Russia Withdrawing from Syria. Your Move, Amreeka…

 

In a surprise move, Russia has announced that it will be withdrawing its troops from Syria. From the Guardian:

“I consider the objectives that have been set for the Defence Ministry to be generally accomplished,” Vladimir Putin announced matter-of-factly on Monday evening, announcing the imminent withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria.

… Putin’s announcement took military analysts by surprise: if Russia’s dramatic entry into Syria was presaged by a quiet but noticeable logistical build-up, nobody saw the exit coming, including those with close links to the military hierarchy.

Though what can be done can also be undone:

… it has been made clear that the Hemeimeem airbase outside Latakia from which Russia has launched its air raids will remain in use. It is not known how small the “small contingent” that will remain behind will be, and it will almost certainly still involve advanced air defence systems. Additionally, now the infrastructure is in place, nothing is to stop Russia from redeploying even more quickly and unexpectedly than in late September.

As for Russia’s objectives – although ISIS remains, and the Assad regime is “less than stable,”

“Nobody wanted to deal with Russia after Ukraine, and the goal of the Syria campaign was to force the west to deal with Russia again,” said independent military analyst Alexander Golts. “This has happened, and now they are getting out of the conflict with minimal losses. I think it’s a pretty brilliant tactical move.”

So — well played, Russia.

But what happens next in Syria?

Assad’s other BFF (uff! Iran of course!!! who else even takes his calls?) has also been trying to dial down the friendship. From a December 2015 article in The Times of Israel:

Iran has withdrawn most of the Revolutionary Guards fighters it deployed to Syria three months ago, Israeli security officials told The Times of Israel. The decision to withdraw the forces was likely made due to the rising number of casualties among Iranian soldiers fighting in Syria and the subsequent growing public outcry back home …

Iran sent some 2,000 Revolutionary Guards fighters to Syria in September. There are just 700-800 remaining, the Israeli sources said.

I don’t know how that affects the number of Iranians fighting as part of the Syrian Army, or the random Shias from Pakistan and Afghanistan who were recruited and sent over as cannon fodder.

But in any case, clearly Iran is less eager than it was before. (Though watch how they proceed post-Majlis elections.)

Finally, according to this compendium of sources, even Hezbollah might be leaving. Though they qualify it, and the picture provided does not fill one with confidence:

Hezbollah syria leaving

As @fufkin on Twitter points out, that vodka bottle in the background and the Jesus poster or screensaver next to the Assad picture make one think … maybe that’s not Hezbollah (oh, riiiight), in which case this is a picture of who and why?

But enough frivolity.

While Russia was engaged in Syria, the West could leave (Western allies) Saudi Arabia’s and Qatar’s and Turkey’s support for groups like Jabhat al-Nusra in the “too hard to solve” basket. Distasteful and disastrous, but Russia wouldn’t let them take over Syria, so the West could tolerate it without approving of it and still benefit from these alliances in other arenas.

If — big if! — Russia exits, or dials down its support of Assad, that issue moves unavoidably front and center. The cost of doing nothing about it could be significant.

Your move, Amreeka. What next?

(And has anybody asked Clinton, Trump, Sanders, or Cruz what, specifically, should be done?)

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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  1. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    Hizballah might be moving back to Lebanon because of ISIL and al Qa’ida Nusrah Front attacks in Lebanon. Good info, thanks for the writ up.

    • #1
  2. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    Saudi Arabia does not support Nusrah Front.

    • #2
  3. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Why bother asking Trump about anything…its not like he will give answer?

    Perhaps Russia has over played itself? Or perhaps the Assad regime has reached equilibrium with ISIS. The presence of ISIS will guarantee that the West won’t be very keen on moving Assad out lest the whole nation fall to ISIS. Mission accomplished! Russia came in and destroyed the only viable opposition that the west might be able to accept to Assad. So now they leave us to do the real and dirty work of killing ISIS. So yes, well played indeed.

    But, what no one is counting on is that fact that America is very likely to elect an Trump as president and he doesn’t even know where Syria is, much less care about it. So good luck having anyone do anything productive.

