Obama’s Most Momentous Decision

Exclusive: President Obama must decide if he will let the Syrian civil war come to an end with Russian-backed President Assad still in power or if he will escalate by supporting a Turkish-Saudi invasion, which could push the world to the brink of nuclear war, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

With the Russian-backed Syrian army encircling Aleppo, cutting off Turkish supplies to rebels and advancing on the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa, a panicked Saudi Arabia and Turkey have set up a joint headquarters to direct an invasion of Syria that could lead to a vast escalation of the war. And there’s only one man who could stop them: President Barack Obama.

It is probably the most important decision Obama will make in his eight years in office since a Turkish-Saudi invasion risks a direct showdown between Russia and NATO, since Turkey is a member of the alliance.

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The U.S. traditionally has held tremendous power over client states like Turkey and Saudi Arabia. So, an order from Washington is usually enough to get such governments to back down. But Ankara and Riyadh are being led by reckless men whose continued existence in power might well depend on stopping a Syrian government victory helped by Russia, Iran and the Kurds and a humiliating defeat of the Turkish-Saudi-backed Syrian rebels, who include some radical jihadist groups.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan and Prince Mohammad bin Salman have shown increasing defiance of Washington. Neither man is the legal ruler of his respective country. But both have seized power nonetheless.

ErdoÄŸan is technically in a symbolic post, a presidency without power. Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu should be leading the country the way ErdoÄŸan did when he was prime minister, but DavutoÄŸlu is still letting ErdoÄŸan call the shots.

ErdoÄŸan is campaigning for a referendum that would make Turkey a presidential system to legalize the power he already has. But that hasn’t happened yet. So, he is simply acting as a de facto executive leader while potential rivals are afraid to contest his overreach of power.

ErdoÄŸan’s increasing authoritarianism is alarming some people in Washington. He is routinely throwing in jail journalists and academics who dare criticize him. After a brutal crackdown in the Kurdish city of Cizre inside Turkey this month, leaving much of the city in ruins, ErdoÄŸan has turned his attention to the Syrian Kurds.

They are among the best fighters on the ground against the Islamic State and are supported by both the U.S. and Russia. And they are threatening to formalize their de facto autonomy inside Syria, which ErdoÄŸan has vowed to crush. By fighting the Islamic State, the Kurds are also messing with ErdoÄŸan’s goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. ErdoÄŸan has staked much of his power on overthrowing Assad. A Syrian victory against ErdoÄŸan’s five-year project of “regime change” in Damascus could mean the end of him politically. Sensing this danger, ErdoÄŸan has been increasingly belligerent toward anyone standing in his way.

ErdoÄŸan showed his defiance of the Obama administration when he said, “How can we trust [you]? Is it me who is your partner or the [Kurdish] terrorists in Kobane?”

Turkey Shells Syria

On Sunday, ErdoÄŸan began shelling Syrian Kurdish areas in Aleppo province, especially the city of Azaz. “We will not allow Azaz to fall,” Prime Minister DavutoÄŸlu vowed on Monday, reflecting ErdoÄŸan’s hard line. Turkey’s attacks also are aimed at preventing the Syrian government from sealing the Turkish border where the Islamic State and other jihadist groups have smuggled across fighters, weapons and other supplies into Syria as well as oil from Syria into Turkey.

With his aggressive strategies toward his neighbors, ErdoÄŸan has been accused of wanting to establish a new Ottoman empire. Azaz is near Dabiq, the town where the Ottoman Empire began in 1516. Because of that symbolism, Turkey’s defeat there could mean the death of ErdoÄŸan’s neo-Ottoman dreams and perhaps of his presidency. (For the Islamic State, Dabiq is the place where a future Christian-Muslim battle will take place heralding the end of the world.)

The Saudis appear equally spoiling for a fight. Prince Mohammed bin Salman is deputy crown prince, second in line to the crown. But his father, King Salman, is suffering from dementia and the current crown prince, Mohammad bin Nayef, 56, is considered loyal to the U.S. But 30-year-old Mohammed has launched the most independent Saudi military policy in the history of the modern Saudi state. He is said not to trust the United States. And as defense minister, he has recklessly launched a disastrous war in Yemen, where despite widespread death and destruction the most powerful Arab army cannot defeat the poorest Arab nation. Mohammed has staked his credibility on the outcome of the Yemen war. But he also has vowed to check Iranian regional influence. So, he may be going for broke now by threatening to invade Syria.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have established a joint headquarters at Turkey’s Incirlik base, 62 miles from the Syrian border. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt ÇavuÅŸoÄŸlu told a Turkish newspaper last week that Saudi warplanes and troops would be arriving at the base.

