Trump Opens a Pandora’s Box in Middle East – M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline

Trump Opens a Pandora’s Box in Middle East

M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline

There is no triumphalism in the USA, Britain or France over the missile strike in Syria on Friday

The mood is rather defensive. Indeed, evidence is still lacking on the alleged chemical attacks in Douma, which was the alibi for the missile strike. There are no tall claims, either, as regards the effectiveness of the missile strike in military terms.   

On the contrary, Damascus is in upbeat mood. April 14 has been declared a day of celebrations. After all, the Syrian forces single-handedly faced the Western assault. The Russian reports underscore that Syrian air defence system was highly effective. The Defence Ministry said in Moscow on Saturday that there were no Syrian casualties. Moscow attests that the Syrians shot down as many as 71 missiles out of the total 103 fired by the USA, UK and France. Neither Washington nor London and Paris has so far contradicted the Russian assessment.

President Donald Trump is the solitary voice crowing about the missile attack. He tweeted bombastically:

So proud of our great Military which will soon be, after the spending of fully approved dollars, the finest that our Country has ever had. There won’t be anything, or anyone, even close!

But Trump was grandstanding in front of the domestic audience and avoided making any specific claims about the success of the strike by his “smart” missiles. In sum, this has been a theatrical show.

The military balance in Syria now comes into play. For the Syrian regime, this is baptism under fire. Only recently, the Syrians had shot down an Israeli jet. Now they have scored 70% hit on Friday.

The Syrians are equipped with Soviet-era air defence systems developed in the 1960s. What if the Russians upgrade the systems? This is exactly what the head of Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi hinted in Moscow on Saturday:

“A few years ago, taking into account a pressing request from some of our partners, we abandoned the supplies of the S-300 missile systems to Syria. Considering the latest developments, we deem it possible to get back to discussing this issue, not only in relation to Syria, but to other countries as well.”

No doubt, it will be a game changer if Russia equips the Syrian army with deterrent power to inflict unaffordable costs on potential aggressors. Iran has shown how such a strategy can work when it helped the Hezbollah in Lebanon to acquire deterrence against Israel.

In fact, Jerusalem Post newspaper has highlighted the Russian general’s remark. The paper notes that if Moscow carries out the threat, “Israel’s air superiority is at risk of being challenged in one of its most difficult arenas… And it could be just a matter of time before an Israeli pilot is killed.” The JP report adds,

Syrian air defenses are largely Soviet-era systems, comprised of SA-2s, SA-5s and SA-6s, as well as more sophisticated tactical surface-to-air missiles such as the SA-17 and SA-22 systems. The most up-to-date system that Moscow has supplied to the Syrian regime is the short range Pantsir S-1, which has shot down drones and missiles that have flown over Syria.

The advanced S-300 would be a major upgrade to Syrian air defenses and pose a threat to Israeli jets as the long-range missile defense system can track objects like aircraft and ballistic missiles over a range of 300 kilometers.

The system’s engagement radar, which can guide up to 12 missiles simultaneously, helps guide the missiles toward the target. With two missiles per target, each launcher vehicle can engage up to six targets at once.

Col.-Gen. Rudskoi chose his words carefully by hinting that Russia could also supply countries other than Syria – e.g., Venezuela, North Korea, Lebanon, Iraq, etc. – The remark stems from President Vladimir Putin’s hugely significant statement on Saturday regarding the USA attack on Syria when he said, inter alia: “The current escalation around Syria is destructive for the entire system of international relations. History will set things right…”

Trump’s impetuosity to attack Syria is in defiance of the international system and it may open a Pandora’s box. Ironically, Israel, as “frontline state”, has the highest stakes if the unwritten understanding between the USA and Russia unravels. – Moscow had collaborated with the Barack Obama administration and Israel to slow down the supply of S-300 missiles to Iran. – Equally, Turkey will have to think twice before venturing into further land grab in Syria if Damascus regains control of its air space.

