by Gordon M. Hahn
The editors at the Washington Post, the beltway’s paper of record delusion, must have some serious investments in oil futures. That is the only way one can explain its recent editorial warning against any Western alliance with Moscow in Syria (“Editorial: Teaming up with Russia in Syria could be a dangerous false step for the U.S.,” Washington Post, 19 November 2015). They warned that “a rightly skeptical Obama administration” would hurt the cause of defeating the Islamic State (IS) by joining in an alliance with “Mr. Putin.”
In matter of fact, so far it has been Putin who has been correct not just about the Obama administration’s feckless and confused Syria policy but about the excesses of the overall American/Western democracy-promotion, regime change policy in the Arab and larger Muslim world. From Algeria to Afghanistan, U.S. democracy promotion has led to nothing but new authoritarianisms. U.S. nation-building has brought little beyond chaos and destruction. Good intentions have been confounded by hubris in policymaking and assessments of American power, ignorance of the targeted states and peoples, naivete` about the human condition, and careerism and corruption at home.
According to the Post, Russian air strikes have not focused on IS and have targeted “rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad.” In fact, more than 20 percent of Russian sorties have hit IS targets and almost all of the rest have hit other jihadi groups, not the Washington consensus’s ‘moderate rebels’, who are largely an imagined rather than real military force. Most are radical Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood—been there, done that in Egypt.
Moreover, “Russia has little to offer the U.S.-led coalition in military terms” regardless if it did so, according to the Post. Similarly, “military analysts haven’t been impressed with the Russian-led assault on anti-Assad forces in northern Syria. Moscow’s planes have mostly dropped dumb bombs.” Not so says US Navy Commander Garrett I. Campbell, who knows just a little bit more about military matters than the latte-sipping editors at the Washington Post. Writing for the Brookings Institution, Campbell noted that Russian warplanes has been maintained a fierce bombing tempo, launching as many strikes on some single days as the US-led anti-ISIS coalition carries out against the jihadist group in a typical month. Campbell also noted that Russia had shown a “previously unknown capability” for its military by firing of cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea and hitting targets 900 miles away (www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2015/10/23-russian-military-capabilities-syria-campbell?rssid=LatestFromBrookings).
Russian air attacks ordered by Putin after Russian FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov reported to Putin that the Russian airliner that crashed on October 31st had been brought down by an explosion were unprecedented. Military journalist, David Axe, who, in contrast to the Washington Post, is interested in facts not their falsification, reviewed Russia’s November 16 strikes this way: “The Russian air force just pulled off one of the biggest and most complex heavy bomber missions in modern history” (www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/11/17/russia-pounds-isis-with-biggest-bomber-raid-in-decades.html). The attacks hit mostly IS targets; one attack alone reportedly killed 600 IS mujahedin. Moreover, thanks to Russian air support Syrian government forces recently captured the city of Kweiris and its strategic airport under siege by IS for more than two years, but the Post is convinced that since the advent of Russian air support Syria’s forces have “failed to recapture significant territory.”
Does ‘journalism’ get any worse than this?
Ironically, WP blames Moscow for the alleged fact that “Syrian and Iranian troops have lost scores of Russian-supplied tanks and armored vehicles to the rebels’ U.S.-made TOW missiles.” As I understand it, the Obama administration supplied those TOW missiles, making Washington at least half responsible for those losses—losses likely benefiting the jihadists as much as the imagined ‘moderates.’
In the Post’s telling, Russia’s “doomed” campaign forced Putin to dispatch his foreign minister to Vienna. In fact, the Vienna conference was planned long ago and had no relation to matters on the ground in Syria unless you count the fact that the conference and other recent talks like it would never had occurred if not for Putin’s military intervention in Syria, which overturned the house of cards put in place by the administration and the amateurs that occupy its offices.
