The Killing of Syrian Evacuees, and MOAB

One of the biggest news items the previous week was “the mother of all bombs” was dropped on Afghanistan. My first thought was, how come the children came first? My next thought was, why did the Americans use those words? Suppose they had said, “We dropped an 11 t bomb to break up the ISIS tunnels,” they could have still shown the same footage, but it would not have sounded so arrogant. Since this bomb had to be dropped from a cargo plane, it would presumably only be used on populations that have no significant air defence. The Americans also claimed that they killed thirty-six ISIS fighters and no civilians. Exactly how do they know that? (Sorry, but I persist. I want evidence, or at least some reasonable explanation that evidence has been seen by someone who will tell the truth.) One of the clips showed the ground around where the blast took place, and there was plenty of green there. Explain to me why there were no tribal farmers there?

Another disturbing event occurred at al-Rashideen, in Syria. Busloads of Shia evacuees from Foua and Kefraya permitted to leave the al Qaeda held Idlib province were attacked by what appears to have been a van-bomb. At least a hundred and twenty-six were killed, and more will die, and of those who died, at least sixty-eight were children. You may recall President Trump spreading empathy for the innocent children who died at Khan Sheikhun; silence on this incident, though, and the question is, why? There was also essentially silence from the Western press. Why, after all the fuss made of the sarin event? Particularly since these people were being evacuated under an agreed exchange whereupon rebels were permitted to leave Aleppo in exchange for free passage for them. They were obviously killed by al Qaeda affiliates, so why no bombing of them? Presumably because they are “nice” Muslims. Has he already forgotten 9/11? More to the point, this is a clear indication that you cannot negotiate with such terrorists because they have no honour.

What should be done about Syria? In my opinion, ISIS and the al Qaeda factions should be eliminated. As von Manstein noted, in terms of military strategy the first requirement is to prioritize. It is true that Assad is currently handling his population rather badly, but nobody else seems to have any constructive suggestions as to what should happen. Everyone says, negotiate a peaceful settlement, but it is difficult to do this when the issues are discrete and if, as shown by the example above, one side will not honour the terms of any agreement. If it is one or the other, the absence of middle ground makes compromise near impossible. Neither al Qaeda factions nor ISIS will moderate their extreme views, so I am afraid they must be removed. Assad at least ran a secular government, and in my opinion, he is the only one visible who has any chance of doing that in the future and do it for long enough to be effective, so swallow the dead rat. The best example of what I fear was Saddam Hussein. Nobody would accuse him of being “good”, but nevertheless he ran a secular government, and under his government, there was no al Qaeda of any significance in Iraq. The US deposed him and executed him, and did not attempt to govern, despite the antics of Paul Bremer. Why not? Insufficient troops. The net result was that disgruntled Iraqi soldiers got tangled up with ISIS, and look where we are now. It is better to do nothing about Syria than make it much worse.

Why do I discount the military option? The troops needed for a military occupation depend on what is expected of the occupied population. During the Czech invasion, everybody expected the Czechs to behave, and from memory five divisions comprised the invasion. That would be somewhere between 50,000 – 75,000 men, and probably about another 30,000 support staff. However, they concentrated on “important” sites. I recall that if you stayed out of city squares, or around things like radio stations, the chances of actually seeing Russian troops were very low. You saw them on roads if they were moving, and of course they had bases, but otherwise they were invisible. I even drove essentially across the country and only saw troops using the road to go from A to B. That would not work in a place like Syria, where you have to assume everybody there will hate you. Al Qaeda and ISIS, and their sympathizers will definitely hate you; the Alawites will most likely hate you for overthrowing their man, and that leaves the Kurds and Turkmen, both of whom will fear your leaving with whatever ISIS morphs into remaining. In an occupation where you are hated, you have to remove all the weapons, you have to check all transport, and have frequent checks on people in the open. That is why Israel, which has recognized what occupation means, does what it does in Palestine, and overall, while the Palestinians hate it, it does a good job of occupying. For Syria, I think you would need at least 500,000 soldiers, and preferably about 700,000. Who wants to pay for that? And on top of that, if you want it to succeed, you had also better spend a lot on reconstruction. To make a job of it, it would probably take ten to fifteen years, and initially there would be a lot of body bags because the likes of ISIS will have secreted arms dumps. Not very attractive, is it?