The Israeli think tank The Institute for National Security Studies prepared a very informative paper in 2013 entitled Syria, Russia, and the S-300: Military and Technical Background.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/18/2018 at 2:37 pm

    Col.-Gen. Rudskoi chose his words carefully by hinting that Russia could also supply countries other than Syria – e.g., Venezuela, North Korea, Lebanon, Iraq, etc. – The remark stems from President Vladimir Putin’s hugely significant statement on Saturday regarding the USA attack on Syria when he said, inter alia: “The current escalation around Syria is destructive for the entire system of international relations. History will set things right…”

    What I find disconcerting is the mention of Venezuela – Now, that’s close to home.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/18/2018 at 4:37 pm

    We Have to Bomb Syria But It Is Still a Bad Idea

    Matthew Parris | The Times UK

    As long as the attack is only giving Assad a bloody nose, it isn’t worth falling out with our allies by refusing to join in

    It always starts like this. Somewhere in the world some monster does something unspeakable and the cry goes up: “We cannot stand idly by.”

    Idly by. How many bad ideas have been given rhetorical wings by assonance?

    “Idly” and “by” fall with as compelling a rhythm on the ear as on the mind. How can you argue for standing idly by?

    Sceptics fall silent, or mumble into our teacups about needing a clearer plan. We find it hard to look the crusaders in the eye. It’s impossible to feel proud of yourself for arguing that nothing should be done.

    I remember exactly where I was in February 2003 when Colin Powell, a good man, presented the urgent case for invading Iraq, live on TV. He was at the UN general assembly and I was in a doctor’s waiting room.

    General Powell had come, he said, to tell us “what the United States knows about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as well as Iraq’s involvement in terrorism”.

    “I cannot tell you everything that we know. But what I can share with you . . . is deeply troubling . . . My colleagues, every one of these [claims] is backed up by sources.”

    He believed this, I believed him, and so did Tony Blair. But still I thought the case for invasion had not been made. I remember it was not easy in the prevailing atmosphere – when we knew what Saddam Hussein had done to the Kurds – to argue on this page that we should stand idly by.

    In we went. And I remain entirely unconvinced that the fall of Saddam has added to the security of the West. – WMD or no WMD

    It was even harder to argue in The Times against the invasion of Libya.

    “Gaddafi’s army will kill half a million”, began The Guardian’s headline in March 2011, and this did seem possible. The city of Benghazi was surrounded, Gaddafi was advancing and, in the face of impending horror, it sounded almost capricious to fret about the West’s lack of any clear plan for the post-attack administration of Libya.

    However, the underlying political situation was hopelessly fragmented. Our strikes just smashed things up more, and a chaotic country has now become the principal route for asylum-seekers and economic refugees heading for Europe.

    I remain entirely unconvinced that the fall of Gaddafi has added to the security of the West or the wellbeing of Libyans.

    Yet here’s Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph at the time: “We cannot sit idly by . . . while this lunatic massacres his own people . . . The cause is noble and right, and we are surely bound by our common humanity to help the people of Benghazi.”

    In Thursday’s cabinet meeting, called to back the prime minister in British solidarity with the USA and France, Mr Johnson was apparently vociferous in his advocacy of “action” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria. His argument seems to have prevailed.

    If she acts before parliament returns on Monday I’d guess Theresa May now has a free hand. Whether she’d get parliament’s backing if the Commons returns before any action is launched must be in doubt, though I think it likely.

    And here this column takes a turn you may not expect. Though intervention will prove futile, we British should think hard before breaking ranks with France and the United States of America. And parliament should NOT be consulted.

    To the last first. The development of an emerging doctrine that decisions on conducting war must be approved by parliament should be knocked on the head, and this is a good moment to do it.

    Already you’ve seen the advantage that Bashar al-Assad, the Russians and Iranians have been given by a week’s presidential tweeting, counter-tweeting, public debate and the British media’s attempts to deconstruct the mind of parliament.

    Presumably they’re now well-prepared for some strategic airstrikes. They’ve had time to duck, while we took time to mull it over in public.

    A serious military response is unlikely. Hypocrisy is the likely winner. Donald Trump will want to crow about “taking out” this or that runway, and we might discreetly warn the Russians not to be there at the time.

    We would then have “given butcher Assad a bloody nose” and everything, including his slow advance, would continue as before.

