Syria and Russia

As Russia and China stand steadfastly by their ally Syria in spirit and in more material ways (like Russia supporting them with ammunition) it is important to realize how poisonous their world view actually is. There really is a critical moral distance between the US and Western values and those of the Russians and Chinese, which presume that regime stability at all costs as the absolute pinnacle of a governments’ function.

Here is a great set of satellite photos that show the use of heavy artillery (towed and self-propelled) along with rocket artillery that the Russians provided against civilian targets, basically just regular cities that happen to not be favored by Assad and his cronies in power.

Along with the photos comes some pithy but extremely true commentary about how there is no fair or logical manner to compare the “free Syrian Army” which Assad (and Russia and China) link to “terrorists” and “foreign elements” to those of the regime since Assad chooses to use these massive and powerful weapons against unarmed civilians. Frankly it is mind-boggling that a military, one entrusted to PROTECT its own citizens, would possibly use these horrendously powerful weapons against civilian areas.

Where did the Syrians get the idea to direct the massive firepower of modern artillery against unarmed civilians, who can’t possibly fight back (i.e. they don’t have airplanes or their own artillery for counter battery fire)? I am just speculating, but Russia’s own use of heavy artillery when they completely leveled THEIR OWN CITY of Grozny in Chechnya would be a logical example. This article describes the Soviet experience with Grozny and how eventually they were able to “win” the battle in the third battle for Grozny with the use of heavy artillery and the corresponding high casualty rate for non-combatants (civilians). It should be noted that these tactics would be unthinkable to Western leaders and collateral deaths of civilians are minimized whenever possible.

It is important that young people who read the media understand that these sorts of differences, that by standing steadfast with a brutal thug of an un-elected ruler who uses heavy artillery against his own, unarmed civilians and using their UN veto to ensure that this continues – that is the behavior of the Russians (and by their veto too, the Chinese, although they haven’t done anything like Grozny or Assad’s atrocities in recent years). They are not like us. And a world in which their values play a prominent role wouldn’t be a better world, or an “equivalent” world – it would be a barbaric Hobbsian world of the gangster-state.

29 thoughts on “Syria and Russia”

  1. The Russians win there wars, all things being equal Assad will win his. We don’t.

    Some of the Rebels are Islamist, and some version of MB would take power, probably after a Baghdad writ large style bloodbath.

    The only reasons for us to involve ourselves is to stop Iran from achieving the Shia Crescent into the Med -a Persian ambition since Xerxes- and to get ourselves another tasty port in the process. Which makes us less dependent on allied ports in the Med – to include Israel. Israel has more leverage on us than AIPAC and the evangelicals. Location, Location, Location.

    It’s all very well to have Humanitarian Fig leafs like R2P [see also the “Surge”], as long as the Fig Leaf doesn’t mistake it’s importance in the order of things. Because what counts is under the Fig Leaf.


    Former under the Fig Leaf.

  2. They are not firing on helpless civilians. There is no reason to as they are no threat. They are firing on areas which they have lost to the rebels.

    Without taking sides one can detect a vast media push to paint the Syrian government as heartless murderers and the rebels as heroic patriots. Al Jazeera, one of my favorite news outlets, is especially guilty of this.

    Watch the videos carefully there are many that are pretty obvious fakes. Read the Arab League observers report. They were pulled because they were not producing the right spin.

  3. “They are firing on areas which they have lost to the rebels.” lol! It is sad when the mask slips, my Canadian friend.

    No idea. You will have to explain a bit.

  4. Where did the Syrians get the idea to direct the massive firepower of modern artillery against unarmed civilians, who can’t possibly fight back

    The Hama Massacre, as mentioned above. This is a ‘like father, like son’ situation. Also, Pencilneck’s uncle was the commander of that operation.

    Hama was shelled by artillery for 3 weeks. The *lowest* reasonable death toll was 10,000 people.

  5. Qualified agreement with PenGun on this.

    I have zero reason to think the opponents of Assad are any better.

    Assad, Sr. smashed Hama — which had been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    There are no good options on this.

    All possible outcomes are bad.

    We should stay out of it.

  6. Lex – the “Arab Spring” is turning out to be more of a Winter….so far. Why so many thought that these revolutions were the harbinger of Jeffersonian Democracy…is a mystery to me.

  7. Assad is no Mubarak. He has done well by being our enemy. He is an ally of Iran. We should take opportunities to influence events against him.

    The MB are probably going to take over multiple countries if we do nothing. We may as well be in the game.