The Saudis are also planning war games inside the Kingdom with 150,000 troops from 20 Arab nations. Jordan, however, sensibly said it would not take part in an invasion unless it is led by U.S. and British troops and has a U.N. Security Council mandate “with full coordination with Russia.”

However, the war clouds continued to darken along the Syrian border. On Sunday, Turkey began shelling Syrian Kurdish positions, including the town of Azaz in Aleppo province. And, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Russia “will fail to save” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Jubeir vowed to overthrow. In response to Saudi threats, Hezbollah said it would “slaughter Saudi troops” if they invade.

Assad Confronting Fanatical ErdoÄŸan

For his part, Assad has not ruled out that Turkey and Saudi Arabia will invade. He told the French Press Agency (AFP) on Monday: “Logically, intervention is not possible, but sometimes reality is at odds with logic, particularly when there are irrational people leading a certain state. That’s why I don’t rule that out for a simple reason: ErdoÄŸan is a fanatical person with Muslim Brotherhood inclinations. He is living the Ottoman dream…

“He believes that he has an Islamist mission in our region. The same applies to Saudi Arabia. The collapse of the terrorists in Syria is a collapse of their policies. I tell you that this process is surely not going to be easy for them, and we will certainly confront it.”

The risks of a Saudi-Turkish invasion of Syria are enormous. If soldiers from NATO-member Turkish are killed by the Syrian army or Russian air force, will they seek NATO protection? If Saudi or its allied troops are killed how would the U.S. respond? An invasion could pit Saudi troops against Iranian forces on the same battlefield in what could be an historic Sunni-Shia battle.

Despite the tough Turkish and Saudi rhetoric, Saudi Arabia at least, has made it clear that it won’t invade without the U.S. leading the way. That puts the ball squarely in the Oval Office where President Obama has resisted committing U.S. combat troops to another war in the Middle East but reportedly wants to avoid further alienating U.S. “allies,” Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

At the State Department, John Kerry has made no statement about a possible invasion. Instead he’s using his close ties to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to try to nail down a partial ceasefire that is supposed start on Friday. The ceasefire would allow continue fighting against terrorists, but the U.S. and Russia disagree on exactly who should be included on the list of terrorists. Further, many of the U.S.-backed rebel groups collaborate with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front in some areas, making targeting difficult even when there is U.S.-Russian agreement of who’s the terrorist.

Other mixed signals have come from the Pentagon where Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has “welcomed” the Saudi offer of ground troops. The matter was discussed at a NATO defense ministers meeting last week, but the only outcome was the acceptance of special forces from the United Arab Emirates.

Obama has given no public indication of what he will do if Turkey and Saudi Arabia press ahead with an invasion. It’s not even clear that he still has the leverage to stop Turkey and Saudi Arabia if they press ahead.

Obama could simply cut U.S. losses in its disastrous Syrian “regime change” policy and accept a Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian government victory, but he would come intense criticism from Washington’s influential neoconservatives as well as Republicans. But does he have another choice if he wants to avoid war with Russia?

On Saturday, Obama called Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s not known what they discussed about a possible invasion of Syria. However, if Obama threatened to intervene if Russia doesn’t end its military support for the Syrian military offensive, we could be in the middle of the most serious game of chicken since the Cuban missile crisis.

Nor do we know what Obama is telling the Turks and Saudis. On Monday, both countries toned down their bellicose rhetoric. Perhaps Obama delivered the only sane message possible: avoid a military confrontation with Russia at all costs. But it seems the lights will remain on at the Kremlin and the White House as the two nuclear powers look for some way to avoid a collision.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached atjoelauria@gmail.com  and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.

 

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48 comments for “Obama’s Most Momentous Decision

  1. Abe
    February 15, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    Regardless of what Obama is telling Israel’s allies, the Turks and Saudis (and Qataris), we already know exactly what Israel’s agents, the neocons and liberal interventionists, are telling Obama.

    2016 is the year and now is the time for the people of the United States and Europe to rise up and demand an end to this series of wars (Afghanistan-Iraq-Libya-Syria-Iran) on behalf of the Zionist apartheid State of Israel.

