After Mosul Falls, What Then?

There are some 100,000 troops involved in the conquest (or reconquest, depending on your perspective) of Mosul. On the surface, the battle is meant to restore the Iraqi government to its full writ; a Baghdad-united Shia and Sunni realm, a nation state on the way to functionality. In other words, a normal country.

Ah, dreams.

Careful observation reveals a more wretched future. The Islamic State may be doomed, but that hardly means peace for Iraq. There are too many who want a piece of this particular pie.

Many players there are. Let’s start with the greatest of powers, who define the broadest outlines of geopolitics in the Middle East. Read more “After Mosul Falls, What Then?”

Spanish City in North Africa at the Heart of Diplomatic Row

Russia withdrew a request for a flotilla of warships to refuel at Spain’s North African city of Ceuta on Wednesday, sparing the NATO country the embarrassment of having to either turn the Russians down or accept the outrage of its allies.

Madrid had come under criticism from politicians in continental Europe and the United Kingdom for possibly allowing the Russian ships to dock at Ceuta.

A group of warships led by Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, was expected to stop for supplies in the port after passing through the Strait of Gibraltar on Wednesday morning.

The vessels are sailing for Syria, where they would join Russian military efforts in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, warned on Tuesday that the battle group may be used to increase Russian airstrikes in and around Aleppo, a major city in the north of Syria where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped between loyalist and opposition forces. Read more “Spanish City in North Africa at the Heart of Diplomatic Row”

Post Brexit, France May Get the European Army It Always Wanted

François Hollande David Cameron
French president François Hollande and British prime minister David Cameron visit Royal Air Force Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, January 31, 2014 (RAF/Dave Rose)

I argued here last year that a European army wasn’t going to happen. Only the French were interested, I wrote. The Germans were ambivalent. The British were against it. “Defense is a national — not an EU — responsibility,” they said at the time, when Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, floated the idea of a defense union.

Now Juncker is back with his proposal and the difference, of course, is that the British are leaving.

The Luxemburger reiterated his support for an EU army in a speech to the European Parliament last week, sending Britain’s Euroskeptic press into a frenzy. “Nigel Farage was right!” roared the Sunday Express. “Got out just in time,” opined The Sun.

It’s easy to dismiss Juncker’s idea as just the latest tone-deaf European federalist scheme that will go nowhere — and this would have been true if the United Kingdom wasn’t on the way out.

Now we have to take this seriously. (Thanks, Brexiteers.) Read more “Post Brexit, France May Get the European Army It Always Wanted”

Turkey Goes into Syria, Or How to Influence People with Tanks

Nature abhors a vacuum; so too does geopolitics. The nation state has conquered the world and it cannot abide an empty place on the map for long.

The collapse of the Syrian state has left behind such a vacuum. The question has never been if it will be filled; short of human extinction, that is inevitable. The question is by who.

Now Turkey has finally invaded Syria: not to smash and grab but to stay, in one form or another.

What’s going on here? Isn’t this just another sad mistake in the long series of sad mistakes in Syria?

Not necessarily. Here’s why. Read more “Turkey Goes into Syria, Or How to Influence People with Tanks”

Assad Shifts Strategy, Attacks Kurdish Rebel Group in Syria

Forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad have for the first time bombarded Kurdish rebel positions in the northeast of the country, marking a shift in the regime’s strategy.

The largely Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) claims that regime forces carried out airstrikes in the Al-Hasakah Governorate and attacked urban areas with artillery, killing and injuring dozens.

CNN reports that American officials were nearby when the attack occurred.

The United States support the YPG in their fight against the self-declared Islamic State, a fanatical Sunni Islamist group that occupies territory in between the Assad regime’s and the Kurds. Read more “Assad Shifts Strategy, Attacks Kurdish Rebel Group in Syria”

If Assad Captures Aleppo, Then What for the West?

Behind the Islamic State’s murderous campaign of jihadi chaos, past the shattered European Union, veiled by America’s police shootings, protests and mass shootings lurks the skulking husk of the Syrian government, still barrel bombing, gaining ground, suddenly, quietly, reconquering Syria.