  8. I do get disappointed in the “realpolitick” that sometimes I see on these pages.

    While in the SHORT TERM the US has made alliances with unsavory characters, in the LONG TERM we are the friend of freedom and free will. While many news outlets worldwide, propaganda outlets like those in Russia, and of course our own virulent left wing disputes this, it is the truth. It is obvious in places where the US has exerted long term influence and left them back to run the country from Japan, Germany and South Korea.

    We DO benefit from removing despots, in that we give people a CHANCE to govern themselves in a manner that is closer to the people and their free will. I know that it often turns out badly, sometimes immediately, sometimes later.

    This is our “true” story, and while the media often distorts it, the results on the ground over the long term are there to see and the fact that the Arabs went against Libya and now are against Syria is ground breaking. I realize that there are historical factors at play and reasons for why they are against these regimes which is also aligned to their own interests but in general the spread of more democratic-ish and elected countries is in our interest. It certainly corrodes our interests to be continuously in bed with those that oppress and kill their own people with impunity, especially when they bring in our businesses (like Libya did).

    Russia too is fast losing whatever shred of international legitimacy they ever had with their continued support of Assad. It is plain to see that “poking your finger in the eye of America” was for a long time the popular thing to do but now the world, which is connected, sees it differently. China and Russia are terrified of this happening to them. That is why they are supporting Assad. For a lot of reasons I don’t see this happening in their countries for some time, but the rulers of those countries are taking no chances.

    The world is far more INTERCONNECTED and YOUNGER than in past decades. The % of people under 18 in these countries (not Russia, where everyone is dying) is immense; they simply don’t have a connection with the past and are able to at least see the world beyond them through the internet. This doesn’t mean they want Western values, necessarily, but they certainly don’t want WHAT THEY HAVE.

    As people who understand history on this blog we often take the long view; but for the young, especially with no job and seeing an affluent (if sometimes illusory) world out there through the internet, history is NOW. How relevant is the old world when your current thug ruler is using anti aircraft weapons on you? Or spying with new technologies?

    I will never believe nor accept that the US has no “higher mission” than to protect our narrowly defined short term interests. If that is true then our soldiers are nothing but mercenaries. This does not jibe with our history from WW1 onward, although I will admit to many, many mistakes along the way.

    In today’s connected world the potential for people to rise is higher; certainly any ruler can hold them in check by mastering technology and being prepared to use heavy artillery on their own people. But is this now sustainable for them? How is it going to end for Assad, with all of his people who run business and money fleeing abroad? This can’t be sustainable.

  9. I think that Carl is on to something that some American conservatives miss. There are multiple trends at work here. It’s easy to dismiss the Middle East as a cesspit that we should avoid, and the Islamist trend as one that we have exacerbated by our policy errors. My sense is that we have probably made things worse over the past few years, particularly under Obama, by strategic confusion and by avoiding confrontation with the Iranian and other regimes that have backed Islamist insurgencies. But even if I am wrong on this point, the pace of popular uprisings from Tunisia to Syria makes clear that something fundamental has changed and that this change is part of what is driving events. I think it’s a combo of the Internet and a widespread realization that the dictatorships are economically unsustainable given demographic trends. The masses in these countries know they have a raw deal, as perhaps most of them always knew, but now they see not only that the status quo may be unsustainable but also that they may have enough leverage, using modern communications technology, to change their governments.

    This is an unstable situation and the MB and other Islamists are successfully exploiting it. To say we should have backed Mubarak is to miss the point. He is old and would have gotten sick eventually and then what? If we had stuck with him the MB might have ended up taking over eventually anyway. Obama was inept in responding to events but I’m not sure the outcome would have been different otherwise. The time for us to have encouraged democratic reform in Egypt was in the early 2000s, and Bush dropped the ball after around 2005. Once we gave up on pushing for reform it became a coin flip whether the next Egyptian dictatorship would be pro- or anti-American. Now we have little influence on events. The situation in Syria is different since Assad is an enemy rather than an ally, but the point remains that he looks to be on his way out eventually. We can stand by and let events take their course or we can try to influence them. If we do nothing, either Assad survives and everyone sees that there is little cost to being our enemy, or (probably) Islamists take over and know that we will leave them alone too.

    There is a particularly American sort of blindness in a realpolitik that betrays allies (Kurds, Iraqi Shiites in 1991, Iranian people in 2009), avoids punishing enemies when we can do so at low cost (Iran, Syria), dismisses moral considerations, yet seeks alliances with capricious dictators as the only practical route to influence. We might have more influence if we behaved more consistently, and consistent with our values. I don’t think we can successfully deal with the Muslim Middle East only by either ignoring it or cutting deals with the dictatorships. Either approach risks repetition of our past failures.