Chemicals over Syria

The news over the past week was dominated by a “chemical attack” in Syria, and the US response. However, there was then a flurry of various theories as to what had happened, the most usual one being that Assad was at it again, using sarin on his own population. So, what do we know, and what theories are consistent with what we know? In my scientific books, I have maintained that for any subset of facts, the smaller that subset the more likely there is that there will be at least one other theory consistent with the facts. What one then does is design experiments to s falsify some of them, so that eventually you end up with just one, and that is most likely to be correct. With human activities that is a little harder to do, and we have to relax somewhat the Royal Society’s motto Nullius in verba, which loosely translated means, take nobody’s word. With something like Syria, you cannot check everything rigorously, but you can look for self-consistency and reliability.

So what do we know? First, a number of people, including children, died in Khan Sheikhun some time on the morning of Tuesday 4th April. Some survivors were taken to hospitals elsewhere. According to US surveillance, one SU 22 took off from Shayrat air base and dropped objects on Khan Sheikhun. That is about all we know. What is most likely to be true? First, the symptoms of the survivors were argued to be consistent with their having experienced sarin, although one of the hospitals reported the symptoms were consistent with sarin, but the clothing showed signs of chlorine, which implies there were two gases present. Strictly speaking, sarin does not give unique symptoms, and a number of other organophosphorus compounds would also give these symptoms, although not so acutely. One such compound might be methylphosphonyl difluoride, the precursor to sarin.

There are also video clips of white helmets as first responders helping the victims. They had no protection. Sarin is a liquid, and it is absorbed thorough skin. Had this been sarin, we would expect those first responders to die. There is a further problem with white helmets; there are also statements on the web that the white helmets, operating only in al Qaeda controlled territory, give preference to militants, and have staged scenes on behalf of al Qaeda. That does not mean they did so here, but it also raises questions as to the reliability of their statements.

Whether there were one or two agents is also important, and this point is not entirely clear. Two agents is more consistent with a dump having been hit. More confusion comes from one report that the town was struck by one rocket. Further, the town is a stronghold of al Qaeda affiliates, who are not necessarily going to tell the truth. Apparently, UN inspectors are trying to piece together what really happened, and in principle, these uncertainties should be clarified. The US intelligence statement states that at least one of the items dropped from the SU 22 was a canister of sarin, but how would they know that? There are also clips showing a shed that has no bomb damage and hence what came in must have been a gas canister. However, there is no evidence anything came in. The makers of such clips refuse to show holes in the roof, and while there is a clip of what looks like an undamaged munition being tested, from the way it is laying, either it was irrelevant or it had been moved.

There are at least three theories circulating for what happened. The first is the most popular: Assad’s air force dropped bombs with chemical weapons. The second is the Russian version: Assad’s air force dropped bombs on a dump of chemical weapons, or material for chemical weapons. The third is that ISIS/al Qaeda did it deliberately to get US involvement. A fourth might be that ISIS/al Qaeda did it accidentally. At this point it is important to determine whether the delivery was by one rocket. If so, the Syrian air force is off the hook, although the Syrian army could have fired it.

One argument against Assad having done it is that it makes no sense for him to have done so. He is gradually winning the war, and President Trump has indicated the US did not want to get involved with Syria. He would know that the US would be really irritated if he did, so why would he? To do so would be just plain stupid, but unfortunately this argument has a flaw: there appears to be no shortage of stupidity in the world.

Another argument against it is he handed over his chemical weapons. The problem then is, how truthful is this? On the other hand, if he had complied, the likes of al Qaeda definitely did not. They, and ISIS, control so much of Syria it is almost certain they would have had control over some such dumps.

Very shortly after, the US navy fired 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat air base. The US says all fifty-nine reached their target; some reports indicate that only 23 struck it. What happened to the others? Here is an example of the fundamental problem: some people are asserting statements that are not true. However, we have not heard anything of where rogue ones struck, so either Assad missed a trick, or the US story is true. Assad also missed another trick here. The US in some reports claims there were chemical weapons at Shayrat. If so, why did they fire weapons that would liberate sarin when it would almost certainly go to the local residential area? They would be doing what Russia asserts Assad did. So what is the outcome?