    Let’s stop this madness before Jewish State (J-ISIS) drives the world into a nuclear Third World War.

    STOP J-ISIS NOW.

    NO MORE WAR FOR ISRAEL.

    • February 16, 2016 at 12:14 am

      Abe,
      thumbs up to your comment.
      it really does seem as if the captains of finance and industry who rule nato member states are willing to burn the chess board then loose the game.

    • Zachary Smith
      February 16, 2016 at 12:25 am

      … we already know exactly what Israel’s agents, the neocons and liberal interventionists, are telling Obama.

      That’s precisely the part I can’t figure out. If (as I suspect) Turkey is next on the list of Israel’s potential regional enemies to be destroyed, Obama’s part must be to at least encourage the Turks and Saudis to do something stupid. If the thing is handled with some finesse, he’ll have plausible deniability he ever did any such thing. I can’t guess the short-term goals of a smash-Turkey operation. It might be as simple as a quick humiliation at the hands of the Russians and Syrian allies. This would tend to stoke a civil war within the country. Not that a longer slug-out with Russia would hurt – the Russians could continue to be painted as the really evil guys, and Turkey’s Armed Forces might be badly dinged. I’d be surprised if US soldiers end up leading any invasion of Syria.

      Israel is now encouraging the Kurds because they’re an effective means of destabilizing and dismembering Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. The US, being under the control of the neocons (and their master Israel), is giving the Kurds major help and most all of the US news media portray the Kurds as being really nice folks.

      • Fat finger Charlie
        February 17, 2016 at 3:31 am

        Quoting a deceased and loved newscaster “and that’s the way it is” . Fat finger Charlie

      • Arnieus
        February 18, 2016 at 1:28 pm

        What happens when Syria backed by Russia wants the Golan Heights and the oil there back. Israel is occupying it illegally.

    • Bessarab
      February 18, 2016 at 8:40 am

      Spot on !

      Thanks ! Just what I thought.

      ST

  2. Call for sanity
    February 16, 2016 at 3:05 am

    If Obama will not tell Turkey and Saudi Arabia to stand down, all of Western Europe should take the lead and secede from NATO and refuse to have a hand in starting World War III. If Erdogan can flout Washington’s supposed leadership of NATO, Western Europe surely can, especially if they are not suicidal. Stop this madness, Europeans.

    • Erik
      February 16, 2016 at 9:17 am

      Agreed; the threat of European refusal to let NATO be revised as an Axis of aggression to be rented to Israel for US campaign bribes is likely a limiting factor. Even their right wing tyrants can no doubt think of smaller countries to bully than Russia, and the US right wing’s insane troublemaking on the borders of superpowers since WWII does not help the right wing elsewhere.

    • Dieter von Hesler
      February 18, 2016 at 2:01 am

      The Europeans will do no such things, they have no balls and have been ball less for a longtime, they are too busy tripping over themselves not to offend their master to take a stand- any stand.

      • Bessarab
        February 18, 2016 at 8:46 am

        Leider haben Sie Recht !

        Unfortunately, you are damned right !

    • Archie1954
      February 19, 2016 at 1:29 am

      Unfortunately NATO and its Commander in Chief have been ignoring Russia’s warnings for years now. I’m afraid if they do it again this time the human waste will hit the fan!

  3. Call for sanity
    February 16, 2016 at 3:07 am

    If Obama will not tell Turkey and Saudi Arabia to stand down, all of Western Europe should take the lead and secede from NATO and refuse to have a hand in starting World War III. If Erdogan can flout Washington’s supposed leadership of NATO, Western Europe surely can, especially if they are not suicidal. Stop this madness, Europeans.

  4. February 16, 2016 at 5:30 am

    Oh I see, Erdogan and Salman are the real threats to stability, dragging us towards WW3. Aided by the neocons and malign Israeli influence, as always.

    Let us think about the realities in Syria for a moment. The war is not being run from Damascus, the Syrian army is out on its feet. (It is down from 280,000 to barely 100,000 in 5 years due to casualties, particularly high among Alawites, 60,000 desertions and the young male citizens avoiding conscription en masse). It is not being run from Moscow either, which fronts it up politically and controls the air support but has only a small number of troops on the ground.