  10. You don’t need to get the idea to fire artillery on unarmed civilians in a city. That’s what artillery and siege equipment are for. It’s been what artillery has been for since the first wall was built around the first city. You need to try really hard to get the idea that artillery is not for firing on unarmed civilians in a city, an idea that’s been widely accepted only in the last forty years or so.

    The United States of America is not a global security utility into which anyone on this earth can tap into for security services. We don’t need “The blame of those ye better”, “The hate of those ye guard”, or “The cry of hosts ye humour”. Going abroad in search of Monsters to Destroy™ has lots of upside for those engaged in a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing but has only a downside for us. Global Meddling is not a requirement of American foreign policy.

    There’s a simple gauge for which interventions abroad are worth America’s attention:

    Are you, as an American citizen, willing to countenance American forces firing artillery on unarmed civilians in a city in pursuit of that intervention?

    Are you willing to resist the urge to finger wag when American forces break through enemy fortifications build out of bleeding telegenic children, weeping mothers, and atomized fathers?

    Do you lose your taste for war when it ceases to become an antiseptic video game and becomes a grim blood-soaked contest where the score is tallied in body counts?

    Anything worth killing for is worth killing unarmed civilians in a city with artillery for. Anything worth killing for in Syria is worth letting Alawites be butchered by their neighbors for. As of yet, I see nothing worth killing for in Syria other than the usual context free atrocity video that remains the major export of the Third World.

    If someone else wants to go crusading its Syria, that’s their business. Why is no one intervening? That’s nobody’s business but the Turk.

  11. I do get disappointed in the “realpolitick” that sometimes I see on these pages.

    I sure hope that wasn’t directed at me: I was merely objection to the notion that modern-day Syria’s army was ever about protection the population per se–it’s all about protecting the regime.

  12. By supporting the forces of freedom it doesn’t always mean putting boots on the ground. It can be many other things from financial assistance, to finding a proxy, to sending arms, or to continually bring it up at the UN.

    A parallel item is that we aren’t as powerful as either we think we are or our enemies think we are. If you listen to the Russians or the Syrians we are EVERYWHERE and DIRECTING ACTIVITIES in their home countries and guiding the uprising. Really, I think we are playing a bit part, in Syria and in Russia, but I don’t know directly.

    I think that we definitely should get into our heads that the youth of the world is mainly jobless, angry, has high expectations, and is connected to the Internet and social media. Our expectations about history, the past, etc… are likely not at all in tune with theirs, for better or worse. It is just DIFFERENT.

    Interestingly enough, since the propaganda machines of Iran, Russia, Syria, etc… continually bash America, and also lie about everything else, it would be interesting to see what the youth REALLY think about America. Someone who is an enemy of a regime that punishes and cajoles you is your friend, in a way, right?

    Thus while everyone is worried about history, post colonialism, etc… I am trying to look at it from a fresh slate. The youth don’t remember Nasser or the colonialists or anything. While 100% of the people on this blog know the history of Germany that is totally irrelevant today – for Germany today is a pacifist banker along the lines of the Swiss. Who would have thought that the FRENCH would be the ones striking the first blows for freedom in Libya? Everything is on its head.

    And the India / Pakistan war footing is now dying down, not to say that Pakistan still isn’t a virulent powderkeg. Now Pakistan is mainly at war with itself, and its manifest failure to govern or build and identity as a country. Their problems are internal, although many will make the US a big part of the issue.

    China is leading the way on Africa. Who would have thought that? The US and Europe, with all of our corruption regulations, now play a bit part in Africa. The Chinese are ready to do a deal with anyone and pay anyone so they have all the future business. Throw away images of Bob Geldolf and colonialism. Now it is all Chinese business. The past is useless as a guide to the future (although I still predict chaos).

    We need to look at the world through an 18 yr old’s eyes. They want things NOW. They are angry. Hopefully we can end up on the right side of some of these changes. But changes are coming, whether or not someone is prepared to line up heavy artillery against their own people.

  13. We’re not going to fire artillery into cities. What we might do is find out who is opposing Assad and consider helping them, because Assad is our enemy and an ally of our enemies.

  14. I don’t see anything new here. I see the same old ideas left over from the twentieth century and the Cold War, that we will support “freedom fighters”, like, say, the Muhadeen in Afghanistan.