For me, the most obvious one is we cannot trust any report on this matter so far. Too many politics are involved. On a lesser scale, President Trump showed that he was not going to wait for evidence from the UN inspectors. He was an action man. What did he achieve by doing this? Apparently he damaged at least six Syrian aircraft, although five of them, from the photographs, look not hopelessly damaged but they also look obsolete. Relations with Russia have taken a dive. For me, there are two consequences I fear. The first is, if ISIS has any chemical weapons, now is the time to use them on innocent civilians. That will bring the US in demolishing Assad’s forces. One of the more bizarre aspects of this incident is that the US has entered a civil war (always a bad idea) and is actively supporting both sides. The second is that President Trump has also threatened North Korea. Bombing Assad’s forces is superficially consequence-free (in the long term it is anything but) but bombing North Korea would reset the Korean war. I only hope some real thinking goes on soon.

Putin and the West

One of the more unexpected items that I saw recently on the web noted some accusations made by Vladimir Putin to the effect that the West, and particularly the US, has made a continual attempt to destabilize Russia. By itself, that is not exactly surprising that he would say that, but the way he argues the West went about it is, assuming this has any truth. And, of course, this continues my theme of asking for actual evidence behind accusations. The following is a précis of Putin’s accusations, together with my comments. The more complete accusations can be found here:

http://journal-neo.org/2015/05/15/what-if-putin-is-telling-the-truth/

The first point that Putin made was that when Afghanistan was under Soviet control, the Mujahideen were funded from the CIA and the Saudis. That is almost certainly true, but the Soviets should have expected that. The next point was that when the Soviet Union collapsed and fell into total disarray the American attitude was, “kick them while they are down”. There was certainly considerable glee in the western press when the Soviet Union collapsed, but that does not mean they set about to make the situation worse. My guess is the West would be really concerned about what happened to the Soviet nuclear material, so they would not welcome a total collapse.

The next point Putin made was that Halliburton had surveyed the oil potentials of the Caucasus region, and it was huge. That is a mixed statement. The oil reserves are huge, but that was known well before, and in World War II, Hitler had decided that if he could get there, his fuel problems were over. (They would not be because there was still a transport problem, but the oil was certainly known.) Halliburton knowing about Caucasus oil reserves is unsurprising, but that does not mean Halliburton did anything. However, Halliburton can clear itself by proving none of their agents visited the region nor did they send any particular amounts of money there. So far they have not.

Putin then accused the West of trying to keep this oil from Russia. That, to me, doesn’t make sense. Putin then accused a General Richard Secord of organizing revolts. He persuaded two thousand of the Wahabbis of the Afghan Arabs to redeploy into these areas, and he was helped by a CIA agent called Osama bin Laden. Again, multiple accusations. The “Afghan Arabs” had little effect on getting rid of the Soviets from Afghanistan, and were apparently intensely disliked by the Afghans who were doing the fighting, nevertheless there were about 35,000 of these Afghan Arabs who received military training and about $800 million from the US. You can make what you will of that, and more details are at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegations_of_CIA_assistance_to_Osama_bin_Laden However, you can reasonably argue that from Putin’s point of view, he is not that interested in fine detail, and Putin’s statement was about these Afghan Arabs. Furthermore, there is evidence that people who were Osama’s closest associates did benefit from US funding. However, there is no clear evidence I could find that anyone from the CIA ever met Osama bin Laden.

General Richard Secord’s plan (according to Putin) was to set up a front company, MEGA oil, which was the agency for bringing the terrorists and arms into the Caucasus. Again, this is a multiple point statement. If MEGA oil was a registered company, the shareholding should be known, but of course these might be nominees. Thus Secord may well have helped set up that company but even of he did, that does not show he had anything to do with bringing in terrorists, i.e. the Afghan Arabs. We need supporting facts. The first success of this strategy, according to Putin, was to topple the elected President of Azerbaijan in a military coup, and replace him with an American puppet. Certainly, the President was deposed, but we have no reason to suspect the Afghan Arabs had anything to do with this.

The Afghan Arabs then turned their attention to Chechnya. A flood of US dollars allowed bin Laden to ensure that Chechen moderates were soon out of the way. Prior to this intervention, Chechens were mainly moderate Sufi Muslims but the Afghan Arabs quickly spread al Qaeda’s hard-line philosophy. Leaving aside the role of Osama, we know the Afghan Arabs did have a serious role in Chechnya, and we have no way of knowing whether the accusation of cash is true, although that would not be surprising if there was such cash, or if there was such cash, its origins. Again, a shortage of facts.