Like the Obama administration, the Washington Post has an uncanny knack for getting it precisely wrong. It claims that Assad is “the magnet for the foreign fighters” joining the Islamic State, according to the Post. Now this IS a truly curious claim, because there are at least as many IS ‘fighters’—that is, jihadists in Iraq. There are IS affiliates in some 40 countries, ranging from….Algeria to Afghanistan, from Nigeria to Norway. The magnet for foreign fighters is IS, other jihadi organizations and the apocalyptic adventures of combat glory, sex slaves, and soldierly comradery they offer to disaffected, unstable, and/or angry criminals, degenerates, opportunists, and true believers. If this were not true, then there would be more moderates than radicals arrayed against Assad.
Finally, the Post attempted an assault on the political solution supported by Moscow that would leave Mr. Assad in power for 18 months or longer, while a new constitution is drafted and elections are organized. It argues that “Putin’s strategy of bolstering rather than removing the Assad regime is, along with Iran’s similar strategy, the single biggest obstacle to defeating the jihadists,” and seconded U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s what else but “elegant” claim that should “the West ‘cut a deal’ such that ‘Assad can be there for a while longer…the war won’t stop’.”
The Post’s advice is eerily similar to the Obama administration’s failed policy: “The only productive contribution Mr. Putin could make to an anti-Islamic State coalition would be to reverse himself, use Russia’s leverage to obtain the removal of Mr. Assad and stop attacks on Western-sponsored forces. Failing that, an alliance with Russia would be a dangerous false step.”
To follow the Post/Obama line would mean handing power to a small, divided faction of the Syrian opposition no less threatened by the likes of IS, Al Qa`ida’s ally, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), and sundry other jihadi groups fighting the Assad regime. Any provisional government would unlikely be able to run the country, in particular the Alawite-majority areas which comprise the bulk of jihadi-free territory and which would remain a haven from which pro-Assad Alawite elements would continue to fight. Moreover, the prospective interim ruling ‘moderate’ forces are badly divided among themselves and bogged down by infighting. For example, some have attended talks in Moscow; others refused. Thus, the provisional government’s will be unable any time soon to establish any kind of serious military force capable of fighting on the two fronts it faces—the Syrian army (later deposed Alawite forces) and the jihadists. A provisional army itself will be divided between Assad-loyalists and rebels-turned regular troops. Moreover, both the provisional government and any troops it might control inevitably will be infiltrated by jihadists who will facilitate infiltration by JN and IS operatives, who will carry out terrorist attacks in Damascus, Aleppo, and elsewhere. In short, building state capacity and effective governance from scratch is likely to be a bridge too far.
All this means that holding elections will not be possible for a year or much more, so allowing Assad to remain in place until jihadis are defeated is the least of two evils.
In the meantime, Western and Russian powers would do better to convince the Syrian army and the few moderate rebels to agree to a truce to remain in force at least until the all the jihadis have been decimated or at least scattered underground. At the same time, the great powers should set up safe zones for civilians, batten down the hatches, and bring hell down on the heads of IS, al-Nusrah and all their ilk.
But back to the WaPo’s so-called journalism. It is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. mainstream media is involved in the outright falsification of the facts. Things have gone far beyond journalistic malpractice and entered the filthy realm of propaganda masked as objective reporting, regardless of the editorial nature of the piece reviewed herein. Editorial license does not include the right to falsify and manufacture facts. It is time the WaPo was boycotted and picketed, if it lacks the minimal level of shame and cannot bring itself to shut down or fire its editorial board.
 On Kweiris and a propaganda effort by another DC institution, see https://gordonhahn.com/2015/11/20/spinning-russias-syria-intervention-the-institute-for-the-study-of-war/.
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; a Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California; a Contributor for Russia Direct, www.russia-direct.org; and an Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch, http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics. Dr. Hahn has taught Russian politics and other courses at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, St. Petersburg State (Russia), and San Francisco State Universities as well as the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey, California. He also has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute. His website is http://www.gordonhahn.com.