least-bad choice. We should give him credit for that.

Continually degrading ISIS capabilities, ramping-up humanitarian aid and dramatically increasing diplomatic and other ‘soft power’ efforts, is the long-term solution to this long-term problem. Increasing awareness and investigation of suspect individuals here in the West is also an important step.

Military power can only solve military problems — and the rise of Islamism is not a military problem.

But we’ve got all of these bombs, we might as well use them!

The problem with that — is that every time you kill 1 person in war, you make 250 new enemies. That’s right, each person on the planet is acquainted with or is related to, 250 other people on average. When you drop a bomb, lob a shell, or fire a few hundred bullets — and thereby kill 100 people — you’ve just made 25,000 new enemies.

If you drop a lot of bombs and kill 100,000 people (regardless if they’re terrorists or innocent casualties) each 1 of them have 250 friends and families — living somewhere in the world — and you’ve just made 25 million new enemies.

That’s the way it is with bombs, shells, and bullets. And friends and family, by the way.

Which is why war — that is, killing people who disagree with you politically — is always a bad idea and should be reserved for the most extreme of emergencies and only in actual cases of self-defence.

By some counts, the original coalition is responsible for the deaths of between 654,965 people (The Lancet) and 1,033,000 people (ORB International) during the Iraq War (all of whom likely had the global average of 250 family and friends each) and we’re scratching our heads here in the West wondering why those bad ‘ol Iraqis and Syrians hate us.

Here’s the math on that:
654,965 X 250 family and friends each = 163,741,250 (using the Lancet’s Iraq War body count total)
1,033,000 X 250 family and friends each = 258,250,000 (using ORB International’s Iraq War body count total)

Why would we want to add to those numbers? Why would we want to get another 4,500 US military members killed? Why would we want to spend another $1 trillion dollars?

What reason is good enough? I’d like to know and so would a lot of people. You can call those people ‘taxpayers’ or ‘voters’ — your choice

We can keep ISIS down to a dull roar via the use of airpower, by negating their anti-Western propaganda effort through enhanced humanitarian aid in the region, and by ‘boxing them in’ to a tiny region of the world via coalition-building in the West and especially with and among the Middle East nations.

We shouldn’t shrink back from prosecuting ISIS criminals in Iraqi or the International Court of Justice

Hey! We’re in the right. They’re acting against their particular nations’ laws, and quite possibly against international law. So, obviously, let’s stay on the right side of Iraqi and Syrian law — and on the right side of international law too! — and use the full force of the law against these illegal actors. Let’s make them feel like criminals, because, well, they are criminals.

The rest of the solution will come via aggressive and innovative diplomacy, by increasing the level and quality of intelligence sharing with Iraq, Syria, and neighbouring countries, as well as promoting the same between Middle East nations.

Soft Power will be the solution to the rising and long-term ISIS problem. Coalition airpower is merely buying us time, so that soft power efforts have time to ramp-up and begin showing some success.

If we can’t do it soon and do it well, all we are doing is wasting our bombs and creating more enemies for ourselves.

Dwight Eisenhower quote

President Dwight D. Eisenhower – “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, from those who are cold and are not clothed.”