Meanwhile, according to Putin, the Saudi terrorist Ibn al-Khattag was organizing terrorists for a more general jihad. The CIA and Saudi financed terrorists also carried out the October 2002 massacre at the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow, and the September 2004 Beslan school massacre. According to Putin, this activity was funded by, and many fighters were provided by, Osama bin Laden from Kandahar. The objectives were, from the CIA, to destabilize the collapsing Russian federation, while the Saudis wanted to spread Wahabbi fundamentalism. The two named massacres certainly happened, but this was after 9/11, and I find it very hard to believe the US was funding the terrorists then. The more unexpected the statement, the stronger must be the supporting facts, and they are absent. Following the Beslan massacre, which the Russian troops handled poorly, Putin noted that the western media demonized him and Russia, but no mention was made of al Qaeda or the Saudi involvement. That may be because the western media had no reason to suspect Saudi involvement.

The item then noted that by late 2004, Putin had had enough of Chechnya, and ordered a more vigorous response by Russia into Chechnya. What they found was that most of the Afghan Arab terrorists had already fled, and had safe havens in NATO member countries, or reliable US allies. The allegation that the Afghan Arabs had fled Chechnya was presumably true because there is fair evidence they were there, and they were not there when the Russian troops came in, but where they went to must be unknown. My guess is many of them ended up in Iraq or Syria.

So the problem is, many of Putin’s allegations are not supported by evidence that I could find. On the other hand, just because I could not find evidence does not mean they are not true, or, for that matter, they are false. As for Halliburton, their general involvement and incompetence in Iraq may have made them a convenient whipping boy. However, the role of al Qaeda in the Chechen revolt and the two pieces of terrorism in Russia were outlined in a report that the Putin allegation asserts was published by the UN Security Council in 2010. That report is verifiable. Accordingly, I believe that is an endorsement of the truth of that part of Putin’s accusation.

In short, what Putin alleges about the Afghan Arabs and their role in Chechnya appears to be verified, but the argument that the CIA was backing them then has no support that I could find. So, my overall conclusion is there is no direct evidence that the CIA actively tried to organize terrorism in the Russian Federation, BUT they had almost certainly funded and trained the people who were to become terrorists when the US thought they were liberating Afghanistan. In short, our current problems were bred by CIA intervention, and the CIA simply did not understand the motivation behind those it was funding. Assuming it is true, the spending of $800 million on some militant religious fundamentalists may have seemed a good idea at the time, but it ended up being very silly.

Election hangover

Recently, I finished reading the last of “Dictator”, the third of Robert Harris’ trilogy nominally about the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero, but just as much about the collapse of the decaying Res Publica. The aim of Roman politicians was to gain power, or imperium. Few actually wanted to achieve anything, other than to put one over their “enemies” (any other Roman who was not helping them gain their power) or to gain the right to govern a province and get rich from the tithes they would impose. There were exceptions. Cato, and to a lesser extent, Cicero, wanted to maintain the “principles of the republic”, even if these were somewhat ill-defined and were bendable for convenience, while Gaius Julius Caesar genuinely wanted reforms, and was prepared to stamp down on the corrupt practices that he, too, had once engaged in.

In some ways, not a lot changes, although everything now is a lot milder. The vitriol slung between Trump and Clinton would be nothing for the times of the Res Publica. Trump said he would have Clinton investigated; Clodius was quite happy to organize a gang to beat a senator senseless. Even Pompey seemed to be almost afraid much of the time, but of course he obeyed the rules and disbanded his legions before returning to Rome. Caesar was not afraid, but then Caesar did not disband his legions, and he got assassinated.

I am always amused at the straw-clutching assertions made by the losing side. Thus we hear that Clinton won the popular vote. She did but that is irrelevant. About half the eligible population did not vote, and there are at least two possible reasons why not. One is, lack of interest. Another is that for many there is the feeling that if you are in a state that has no chance of changing, and you are in the minority, there is no chance your vote will matter, so why bother?.

Another thing that amuses me is the hand-wringing that went on after Trump won. Horrors! The sky was falling! If they were that concerned, why were they not out campaigning for Clinton? My personal view is that there were so many wild statements flung around during campaigning that we could conclude that such statements are necessary to win the election. If so, there could be a serious withdrawal from most of such statements by the winner.