    • #3
  4. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Translation: I’ve weakened Assad’s enemies enough to where I’m now going home. I lived through Afghanistan. None of that crap here. Butcher and Bolt, baby. All aspects of the mission…. help Assad, annoy Turkey, bleed ISIS a little, show strength in the face of Western weakness…. all accomplished for the price of a few cluster bombs and some jet fuel. It’s Miller Time.

    • #4
  5. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Robert McReynolds:Saudi Arabia does not support Nusrah Front.

    No, not directly.  It does support Ahrar ash Sham, which is a….Nusrah Front ally. Money, and arms, are fungible.

    Frankly I don’t think they have a single consistent policy towards these groups – I’m starting to wonder if Saudi power is as polycentric (behind the veil) as Iran’s, and whether that isn’t to some degree deliberate.

    • #5
  6. Dex Quire Inactive
    Dex Quire
    @DexQuire

    Zafar, please consider changing your avatar; every time I see it I get hungry for ramen….

    • #6
  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Valiuth: Perhaps Russia has over played itself? Or perhaps the Assad regime has reached equilibrium with ISIS.

    They’ve bolstered Assad against his enemies — the groups we supported. And now they’re leaving the ISIS cleanup to us.

    • #7
  8. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    What’s Amreeka?

    • #8
  9. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Russia was and remains overextended. We said it here, repeatedly. Putin simply cannot afford his ambitions.

    • #9
  10. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    iWe:Russia was and remains overextended. We said it here, repeatedly. Putin simply cannot afford his ambitions.

    A recurring theme?

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Valiuth: Why bother asking Trump about anything…its not like he will give answer?

    Blah blah blah build a wall blah blah blah make a deal blah blah blah my poll numbers are yuge blah blah blah so are my fingers and you know what that means blah blah blah America great again.

    There. I just paraphrased Trump’s entire campaign.

    As to the Russian/Iranian stand-down:

    1. The Russians and Iranians are satisfied that the situation is stable enough for their purposes (i.e. propping up the chinless ophthalmologist).
    2. With the price of oil in the dumper, Russia is already spending next year’s borscht money and Iran’s only positive cash flow for the foreseeable future is the money Barry dumped in its lap. Missile tests are expensive, so Iran needs to pinch every rial – and since the rial is so tiny, they have to pinch extra hard.
    3. Some combination of 1. and 2.
    • #11
  12. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Valiuth: Perhaps Russia has over played itself? Or perhaps the Assad regime has reached equilibrium with ISIS.

    They’ve bolstered Assad against his enemies — the groups we supported. And now they’re leaving the ISIS cleanup to us.

    That’s exactly right.  And I bet we won’t do anything, so it’s a complete disaster.  We need leadership and we need a strategy for the entire Iraq/Syria region.  And we need an American division on the ground with our allies to wipe up the scum.

    • #12
  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    BrentB67:What’s Amreeka?

    Try pronouncing America with an Arabic accent. (It should be a Russian accent, if you ask me — and that wouldn’t be a good transliteration of a Russian accent.)

    • #13
  14. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    BrentB67:What’s Amreeka?

    Try pronouncing America with an Arabic accent.

    It’s even a movie.

    (It should be a Russian accent, if you ask me — and that wouldn’t be a good transliteration of a Russian accent.)

    I can’t do Russian accents, but it’s Amreeka in India as well.

    • #14
  15. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Dex Quire:Zafar, please consider changing your avatar; every time I see it I get hungry for ramen….

    Ramen is a delicious, nutritious and thrifty meal choice.  Consider adding ramen noodles to your regular diet.

    • #15
  16. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Valiuth: Perhaps Russia has over played itself? Or perhaps the Assad regime has reached equilibrium with ISIS.

    They’ve bolstered Assad against his enemies — the groups we supported. And now they’re leaving the ISIS cleanup to us.

    The US has a stake in a stable Turkey, a stable Jordan, a stable Saudi Arabia and Gulf and a stable (one hopes) Iraq.

    Russia has no such stake in these countries’ stability.  So it’s strengthened Assad and left ISIS to destabilise and occupy the attention of these others. (Not to mention giving Turkey a [rejuvenated] Kurdish present – I am guessing that Russia’s preferred option for Syria involves some sort of [federation type] power sharing between Assad and the Kurds that will keep Ankara on tenterhooks just by existing.)