    It is run from Tehran, where the bigger picture is planned and coloured in. Iran has imported upwards of 50,000 bearded, foreign, religious Shia fighters to Syria from the IRNG, terrorist group Hezbollah, the extremist Iraqi Shia militias, Hazara mercenaries from Afghanistan and so on. What is all that for??

    It comes down to the fact that Assad’s regime is a predominantly and rather vengeful Shia-Alawite one. It is a minority regime, as the Shia groups and offshoots in Syria, including the Druze, constitute just 16% of the population. For fifty years, they have kept a hold on power. Iran is there to prop Assad’s regime up, as it was losing the civil war, but primarily to stamp Iranian Shia hegemony over its ‘near abroad’, as it has done successfully in Iraq. It means the entire ‘fertile crescent’, from Basra round to Lebanon, will be an Iranian-controlled, Shia-dominated empire.

    It might not bother us much, but back to Syria – it is a predominantly (74%) Sunni muslim country. Assad was bad enough, but the idea of being under the tutelage of mad mullahs from Tehran and Shia militias is hardly likely to endear itself to Sunnis. It is a recipe for massive recruitment to extremist Sunni Islamic groups.

    Turkey and Saudi Arabia are two of the three main Sunni countries (Sisi is sitting this one out), so it is not really surprising that they have a stake in the outcome, it would be more surprising if they sat back and said nothing. But as for military action?

    Turkey has a particular interest in the Afrin-Tishren gap and it is a legitimate one. The Kurds there, the PYD party and its YPG militia, are not the same Kurds the USA is allied with in Iraq, the KRG and Perhmerga. The PYD, an offshoot of the Turkish communist-nationalist PKK, has a reputation for clearing Arabs villagers out of captured areas and bringing Kurds in. It doesn’t fight Assad’s regime, it works hand-in-hand with it. It keeps the Peshmerga out and the main Kurdish opposition, the KNC, down. It fights ISIS sometimes, yes, but as a second priority, first priority is seizing more Arab land to expand its powerbase.

    Turkey has legitimate concerns here. The Azaz-Tishren border area is Arab country, with a small Kurdish minority in places. As a backer of the Syrian opposition, it will hardly sit idly by and watch the YPG play ethnic games here. Azaz is a particular red line for Turkey and the opposition – it is held by a Free Syrian Army battalion, what is the YPG doing attacking the opposition with Assad’s help??

    The most important lever for Obama to pull on that one was to have the YPG face east and attack ISIS, who are 5 miles away, not west attacking the resistance. He tried – and they ignored him. They have opted for Russian-Assad military support instead and are pressing on. How the Russians love it, tweaking both Erdogan and Obama’s noses! So the Turks stand alone and are committed to defending Azaz, while the Assad/Putin/Iranian/YPG Axis is committed to capturing it. All Obama can do is try to calm all sides down, but that is a big ask. Russia wants a win over Turkey as revenge and seems to observe no restraints at all in Syria.

    Turkey will do its best to put in resistance reinforcements and weapons and to provide artillery support from their side of the border. They could send in Turkish troops and with their powerful army, they could easily roll over the combined Axis forces there. But they won’t, because NATO will come to their help if they are attacked, but there is no provision for NATO support if a member is doing the attacking. So as long as neither side does something rash, particularly Russian air attacks over the Turkish border or on Turkish troops, or Turkish retaliation against Russian and Syrian aircraft, this one will play out without starting WW3.

    The trouble is, the Kurdish YPG have no intention of stopping, they covet the whole border area as a new rear base for the PKK to attack Turkey from, so the problem has not gone away. Can the USA, which has so far financed and equipped them, rein them in? Jury is out, Russia must look a better ally, one that actually fights, not one that sits it out in the White House and sends instructions from afar.

    Other than the Azaz issue, there will be no Saudi or Turkish invasion of western Syria, western llberals, isolationist and peaceniks can sleep easiy in their beds. The US is working on having Arab forces capture Raqqah in the east, the role of Saudi, UAE and others is solely to assist in the training and mentoring of these as-yet-non-existent forces.

    Meanwhile, the opposition in western Syria, which was predominantly democratic and non-sectarian, is being battered to bits by Syrian and Russian shelling and airstrikes, and now matched or exceed in numbers by Muslim Islamist groups, some moderate, others hardline Salafist. Obama should have pulled the lever to arm and finance the moderates properly and in particular to supply them with air defence missiles – they have none and are defenceless against the air barrage, but no, support for them has been parsimonious and pretty pathetic and the USA has point-blank refused air defence, in case they upset Russia.