So, is the sky falling? Is Trump going to be a total disaster, as some of the more noisy ones seem to assert? He won by making the most outrageous statements, but arguably that was what he had to do to win with the current voters. If that is true, then guess were the fault lies. But equally, if he is a man prepared to do whatever is required to achieve a goal, then he may very well retract from many of these positions when the goal is to be an effective president. I suppose we have to wait and see how much power Trump will actually have, but the American constitution is specifically designed to limit the power of any president. The president has to do deals with Congress, and even if Congress is majority Republican in both houses, during the election campaign it was clear that not all Republicans are going to back Trump no matter what. Further, Trump seems to be showing signs of dropping his most outrageous assertions.

I think it is far too early to guess what the Trump presidency will be like. My guess is the fight against global warming has not been done favours, although the US has signed the Paris agreement, and I doubt that will be revoked. Trump’s tax plan is similar to what Paul Ryan wants, so that may well get through. International trade may well suffer, and the US could hurt a country like New Zealand. However, whatever happens, the sky will not fall.

That raises the question, what would it take to bring America to its knees? Strictly speaking, it should be impossible, but there is one way: the bulk of the population cooperates in bringing it down. After all, that was why Rome fell. The average Roman decided that the Roman governance was worse than whatever the uncivilized masses could do, at least once the initial rape and pillage was over. So could anything like that happen now, in America? Of course not. However, if you want to have nightmares over something like that, on Dec 2 my ebook ‘Bot War is available, and if nothing else, it might show you how impossible it is. In this story, the general problem is not the terrorists and their robotic war machines, but rather the general population have no faith in their government. Is that lack of faith justified?

Are there solutions to the Syrian conflict?

In my last post, I commented that there was a problem for ceasefires without a solution potentially acceptable to both sides: ” they solve nothing, as both sides try to strengthen their positions, and when one side cannot do much more, it is in their interest to restart as quickly as possible.” Since writing that, the ceasefire has disintegrated and the Russians and Assad-loyal troops are resuming operations against the rebels in Aleppo with more vigour than before. The West accuses the Russians of barbarism, but then again, what war is not barbaric? A number of politicians have attacked the UN for doing nothing to stop this, but in my opinion, that is just simply grandstanding unless the politician also comes up with a possible solution. That raises the question, what are the options to end this violence? Since I write novels with political/economic backgrounds, what can I come up with?

Any option must comply with the major rules of strategy. These include that any strategy chosen must be feasible, and have a realistic chance of success. For the latter, there must be an operational route that can be managed with the resources at hand, and could in principle lead to success. It seems to me there are limited possibilities: one side wins; all sides agree to stop fighting and agree on a common peaceful way the country can continue; one side gives way. Maybe I am too unimaginative to think of other ones, but that list is not very promising.

Suppose one side wins, either though the other side having had enough, or having run out of supply, or through being eliminated. While that would stop the fighting, is it plausible? There is no sign that either side will lay down their arms, and there is no sign that either side will run out of supply, other than through supply not being able to get through. The rebels seem to have unlimited supply through pro-Sunni governments around the Gulf, and from US supplies, much of which probably comes through Turkey. Accordingly, it is in the interests of Russian and Assad-loyal air forces to destroy such convoys. For this option to work, one side has to prevail militarily. If the West does nothing different from what it is doing now, Assad has the best chances of winning, and his chances are better the quicker and more vigorously he can get on with it. The West may not like that, but that is the logic of it.

One option is that the various factions agree to stop fighting, and . . . The problem is, what follows “and”? Someone has to form a government. The rebels could accept Assad, but my betting is, they won’t. The rebels themselves have only one thing in common, and that is a hatred of Assad and his men. They range from soldiers who thought they could dislodge Assad through to al Qaeda, and the West would find the latter even worse. If the rebels were to try to form a government, it probably would not take long before it became an ISIS dominated government. The Alawites would have no option other than to resume fighting, or die because ISIS has shown very little tolerance for any other than those who follow its extreme form of radical Islam. So, if the factions did agree to stop, it would not be long before the Alawites had to resume, except that now they would be far worse off strategically. The UN could claim to guarantee the peace, but the fact of the matter is, the UN are only useful if both sides genuinely want peace, and the UN can sort out minor differences. I would have no faith in them if things got really bad.

Suppose someone “gives way”. Civil wars tend to generate very intense hatred, and the various parties want “justice”. “Justice” means those on the losing side, or the other side, are appropriately punished. The rebels will not trust Assad, and if Assad were to stand down, the rebels, and probably the West, would want Assad either in jail or more likely, his head. So this is not practical for Assad, because if he stepped back, he is a dead man. Further, all his senior aides, and the senior members of the Syrian military would also be dead men, so even if Assad stepped back, the rest would not and the fighting would continue.

