Syria At War
The Russians feel fighting Turkey is below their dignity, and prefer to keep the fighting in Idlib as a proxy war. The dignity point is important: traditionally, the Russians go to war only with great powers. Smaller military encounters are a matter for a local commander. Even cruel Winter Campaign 1940 against Finland had been conceived as a decision of Leningrad District; the battles with the Japanese in 1936 and 1939 were carried by the Far East Military District, not by Soviet Russia. Imperial Turkey was a worthy adversary for Russia, and the two empires crossed their sables twelve times, if not more. But not now.
At the previous crisis, in 2015, after Turkey downed the Russian Su-24, Russians stopped buying Turkish tomatoes and Russian tourists were told to avoid Turkish resorts; visas were withdrawn and media went ballistic. That was enough to make Turks regret their hasty decisions, for Turkey needs Russia as the market for its fruits and vegetables, supplier of tourists and the working place for its building companies. During the West-instigated attempted coup against Erdogan, Russia supported the embattled Turkish ruler; afterwards, the Russian – Turkish relations greatly improved. Turkey had bought Russian S-400 missile defence system, entered Astana agreement with Russia and Iran, had built the hub for Russian gas and had Russia guarding its back in the confrontation with Kurds.
Idlib undid much of goodwill between the twain, but Russia still does not want to be seen as fighting Turkey. In Russian book, the Turks fight the Syrian government, while Russia stands out and above the dogfight. Russians carefully observe the notions of Sochi agreement. Before landing the mighty strike that killed dozens (if not hundreds) of Turkish soldiers, the Russians checked with Turkish HQ whether there are any Turks in the area to be assaulted; only after the HQ (erroneously) replied there aren’t any, the area had been bombed with devastating efficiency. “They died because they joined the rebel forces” – the Russians answered the Turkish complaint.
Now Bashar al-Assad wants to recover Idlib, the last province that does not accept the rule of Damascus. The Syrians feel the civil war lasted too long, and it should be finished-off. The Russians agree with them. In Sochi, the Russians and the Turks agreed to give Idlib some time-out to sort out things. During this time-out, Turkey was supposed to discipline the rebels, but it failed to do so. The rebels kept fighting and shelling the Syrian government and Russian forces. They were a thorn in the flesh for Syrians, Shias and Russians alike.
The Turks had a problem: what to do with jihadists of Idlib? They were understandably hesitant to accept them on their own land, and would prefer them to stay where they are. It would be acceptable if they were restrained, but they could not, and unwilling to be restrained. This problem has no easy solution. The Russians and Syrians probably would agree for another time-out, if two main roads M4 and M5 were secured under Damascus forces. This is the most probable compromise to be achieved by Erdogan and Putin when they meet.
Putin didn’t want to meet with Erdogan at all. He felt these meetings turn the proxy Syrian conflict into direct Russian-Turkish confrontation, and that (see above) is below Russian dignity. However, Erdogan feels that dealing with Assad is below his dignity. Damascus was a vilayet, a centre of Syrian province in the Ottoman Empire; and the Sultan (as people call Erdogan half-jokingly) can’t negotiate with the pasha of a vilayet. Rising level of violence in Idlib had forced Putin to agree for a meeting.
Putin and Erdogan need each other. There is no substitute for Erdogan. All other prominent Turkish statesmen who could possibly take his place would be worse for Russia. All of them are pro-NATO, pro-US or pro-EU men. Some of them could make peace in Syria, but at high price on other important for Russia issues. Erdogan needs Putin, too. Putin is the only statesman of high calibre that is likely to support him against all odds. Putin can keep Turkish economy from going under. The EU and US could help Turkish economy, too; but they would send Erdogan to jail.
Sanity and logic say that Putin and Erdogan must find modus vivendi. Erdogan could concentrate on the most important issue for Turkey in Syria: prevention of independent Kurdistan rising on Turkish border. Putin could give some ground in Idlib, leaving a narrow strip of land in Turkish hands, as long as highways go to Assad. However, Putin and Erdogan do not act in vacuum, and sanity and logic could be silenced by other urges. Shia forces in Syria and Damascus government want their victory. Rebels are not a yielding lot, too.
I have a warm spot for the Turkish ruler. He is not universally popular; many Turks hate him; Turkish economy is in a bad shape; by going to Libya he overextended his resources. Still he is a great man. If he would come to his senses and make peace with his neighbour Bashar al-Assad, his problems would be solved. It would be a difficult decision, bearing in mind many years of strife and bad blood; but great rulers are those who make hard decisions.
Such a man was Marshal Mannerheim who embraced Josef Stalin in 1944. He survived, and Finland survived and flourished thanks to this decision. Putin had tried to make peace with Ukrainian presidents; he befriended Erdogan. Trump had met with Kim, tried to make peace with Taliban. This is a sign of true greatness.