    Assad and his gang must be laughing all the way to the bank, where they all have large dollops of Syrian money in their personal accounts. The regime runs a savage police state, needed to keep it in power, shoots civilian protesters, arrests 20,000+ political opponents and ‘disappears’ a large number of them, supports, houses and finances Al Qaeda during the Iraq war against the US -read Charles Lister, bombs civilian areas deliberately and is engaged in driving out a large proportion of the Sunni population in what will come to be recognised as ethnic cleansing, as well as building up a stupendously long list of war crimes.

    All of the above has been accomplished on Obama’s watch, but not just Obama, Merkel and Cameron and all the others who have sat idly by and watched the opposition being trashed, the Islamists rushing in and the Iranians and Russians leaping into the vacuum. But best we do nothing, it’s a long way away, we have more compelling domestic issues to concern us but… oops… we get a million refugees as a reward for our spineless inertia, hey that’s not fair…

    • Erik
      February 16, 2016 at 8:46 am

      Your claim that Iran is “running the war” like your later attacks on “pacifists” appears to be groundless militarism. If the ground is that “Assad’s …is a minority regime” then you must support a military revolution in the US to oust the plutocracy of the 1%, who have the world record for “laughing all the way to the bank” with government money.

      Has the West “sat idly by and watched the opposition being trashed” or simply realized that there was no better outcome from military intervention? Your attribution of the refugees to non-intervention is plainly unsupportable, as the foolish US intervention in Iraq is the well established cause, and further intervention would obviously make it worse.

      I suggest giving up the militarism and keeping humanitarian goals in mind. Let’s dispense with the bravado and use the right tools for the job. The army will be there if we need it.

    • Tom Welsh
      February 16, 2016 at 9:17 am

      Rubbish.

    • Abe
      February 16, 2016 at 11:05 am

      The tedious comment by R Cummings:

      Pure Hasbara boilerplate anti-Iran dung from Tel Aviv.

      The script that every US and European political hack (including the entire gaggle of presidential candidates) has been handed to read.

      The war in Syria is decidedly not being “run from Tehran”.

      “Obama’s watch” has been every bit as odious as “Dubya’s watch”.

      R Cummings pathetically rehashes the old “Sunni-Shia divide” propaganda, bangs the “refugee” gong and chastises NATO for its “spineless inertia”.

      All we are going to get from Western so-called “leaders” is a tsunami of these disgusting lies.

      WE THE PEOPLE of the United States and NATO member states must stop this madness before Jewish State (J-ISIS) drives the world into a nuclear Third World War.

      STOP J-ISIS NOW.

      NO MORE WAR FOR ISRAEL.

      • RedBrigade
        February 16, 2016 at 12:10 pm

        I did not decided what is better: “never mind commenter impersonating all Americans, proceed to the next comment” or “scream louder Abe, we do not hear you.” readers choice.

      • Abe
        February 16, 2016 at 3:41 pm

        The majority of Americans do not support more war for Israel.

        That is why Israel is so desperate to ‘splain’ the wars as anything but what they are.

        At the brink of war, one may occasionally have to shout above the frantic screams of neocon and liberal interventionist warmongers, and the media din of pro-Israel Hasbara propaganda.

    • Zachary Smith
      February 16, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      What is all that for??

      It comes down to the fact that Assad’s regime is a predominantly and rather vengeful Shia-Alawite one.

      Nope. It comes down to the fact that Israel needs to destroy “Assad’s regime” in order to make taking down Hezbollah and grabbing the best parts of Lebanon a practical proposition.

      Iran has a perfectly legitimate reason to oppose this.

    • a.z
      February 17, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      so the various brigades with salafist inclinations that are being supported is not the issue neither is isis itself an issue that was previously supported by the gulf states which hijacked the just public calls for reform but the issue is asad and iran who actually are standing up to israel and its action and are paying a hard price for it. but of course saudies elite who profess to be the protectors o sunni islam yet backstab muslim brotherhood and let the muslim maids get raped with impunity within its borders and lead palyboy lifestyles stand with israel with whom they make backroom deals and unleash isis on the defenseless population bomb a poor country relentlessly are just the glorious good guys

    • jasmoran66
      February 17, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      Wow, you do have it all figured out, don’t you? I’m in awe. In fact, I need to clean my laptop screen and take a cold shower. Things seem clearer now. Cough…

    • al
      February 17, 2016 at 11:09 pm

      Troll alert

  5. TONY LANE
    February 16, 2016 at 6:31 am

    the only support that AMERICA has are leaders of countries that have been blackmailed or threatened and sometimes bought and paid for, so if you take those leaders out, America will have no allies, the people in Europe and that includes the UK have had to listen more than 70 years of American Bullshit since the end of the last war.