The rebels could give way. They would know they could never trust the Assad government either, so they could not remain in Syria. Therefore one option for peace that could work would be for the West to guarantee them asylum, and assist in rebuilding Syria if Assad allows the UN to guarantee the process of extricating the rebels who wish to be extricated. You could argue that the same could be applied in reverse to Assad, but we know that the West would try to get Assad for war crimes the minute Assad is not President of Syria. Accordingly, on questions of trust, only the rebels could be guaranteed believable asylum. That now begs the question, is any country prepared to offer such asylum to a few million Sunni Muslims, many of whom are fairly radical? My guess is, no.

Unless someone can see a flaw in this analysis, the only workable solution appears to be to leave the various parties to slug it out. Yes, that is a terrible option, but it seems to be all that we have left ourselves with. I suppose in principle, an external force could send in an overwhelming military force that removes one of the sides, but I cannot see that as happening either, because that force has to take sides. If the West sent in such a force, either Russia goes away and leaves its ally to its own devices, or it stays, with the risk of WW III. For the West to do that, it would need to commit about three quarters of a million men for at least ten years, and it would have to govern. Practically, the US would have to provide about two thirds of those, or maybe the lot. I cannot see that as either possible or desirable.

So my conclusion is there are no obvious solutions that could reasonably work.

Election Hazards

One of the curses of the Republic form of government that we have, where we elect representatives to govern us, is that politicians have to make statements on what they are going to do, and much of the time this tends to be made “on the hoof” so to speak, without proper consideration of the consequences. For most countries, this is annoying for the citizens who may suffer, but for America it is worse because everyone else suffers as well. We might hope that America with its greater population would produce more suitable politicians, but this may not be the case. It does not help that the American system is so prolonged, and this year it is so bitter.

What sparked this post was an item in our newspaper about Syria.

The situation is, the Russian air force is assisting the Syrian army in its advance on Aleppo, and if Assad can retake it, then he controls most of the population centres. Thirty percent of the country would be still controlled by ISIS, but that is mainly desert. What started as a sort of revolution to oust Assad, helped mainly by Saudi Arabia and the US, instead turned the county upside down and into a happy feeding ground for ISIS, helped by the fact that many of the rebel groups are essentially al Qaeda offshoots. Of course al Qaeda does not particularly support ISIS, but the rebels are indirectly helping ISIS, and there is no evidence they are doing anything directly to oppose it. They may have a different version of Islamic terrorism, but al Qaeda is still a terrorist grouping.

The good news for Assad is that Turkey is now not so eager to help the US in its efforts to get rid of Assad, the reason being that Erdogan now considers that there was US assistance to the recent coup effort to oust him. Given the US involvement in a number oustings of established governments, he is hardly likely to give the US the benefit of any doubt he might have. That there may be no real evidence to support the assertion is beyond the point, especially since the US and Europe have been heavily criticizing Erdogan for his purge following the coup attempt. They may well be right that most of those purged were innocent of the coup attempt, but being right does not mean anything to Erdogan as he cannot afford plotters. From Erdogan’s point of view, if the US wants to get rid of Assad and is prepared to even support al Qaeda affiliates to achieve that, then maybe the US is playing the same game with him. Can you blame him? When the facts are unclear, track record counts. The net result of this uncertainty is the supply of weapons etc from Turkey to the rebels in Aleppo is drying up.

So, where does that leave the US election process? Apparently both Trump and Clinton have stated that a major alteration of strategy is required, and I think that up to this point they are both right. The problem is, alter to what? According to the report in our newspaper, Clinton would order a “full review” of US strategy to get the “murderous regime” of Assad out, while escalating the fight against Islamic state. It quotes an advisor, Jeremy Bash, as saying Clinton has promised to establish a no-fly zone over Syria.

That, to my mind, is a potential disaster. What would Russia do? If Putin simply walks away, that would be the next best thing to a disaster for him. If he flies, do US planes shoot down his aircraft? The US air force would probably win any given combat, but that effectively triggers a major war. The problem is, where do the US planes come from? If they come from Turkey, and Russia attacks the base, then NATO is drawn in, and Russia has to do something about the ,missiles pointing at it from its western borders. WW III is underway. If Turkey bans them, the US has to resort to a carrier. Suppose the Russians sink the carrier, now what? At first, each side finds out how good their forces are, and the Russians may not be very happy with what they discover. On the other hand, it is unlikely to be a free shot and there will be US casualties. The next problem is how to contain this? Is getting rid of Assad really worth the risk of triggering world war three?