Erdogan probably could reach a passable agreement with Putin. But the real solution is found on the way to Damascus; friendship with Assad is the best asset Erdogan can achieve. Befriend your neighbours, and fear none. Return refugees home, and your citizens will love you again. Danger of Syrian Kurdistan will be removed. Let Assad bother with rehabilitation of Islamist warriors. Turkey will be loved by its Arab neighbours, as it was before the unhappy Arab Spring.
However, the wounds caused by radicalisation of Muslim youth in 1980s won’t heal soon. Intelligence services learned of huge potential of energy, activism, readiness for sacrifice in this numerous population group and decided to tap it for their purposes. They used it against Russia in Afghanistan in 1980s and in Chechnya in 1990s; against the Arab world for last twenty years. It is a problem, for these young men are naïve idealists who were misdirected to do devil’s work, and this problem has no easy solution.
Corona isn’t Beer
There is nothing to panic about, said Trump about the Corona, and he is right. Corona is a mental virus of fear, not much else. We have a sterling proof: the Diamond Princess liner had been marooned in the ideal, for virus, circumstances of single ventilation system. Many people had got the decease, but only two persons, aged over 80, had died. No children became sick. Apparently it could be dangerous only for people over 60. There was no reason for panic at all.
I am proud of being a virus denier, and it feels good to have President Trump on our, deniers, side. We know it is less dangerous than usual flu, even if more contagious. Ignore, and everything will be fine.
The panic occurred for two reasons: incredible quarantine measures undertaken by the Chinese, and media going into full volume fear-spreading. The first reason remains somewhat obscure. We do not know why the Chinese did it. There are many possible explanations, including some domestic reasoning. Perhaps some important people in Chinese leadership wanted (or still want) to bring the obedient Chinese to the state of rebellion, as it happened in Soviet Russia in Gorbachev’s days. Or it is an exercise in civil defence. Or the virus is ethnic-specific, or whatever. Anyway outside of its home province of Hubei, the virus didn’t make inroads.
There are very few non-Chinese victims of the disease, and its spread in Iran, the US enemy of choice, makes us think of it being a designed bio-weapon, despite its modest severity.
Media had made too much out of it; that can be explained by Chinese quarantine measures, or by sensationalism inherent in media. Alternatively, it could be substitute for World War Three, an event to trigger force majeure clause of so many undeliverable contracts. It could be a tool to limit citizens’ freedoms and liberties by usual suspects, like they did after 9/11. Sooner or later, we shall know the reasons. Whatever it was, it is not mortal danger of the virus.
Bernie and AIPAC
A lot of surprises in Dem primaries! Sanders’ victory in first three primaries, a very rare occurrence. And then victory of Biden in SC primaries. Afro-Americans are an obedient folk despite their reputation of rebelliousness. They voted for Biden, the Senile Thief of Ukraine, as their bosses told them to. That is why Clinton et al like them so much! Real rebels, like MLK or wonderful Cynthia McKinney are rare. The vast majority still does what they are told.
But the biggest surprise is Bernie Sanders’ decision to give a miss to AIPAC gathering. It is a sign of wisdom for politician. It means he knows the secret that many people know but nobody utters. American people are sick and tired of what they see as Jewish predominance, and in particular of its obvious Israeli angle. They won’t admit it even on the rack, but you have to see how their eyes flash when they hear that. Donald Trump captured the American hearts when he said to AIPAC, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” They didn’t understand what he meant exactly, but they thought it is a noble sentiment. Now Sanders had made the next step, refusing to come to AIPAC at all.
The received wisdom is that you have to come to AIPAC hat in hand if you want to succeed in US politics. Bernie is right: people are tired of ordinary politicians. They want something different. The establishment calls that ‘populism’. By denying AIPAC, Bernie proclaimed his populist agenda. Even if he fails, he made a huge step on the way to release Americans from the Jewish bondage.
There is some irony that the Republican populist, often accused of antisemitism President Donald Trump gave to Israel everything they would like to have; and that the Dem populist Senator Bernie Sanders, a Jewish man from Brooklyn NY, will rise the banner of rebellion against Israeli occupation. Things still can change but it is an important lesson for all of us. People of Jewish origin are as unpredictable as the rest of us.
Silly racists believe that Jews are some bio-robots, always fitting the Jewish agenda. The reality is different. Free will is the Divine gift to Adam, and we all possess it, even if so many give it up for the reasons of convenience. Jews are not exceptional from this angle. Being Jewish is also a question of choice nowadays, like being a Native American for Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Millions of Americans who identify themselves as Jews aren’t considered ‘Jews’ by Orthodox Rabbis; they know it. If they still retain some Jewishness it is because they think it has positive value. The moment they will find out it is not so, the numbers of American Jews will shrink rapidly. Only Orthodox Jews will remain ‘Jews’, a small not-too-prosperous Amish-like minority.
If and when this melting of American Jewish identity will occur, the decision of Senator Sanders to skip AIPAC pow wow will be seen as a turning point in the right direction.