    Why did anybody assume it would be otherwise?

    • #16
  17. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Zafar: Why did anybody assume it would be otherwise?

    That’s the interesting question. Why are we always surprised by Putin’s behavior?

    • #17
  18. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Short of shooting down a Turkish F-16, Putin has checked every box on his list for showcasing Russian military hardware.

    Customers are lining up.

    It also sent a message to the newest NATO members that acquiring a little 1980s-era NATO military equipment will not make you safe when front-line Russian hardware starts rolling across your borders.

    This military adventure probably paid for itself tenfold.

    • #18
  19. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    BrentB67:What’s Amreeka?

    Try pronouncing America with an Arabic accent. (It should be a Russian accent, if you ask me — and that wouldn’t be a good transliteration of a Russian accent.)

    Ahhh. Foolish me. I thought we were an American web site created with the Blessings of God and secured by the 1st Amendment.

    Thank you.

    • #19
  20. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Zafar: Why did anybody assume it would be otherwise?

    That’s the interesting question. Why are we always surprised by Putin’s behavior?

    Personally, I think I am surprised because I try to translate what I learned and biases held about the Soviet Union to contemporary Russia.

    I think the reality is that the Soviet Union and Russia are more different than I/We appreciate in America. With the Soviet Union we pretty much understood their objectives. Russia, not always as clear.

    • #20
  21. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    BrentB67:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    BrentB67:What’s Amreeka?

    Try pronouncing America with an Arabic accent. (It should be a Russian accent, if you ask me — and that wouldn’t be a good transliteration of a Russian accent.)

    Ahhh. Foolish me. I thought we were an American web site created with the Blessings of God and secured by the 1st Amendment.

    Thank you.

    I think the point about the Amreeka spelling is to remind you that the world is watching you.

    Not that you’re not as American as apple pie or that Ricochet isn’t–but that in this vale of tears that is our world every great motion is judged in relation to America, as though nothing moved but America moved it or suffered it to move.

    None of us, I think, are happy that Mr. Putin is surprising the world by entering & apparently exiting the Middle East on his own terms, especially in places & situations where the American government has expressed an interest, backed it with money, arms, &c., & has acted at least since 9/11. We all, I think, wish you well.

    • #21
  22. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Titus Techera:

    BrentB67:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    BrentB67:What’s Amreeka?

    Try pronouncing America with an Arabic accent. (It should be a Russian accent, if you ask me — and that wouldn’t be a good transliteration of a Russian accent.)

    Ahhh. Foolish me. I thought we were an American web site created with the Blessings of God and secured by the 1st Amendment.

    Thank you.

    I think the point about the Amreeka spelling is to remind you that the world is watching you.

    Not that you’re not as American as apple pie or that Ricochet isn’t–but that in this vale of tears that is our world every great motion is judged in relation to America, as though nothing moved but America moved it or suffered it to move.

    None of us, I think, are happy that Mr. Putin is surprising the world by entering & apparently exiting the Middle East on his own terms, especially in places & situations where the American government has expressed an interest, backed it with money, arms, &c., & has acted at least since 9/11. We all, I think, wish you well.

    That is fair.

    I embody all that the world probably hates about America. I don’t think any country has spilled more blood or treasure around the globe for other’s freedom and thus do not care that the rest of the world is watching.

    Many of them watch from the freedom we bought and paid for.

    • #22
  23. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    BrentB67:I embody all that the world probably hates about America. I don’t think any country has spilled more blood or treasure around the globe for other’s freedom and thus do not care that the rest of the world is watching.

    Probably, most of the world does not hate America. Not even America holds such a sway on the minds of the people of this world to sustain any strong feeling, including hate. It’s true that America is unloved–no great power can be loved!–but that leaves room for respect & admiration, as well as for that awe of which no small ingredient is fear, including a healthy fear.

    Of course, you should care that the world is watching–you need to know how your enemies & your allies think about you & how to keep them in your good graces, lest they do or allow to be done something which will require another American war.

    Many of them watch from the freedom we bought and paid for.

    That’s so & it is probably imprudent to expect gratitude from the countries who owe it.