    In this sanctimonious posturing, sadly, Britain must collude. We don’t call the tune and it’s not worth infuriating the USA president or undermining President Macron simply to keep our hands clean of hypocrisy.

    So pin back your ears, prepare for the canting headlines as we Brits lend an airfield, a bomber, a radar, or two . . . and sigh.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/19/2018 at 10:58 am

  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/19/2018 at 7:20 pm

    India’s 2+2 With USA Is One-Sided – M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline

    Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said ‘NO’ to fast tracking talks with her American counterpart James Mattis. Delhi prefers that the originally planned 2+2 foreign and defence minister level meeting takes place first before “Mad Dog” Mattis got his turn.

    The Pentagon betrayed its interest in somehow getting Sitharaman across to Washington as quickly as possible, being the decision maker on arms purchase.

    EAM Sushma Swaraj’s power lies, after all, in using Tweeter only.

    The American zest to regard the Modi government as an ATM machine has become so brazen and scandalous; sales by USA vendors zoomed to $5 billion in 2017 and the predatorial instinct is rearing its hood.

    Just as Sitharaman was travelling to Moscow recently, New York Times held out a crude threat that the USA sanctions against Russia might come to haunt India if she dared to finalize the deal for S-400 missile defence system or the Russian fifth-generation jet stealth aircraft.

    In the event, Sitharaman didn’t close the deals, but the fact is that the Americans just alerted us about the pitfalls of putting all our eggs in their basket.

    Given the American panache for imposing sanctions on countries with independent foreign policies, Delhi needs to be extra vigilant.

    Meanwhile, the fate of the “2+2” format as such remains unclear. What is this format anyway? From the American side, quite obviously, the format is useful for canvassing business – such as Lockheed Martin’s push to sell single-engine pre-historic F-16 fighter jets to India whose production is being phased out in the USA

    Fundamentally, a question mark needs to be put on the strategic assumptions underlying India’s “defining partnership” with the USA now that there’s been a change of guards in the foreign-policy establishment in South Block.

    Simply put, the foreign-policy trajectory pursued during the period from January 2015 till February 2018 proved to be detrimental to India’s interests and strategic autonomy.

    The current trends in the regional and international politics underscore the importance of strengthening India’s strategic autonomy:

    Downhill slide in India-China relations; tensions in USA-Russia relations; looming USA-China trade war; thaw in China-Japan relations; China-ASEAN normalization; China’s growing influence in South Asia, etc.

    But the biggest challenge that EAM Sushma Swaraj and Sitharaman will face as co-chairpersons of the “2+2” format with the USA is how seriously they can take their counterparts Mike Pompeo and James Mattis.

    Not only are Pompeo and Mattis not authoritative enough to spell out USA policies, one just doesn’t know how long they’ll even keep their jobs. They are basically salesmen peddling American wares.

    Actually, there is nothing like “American policies” in the Trump era. The Washington Post carried two reports this week underlining the utter confusion within the Trump administration. Even the president is not necessarily the last word.

    One of these two astonishing reports entitled ‘Trump a Reluctant Hawk’ narrates how Trump battled his top aides on Russia and lost, the shocking reports gave some insight into how the former NSA in the White House HR McMaster simply hoodwinked a bumbling Trump into approving the proposal to expel 60 Russian diplomats from the USA last month:

    The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials…

    The president, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia…

    Growing angrier, Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions.

    “There were curse words,” the official said, “a lot of curse words.”

    The second WaPo report narrates how even the famous Nikki Haley can no longer pretend to be Trump’s authoritative voice.

    I’m reminded of Roman Emperor Caligula (AD 37-41). He had a favorite horse by the name of Incitatus whom he once planned to designate as Roman consul.

    Caligula used to hold parties for friends in the steed’s grand stables. In a fit of exuberant joy, he once named Incitatus a Minister of State.

    The Trump presidency has not quite reached that point yet, but bizarre things are happening in the Washington Beltway – JUST LIKE IN CALIGULA’S DECADENT ROME IN DECLINE and FALL. India will be well advised to keep their distance.

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