    The situation in Syria is terrible, but we don’t have enough intelligence to know what we are doing and we don’t know exactly who we will be arming now that others are flocking to the place and we have no idea if there will be leakage. Like, the bombings in Nigeria after the Libyan adventure which is still playing out.

    The changes are causing enough pressure on unfriendly regimes. I don’t see why we have to play servant to Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy and intelligence services for sure had something to do with 9-11 and continued Sunni radicalization.

    I tried reading the stuff about India and Pakistan, and not to be rude, but it made no sense to me.

    – Madhu

  15. “We’re not going to fire artillery into cities.”

    And the people we will be allying ourselves with? What will they do in their Civil War to civilians or others? Do you know?

    At any rate, friends, I think some of us will have to agree to disagree on this subject.

    My turn toward libertarianism is complete and it is thanks, frankly, to the past decade and the predictions about Iraq, Al Q, Afghanistan and the rest by the status quo right (talking about think tanks and the rest, not you carl :) ).

    Many of the predictions proved to be incorrect and yet people are still so confident. I don’t get it.

    I’m done, folks.

    Take care all. Enjoyed the post even if I disagree.

    – Madhu

  16. I don’t think the ideas change, because people don’t change. It is still in our national interest for people who wish to harm us to hesitate out of fear, and for people who wish to help us to be able to do so. We are inconsistent at our own expense. The kind of “realism” that sees our narrowly construed short-term interests as paramount and the long-term consequences of our erratic and irresolute behavior as secondary is too clever by half.

    I think we are inconsistent because America is a big, powerful country and we think we can get away with it, just as many Americans think that we can get away with financial profligacy because we are a very rich country. But eventually the costs of such policies come due.

    The case for our involvement in Libya was weak: Kaddafi wasn’t a threat to us and had helped us in the past. The case for our involvement in Syria is much stronger. At the least, since we collaborated in deposing Kaddafi, our unwillingness to do much about Assad amounts to tacit support for him. We should probably be doing something to help knock him from the ledge he is teetering on. Russia and Iran are helping him. If we do nothing he keeps killing people and may stay in power. If he goes his replacements are less likely to be Iranian satraps. We may have some leverage which we may lose once Iran gets nuclear weapons.

  17. I am curious to note the bomb craters around the arty pieces in photo #6. Also craters seemingly blocking in the two (supply?) vehicles. One wonders where those might come from if the foe has no heavy weapons. No people or support around the weapons. Makes me suspicious of the other pictures. Could they be some other place entirely? There is no real way to tell where they are; what their significance is. There is no real context to back up the Ambassador’s statements.—and, of course, I’m pretty ditrustful of anything coming from this administration.

  18. ….”By supporting the forces of freedom it doesn’t always mean putting boots on the ground.”….

    The “forces of freedom”? Right. (Actually thought about a Marvel comics book connection for a moment).

    One nice thing about despots is their typical lack of an international, over-riding philosophy or political goal (unlike, say, imans in Holland, Britain, or France). Most just want to hang onto power in one political area.

  19. the money shot:

    The US should be concerned about the danger as well – but instead, the Obama administration is seeking reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, backing it in Syria (see here as well), and proposing to fund and treat with the terrorist group Hamas. The Russians are justified in being worried that the US shows little discrimination in our choice of clients and protégés in the region. Whether the reason is ideological sympathy or ideological naïveté, the US administration’s affinity for the most radical, repressive, Islamo-statist elements in the Islamic world cannot be a basis for strategically responsible uses of power.

  20. I know one thing we can agree on, carl from chicago! 93.1 XRT SUX. I used to stream the online new music channel a few years ago and the medical residents and students seemed to like it. But lately, when listening to the actual radio as kind of a “white noise” in the background at work, I’ve noted it’s really terrible. Awful. Really bad, actually.

    By the way:

    “(AP) BAGHDAD – Al Qaeda’s chief has called on Muslims from other countries to support rebels in Syria seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad, saying they cannot depend on the West for help.

    Ayman al-Zawahri, in a videotaped statement released late Saturday, asked Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to join the uprising against Assad’s “pernicious, cancerous regime.” All four states border Syria.”

    Sunni vs Shia with us once again with the Sunni. And you all know how that worked out last time….

    But I don’t know. I honestly don’t.

    – Madhu

  21. “J. E. Dyer’s column on this topic is worth reading.”

    Indeed it is. One of the perhaps funny parts of the last Georgian – Russian kerfuffle was the Russians just driving directly, it was reported as battle but there was not much of one after the opening moves were done, to the Baku pipeline and doing donuts on it.

    I laughed my silly ass off.

Comments are closed.