What a difference a year makes. Once Bashar Assad was clearly on the ropes: his depleted army unable to put out all the rebellious fires within his domain, his Russian and Iranian allies seemingly unable to save him, the Islamic State’s butchers sharpening their cleaves upon the antiques of Palmyra while his more moderate rebel foes began an offensive toward his Alawite stronghold of Latakia.

Then came the Russians, who made a point of decisively changing the war’s dynamic. Shoring up the wavering Syrian army battlelines and deploying massive airpower, Vladimir Putin carpet-bombed Assad’s enemies while his officers and soldiers stiffened the Syrian army’s spine. Given such support, the Syrian army began the slow crawl back from oblivion, recapturing key Palmyra from the Islamic State, blunting the rebel offensive into Latakia and even recently entering Raqqa Province, where the capital of the Islamic State lay.

Now Assad is closer than ever to recapturing the greatest prize of all. Once the largest city in Syria, now, like the country itself, a husk of traumatized survivors and ruined world heritage sites, Aleppo has been under siege since July 2012 — four brutal years now of back and forth sniping across the same bullet-pocked streets, both sides desperately trying to complete an encirclement around the other. Now Assad looks to have cut off the rebels and, if his forces hold, he will be master of Aleppo once more. Read more “If Assad Captures Aleppo, Then What for the West?”

Assad Loyalists Break Ceasefire, Besiege Aleppo

Airstrikes and artillery barrages have killed some 200 people in the city of Aleppo in the last few days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said.

The renewed fighting around what is the last remaining stronghold of the country’s relatively moderate opposition comes despite a promised truce and is inflicting enormous suffering on the civilian population. Read more “Assad Loyalists Break Ceasefire, Besiege Aleppo”

Putin Orders Start of Withdrawal from Syria

Russian president Vladimir Putin unexpectedly ordered his armed forces to start withdrawing from Syria on Tuesday.

The order follows a six-month bombing campaign in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s ally in Syria.

The Kremlin said Russia has largely met its objectives and now is the time to focus on peace talks.

World powers recently agreed to a cessation of hostilities in the Middle Eastern country’s civil war, but neither the Assad regime nor the various rebel groups fighting it were party to the accord. Read more “Putin Orders Start of Withdrawal from Syria”

Why the Free Syrian Army Never Went Anywhere

As the Syrian Civil War embarks upon an odd ceasefire — one replete with exceptions and violations — it’s worth looking back at some of the failures that led up to this point. There are plenty to choose from and that long sad path is better detailed elsewhere. Instead, we’ll focus on just one: the Free Syrian Army.

The overarching failure is that Syria, a stable enough place by most accounts, has consumed itself. There is plenty of blame to go around; the Gulf states, the Russians, the Americans, the Iranians, Bashar Assad, the jihadists all have blood on their hands one way or another.

Yet often overlooked in these recriminations is the flailing Free Syrian Army. Had the FSA ever emerged as a powerful and coherent force, the civil war might have ended years ago or, at the very least, have been considerably less chaotic and murderous.

As we conduct an informal autopsy, we can find useful lessons in understanding geopolitics and how humans interact with power. Read more “Why the Free Syrian Army Never Went Anywhere”

Syria Truce Gives Regime Time to Besiege Aleppo

World powers agreed on the conditions of a ceasefire in Syria on Friday but did not see hostilities ending for another week, giving the regime time to continue its siege of Aleppo, the last rebel stronghold in the north.

Troops loyal to President Bashar Assad, including Russian bombers and Shia militias from Lebanon and Iran, are on the verge of seizing the last opposition-held neighborhoods of what was once the largest city in the country.

Russian airstrikes, which started in September, have already enabled Assad to reclaim territory east of his Alawite homeland on the Syrian coast, squeezing the relatively moderate rebellion that is supported by the Arab states and Turkey in between the regime on the one hand and the self-declared Islamic State militant group on the other. Read more “Syria Truce Gives Regime Time to Besiege Aleppo”