  6. James lake
    February 16, 2016 at 7:44 am

    At this stage the possible invasion of Turkey and Saudi Arabia will have been factored into the war plans of Syria plus it’s allies.
    Russia flagged up 2 weeks ago the build up of troops on the border.
    The shelling by Turkey of the Kurds cannot be defended by the west who have cast the plucky Kurds as the good guys.
    If Turkey take the step to invade they will be against international law and the aggressor. They will not be able to spin it as a defence. There will be a response and Turkey snd saudi arabia forces will be attacked and destroyed.
    Public opinion in Europe will not care about these two countries the public are wiser than their elected politicians.
    The public have a clear idea who has supported ISIL. Else why would they attack the Kurds.
    NATO will not get support to defend Erdogan and that young fool from Saudi.
    NATO in theory is supposed to be defensive but after Yugoslavia and Libya we know they can be offensive!!!
    My instinct is that the U.S. will blink first as They have no skin in the game.
    Russia has allies and it also had Chechens they want to stop in Syria so they don’t come back.

  7. James lake
    February 16, 2016 at 7:45 am

    At this stage the possible invasion of Turkey and Saudi Arabia will have been factored into the war plans of Syria plus it’s allies.
    Russia flagged up 2 weeks ago the build up of troops on the border.
    The shelling by Turkey of the Kurds cannot be defended by the west who have cast the plucky Kurds as the good guys.
    If Turkey take the step to invade they will be against international law and the aggressor. They will not be able to spin it as a defence. There will be a response and Turkey snd saudi arabia forces will be attacked and destroyed.
    Public opinion in Europe will not care about these two countries the public are wiser than their elected politicians.
    The public have a clear idea who has supported ISIL. Else why would they attack the Kurds.
    NATO will not get support to defend Erdogan and that young fool from Saudi.
    NATO in theory is supposed to be defensive but after Yugoslavia and Libya we know they can be offensive!!!
    My instinct is that the U.S. will blink first as They have no skin in the game.
    Russia has allies and it also had Chechens they want to stop in Syria so they don’t come back.

  8. Dr. Ip
    February 16, 2016 at 8:17 am

    Why argue political opinions when the facts on the ground will actually determine outcomes?

    If Turkish or Saudi soldiers cross the border into Syria, they will do so without any air cover, because the Russian anti-aircraft batteries already in place control what is essentially a no-fly-zone as regards Turk and Saudi aircraft. Entering Syria without air cover is suicide for ground troops because cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean, plus Russian air power already there will make mincemeat of unprotected soldiers.

    Kerry and Lavrov know these facts and are hopefully holding back-channel conversations which will find paths that avoid open conflict between the two major powers.

    The real danger here is the neocon sub-layer of power that has consolidated itself within the Defense Department and the State Department over the past 20 years. The Cheneyists and Rumsfeldists are hell-bent on causing as much chaos as possible, because chaos means more war and more war means more government money for their paymasters and therefore more money for them when they leave government.

    Greed breeds foolishness and, as we know, fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

    Soon we will know whether the fools or the wise men will be successful.

    • Sam
      February 16, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      Chechen “Che” Cheney,
      Syriously zany,
      A Brezinski plotter
      Afghanistan abhors!
      Says “Back to the quagmire,
      If Isis does not tire,
      They’ll be bombing Russia’s
      Cheney Chechen door!”

      -Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  9. Tom Welsh
    February 16, 2016 at 9:15 am

    “He is said not to trust the United States”.

    Surely this must be irony! No one in his right mind would trust the United States. At least, not the government’s promises. What one can trust, with a reasonable degree of certainty, is their self-interest.

    • dahoit
      February 16, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Maybe he trusts Israel.Hahahahahahahah.