    If there is any wisdom in the American refusal to exercise empire, it is probably tied up with this prudence, which suggests all countries are naturally enemies.

    • #23
  24. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    BrentB67:I embody all that the world probably hates about America.

    Oh come on poster child, I’m reasonably critical of the US but I think you’re pretty much okay.

    Frankly, it’s a mistake to lump the rest of the world into the monolith, and the rest of the world (mostly) doesn’t see the US as a monolith either.  We all contain multitudes.

    Even simplified: you perceive your Government and your people as (at least) two very different entities.  Why wouldn’t the rest of the world be able to make a similar differentiation?

    I don’t think any country has spilled more blood or treasure around the globe for other’s freedom and thus do not care that the rest of the world is watching.

    People don’t “hate America” when they perceive it to be working for their freedom – or at least well disposed towards it – they “hate America” when they perceive it to be working in ways that limit or deprive them of their freedom.  Which – very unfortunately – is sometimes the case.

    Take the Kurds, for example.  Put aside platitudes and personal expressions of aspiration – are the US Administration’s actions furthering the cause of individual freedom for Kurds or are these actions limiting and retarding that freedom? (For reasons of State, alliance with Turkey, maintaining Iraq’s borders….)

    If you were a Kurd (put yourself in their shoes) how would you respond to these actions of the US Govt?

    (Apart from flattery.)

    • #24
  25. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    Zafar, I just wanted to be precise because there are so many different groups there. It’s easy to say that KSA supports al Qa’ida when that is not necessarily accurate. They view ASS (sorry that’s the acronym) as a more moderate opposition group and thus on a different level than Nusrah Front.

    The truth is that KSA has been flailing in Syria because their primary goal was the removal of Assad and yet even their Gulf allies are more concerned about ISIL than removing Assad. KSA sputtering strategy in the region is a reflection of more serious issues going on inside KSA.

    • #25
  26. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Valiuth: Perhaps Russia has over played itself? Or perhaps the Assad regime has reached equilibrium with ISIS.

    They’ve bolstered Assad against his enemies — the groups we supported. And now they’re leaving the ISIS cleanup to us.

    Seems about right…but the joke is on everyone else, because Obama isn’t going to clean up ISIS and President Trump isn’t going to do it either…

    So in Syria the winners are a Russian backed genocidal dictator who gasses his own people and a group of nihilistic Islamist sociopaths that enslave little girls and cut off peoples heads for being the wrong religion. And in America is anyone worried about this? Nope. We are busy reviving the old America First line of thinking that worked out so well in the 1930’s.

    I guess when WWIII comes around the American public will wonder why no one made it clear to them what was going on. On that day I don’t know if I will laugh or cry.

    • #26
  27. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Here’s Michael Totten’s take:

    Leaving at a time of relative quiet is a wise decision on Putin’s part. Syria is a smoldering crater right now, but it’s calmer than usual, and his ally Assad is safe for the moment. Withdrawing today doesn’t look like a defeat. On the contrary, he’s made everybody opposed to him look like a chump. No one beat his forces or his proxies on the battlefield. He can plausibly say that the next round of chaos isn’t his fault, that Syria was more stable when he left then when he arrived.

    And perhaps even Russia, Iran, and Hezballah would rather not be a part of the street-by-street retaking of Aleppo should that come to pass.

    • #27
  28. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Tenacious D: And perhaps even Russia, Iran, and Hezballah would rather not be a part of the street-by-street retaking of Aleppo should that come to pass.

    I think this is probably about right.

    • #28
  29. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Zafar:

    Dex Quire:Zafar, please consider changing your avatar; every time I see it I get hungry for ramen….

    Ramen is a delicious, nutritious and thrifty meal choice. Consider adding ramen noodles to your regular diet.

    You are eating ramen noodles?  All this time I thought you were throwing up.

    • #29
  30. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Fake John/Jane Galt:

    Zafar:

    Dex Quire:Zafar, please consider changing your avatar; every time I see it I get hungry for ramen….

    Ramen is a delicious, nutritious and thrifty meal choice. Consider adding ramen noodles to your regular diet.

    You are eating ramen noodles? All this time I thought you were throwing up.

    Everyone’s a critic.

    • #30
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