Trump apparently has stated (correctly in my view) the US has bigger problems than Assad, and he would assist Putin in getting rid of ISIS. On this point at least, I think Trump is right, but being right does not win votes. Now, Trump is accused of being a Putin plant. This is bad, because it means that anyone who tries to be reasonable with Russia is going to be accused of being . . . What? Is this a return to McCarthyism?

None of this is very encouraging.

Turkey – not pardoned by all

Last week ISIS scored a stunning victory, and without breathing very hard to do it. The uncontested facts are simple: two Turkish F16s shot down a Russian SU24. The pilots parachuted down into Syrian territory, and one was shot by anti-Assad militias, and a Russian rescue helicopter was fired at by a US made shoulder-held light missile launcher. President Obama could not wait to announce that Turkey had the right to defend its territory. Those who shot at the pilots were almost certainly Turkmen, of which there are a number in Syria.

The disputed information is whether the aircraft flew over Turkish territory. The Russians claim it did not; the Turks claim it flew over a narrow finger of Turkish territory that points into Syria. The Turks finally stated that the aircraft was over Turkish territory for 17 seconds. The Turks claim they spent five minutes warning the Russian aircraft; the Russian recovered from the aircraft claim no such warning was received. Nobody has stated where the aircraft was when it was shot down, but if the Turks are to believed that the aircraft was over Turkish territory for 17 seconds, it follows it had left it after those 17 seconds, and it was shot down over Syria. That is not defending its territory.

The puzzling question is whether Turkey planned this. My guess is, they did, and bearing in mind how narrow that “finger” is, and how fast a F16 flies, it is highly probable the Turkish planes flew into Syrian airspace at some point. Let us consider the question of the “warnings”. What the Turks have NOT announced is on what frequency these warnings were sent. A radio set generally only monitors one frequency at a time, and warplanes would presumably leave ground control to monitor enemy frequencies. At the speed they fly (although the SU24 is rather old, and is most certainly not a fighter) the crew will still have plenty to do besides sweep through radio frequencies in case there is something relevant. If the Turks wanted to be malicious, all they had to do was to send their warnings on frequencies the Russians would not receive.

The next question is why did the Turks simply not protest through diplomatic channels and threaten to shoot aircraft down if this was repeated. Assuming the Russians did fly over Turkey by mistake, the mistake would be corrected. Of course, then Erdogan could not claim he was “being tough on Russia” in the forthcoming elections.

The reasons why Turkey might have planned it are reasonably clear. Doing that and getting away with it is good election material. Erdogan has a deep dislike of Assad, and the Syrian Turkmen are strongly resisting Assad, and hence may well be subject to Russian bombing. The Turkmen resistance is, of course, another example of people working against their own best interests. In the event that Assad goes, who will rule Syria? My guess is obvious: ISIS. And if the Turkmen think Assad is bad, wait until they see ISIS up close. Meanwhile, the Russians are less than happy with the Turkmen who shot the Russian pilot while parachuting. Apparently they have stated that Alpaslan Celik is a “dead man walking”. We may now see how good the modern Spetsnaz is. To add to the confusion, President Obama is apparently deploying further US special forces to Syria, with the apparent goal of killing ISIS leaders. How much good this will do remains to be seen.

As for Turkey’s role in this, it flaunts its NATO membership when it shoots down a Russian plane, while expecting the threat of NATO will prevent Russia from taking any revenge. It had better be right, because that could trigger WW III, and nobody wins that. On the other hand, it knows many of its NATO “allies” are fighting ISIS, so what does Turkey do? It helps ISIS. Syrian oil comes from the eastern part of the country, while oil also comes from ISIS controlled areas in Iraq. The oil money finances ISIS, so where do they sell the oil? A casual glance at the map leaves one country as an obvious transit point: Turkey. Russian air strikes had apparently destroyed 800 tankers of oil heading towards Turkey, and that may have inspired the attack on the Russian aircraft. Russia is satisfied that it understands Turkey’s role, and is apparently imposing a number of economic sanctions on it, which may not be what Erdogan wants to see in his election campaign. The situation in the Middle East is not getting any closer to resolution any time soon.