    • Joe Lauria
      February 16, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      Really? I’d say nearly seven decades of mutual self-interest has led to a very long run of trust between these two powers, often to the detriment of many others. To behave as badly as the Saudis do regarding human rights and yet be certain the U.S. will be by its side no matter what is a huge sign of trust. Mohammad bin Salman is at the very least questioning this very long and deep relationship, and that is extremely significant.

      • Joe Lauria
        February 19, 2016 at 5:05 am

        “So tight is the *trust* that U.S. special operators dip into Saudi petrodollars as a counterterrorism slush fund without a second thought.”

        From an important new piece in The Atlantic. Preparing for the Collapse of the Saudi Kingdom. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/02/saudi-arabia-collapse/463212/?utm_source=SFTwitter

        • Joe Lauria
          February 19, 2016 at 5:14 am

          This is a bit of BS in The Atlantic piece about Russia and China. It states a lot of the obvious and doesn’t say a word about Saudi backing for extremists in Syria and elsewhere.

  10. dee
    February 16, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Monsieur Cummings

    Quite long and fairly boring …….bearded…… mad mullahs….

    Most significant Ad hominem

    Valuation Failure

    Try again

  11. eric d. meyer
    February 16, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Standing by watching while Putin & Assad cleanse Syria of the Syrian opposition and kill another 400,000 civilians will not stop WW III. It will bring us closer. Putin’s strategy is exactly Hitler’s in 1939. Speak the Big Lie, build up your tanks on the Polish (Turkish) border, and make the West back down while you take another country. Georgia (Abkahzia and Ossetia), Ukraine (Crimea and the Donbas)), now Syria. What’s next?… The consequence of the West & US failing to stop Assad and Putin in Syria will be a Russian-backed Syrian puppet regime that simply exterminates the opposition and carries out the greatest human rights disaster since the Holocaust or Shoah. The complete extermination of the Syrian civilian population… Putin will be in control of a major piece of geopolitical real estate in the Middle East & Mediterranean. And he will look for the next piece of real estate to take to make Russia the #1 world power. Appeasement didn’t work in 1939. It doesn’t work in 2016 either. The only way to stop the slide toward WW III is to face up to Putin’s Russian aggression and stop Middle East sliding down the slippery slope toward world war. And besides that, the only way to prevent complete humanitarian catastrophe is to stop the continuing massacre of Syrian civilians and the collapse of Europe under the onslaught of Syrian refugees., by stopping the Putin/Assad regime’s war crimes and atrocities…

    • Abe
      February 16, 2016 at 3:24 pm

      More unadulterated Hasbara dung:

      The hackneyed R2P appeal packaged with reductio ad Hitlerum.

      Whenever Israel the US wants to start another war it’s always the “greatest human rights disaster since the Holocaust or Shoah”.

      No more appeasement of these neocon and liberal interventionist warmongers.

      NO MORE WAR FOR ISRAEL.

      • February 16, 2016 at 11:16 pm

        HEAR! HEAR!
        NO MORE WAR FOR ISRAEL!

  12. Incontinent Reader
    February 16, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    Whether it’s Erdogan or Davutoglu running the country, they are both cut from the same slime ball criminal cloth.

    (I wonder if some innocent cursed with the name Incontinent Reader on their passport were to enter Turkey, if they would be arrested for ‘insulting the dignity’ (such as it isn’t) of the Turkish state.)

    These guys should be satirized, targeted with shoes and cream pies, and generally held up to public scorn and approbation everywhere in the world, and if Merkel happens to be hit while holding their hand and kissing their collective posterior, then I guess one could call it collateral damage to one more slime ball. (Gee, does that mean Germany is also off the itinerary?)

    • Paul Hunt
      February 17, 2016 at 8:27 am

      opprobrium, I think, not approbation.

  13. Barbara Honegger
    February 17, 2016 at 1:17 am

    It’s rare that you see this as an explanation for
    why ‘The West’ could claim that the outcome
    of the ‘Syria crisis’ of ‘strategic’ importance.
    Syria is really about who controls Europe by supplying it
    with oil and natural gas — Russia, as is the case now,
    or Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Russia and Syria’s Assad
    have said no to Qatar’s planned Qatar-Europe pipeline
    that would complete with Russia as Europe’s supplier
    and thus weaken its influence:
    “Qatar, that has all this natural gas, wanted to run
    a natural gas pipeline through Syria to reach the
    European market. [in competition with] Who’s now
    supplying the European market with gas?: Russia …”
    — Karen Hudes, 20-year Counsel to The World Bank

    • Joe Lauria
      February 17, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Barbara,
      Yesterday, before I saw your comment, I was on Scott Horton’s Anti-War Radio show and spoke about pipelines as one of the causes of the war in the second part of the interview. I will post the link when it is up. The point of my piece above was not to explore in depth the various participants’ motives, but to show how Obama has to exert the U.S.’s traditional imperial control over its clients to avoid a major war. A dedicated examination of war motives would have include pipelines. But I believe there are other motives too. For the Turks it is also about crushing Kurdish aspirations for independence and for the Saudis the war is certainly also about countering Iranian influence in the region. From Israel’s point of view it would appear to be a longstanding desire to balkanize its surrounding region.

  14. Richard Steven Hack
    February 17, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    “Nor do we know what Obama is telling the Turks and Saudis.”

    This is the critical point. Whatever Obama says publicly is irrelevant. He is known for stating one thing publicly and behaving privately in the exact opposite manner. He is a serial liar.

    I believe Obama and the “crazies in the basement” (as Colonel Pat Lang has referred to the neocons at State) are still determined to take down Syria by any means necessary, even at risk of WWIII.

    The US military-industrial complex, the Israel-First crowd and Israel itself can NOT allow Syria to recover from this crisis. They HAVE to take down Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon and ultimately Iran if they wish to achieve the windfall war profits and geopolitical leverage in the Middle East that they desire. And that extends to more than just pipelines.

    Therefore we can not expect them to back down when presented with complications such as the presence of Russia in Syria.

    The US elites may well believe that they can let Turkey be the stalking horse in a ground invasion, which they will then use to justify a “no-fly zone” which turns into an air campaign against Syria a la Libya. They may believe that if they avoid engaging the Russians directly, they will force the Russians to decide just how far THEY are willing to go In confronting Turkey, perhaps NATO, and perhaps the US.

    The risk is that Russia may indeed decide to draw a line in the sand in Syria.

    Assad is correct: Irrational people with hidden motives – especially people who think themselves beyond any personal consequences of their actions, such as the US elites – cannot be predicted based on rational national interests. They must be predicted based on their own stated objectives and previous actions.

  15. February 17, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    We should let the Russians deal with Assad. Syria is not of remotely vital interest to the US. We should get out of its civil war.

    And if we had real gun and bullet control, ISIL would pose no threat to us.

    Vote for Bernie.

  16. Thymoleontas
    February 17, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    The Ottoman Empire did not begin in 1516. It began when the semi-mythical ErtuÄŸrul (the father of Osman I–the founder of the Ottoman/Osmanli dynasty) conquered the village of Söğüt in the Byzantine Greek province of Bithynia (NW Turkey) in 1231.

    However, in 1516 the Ottoman Turks defeated the Mamluks at the Battle of Marj Dabiq–a victory that opened the door to the rapid Ottoman conquest of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and the Hijaz and the collapse of the Mamluk Empire.

    • Joe Lauria
      February 18, 2016 at 9:43 am

      1231 was indeed the beginning of Ottoman rule within Anatolia or modern-day Turkey but its first foreign conquest was in 1516 at Dabiq, from which one can argue the empire, but not Ottoman rule, began.

  17. Airbrush2020
    February 20, 2016 at 1:06 am

    OBAMA’s MOST MONUMENTOUS DECISION
    (To Esalate or Not to Escalate in Syria)

    If he is smart, he will walk away from Syria without further escalation. There is no clear US objective there and the damage is already done. The country is reduced to ruble. Why risk a wider war?

  18. Airbrush2020
    February 20, 2016 at 1:07 am

    OBAMA’s MOST MONUMENTOUS DECISION
    (To Esalate or Not to Escalate in Syria)

    If he is smart, he will walk away from Syria without further escalation. There is no clear US objective there and the damage is already done. The country is reduced to ruble. Why risk a wider war?

  19. Dr G
    February 20, 2016 at 8:21 am

    There have been a lot of interesting comments however there seem to be a few obvious points of view missed. Firstly, Syria is the gateway to the middle east and presently divides the two Islamic ideologies, that is ultimately what the goal of regime change is on the part of the US. Assad must go is simply a ploy to rally support for the Saudi end game of routing oil by pipeline directly to Europe.

    Secondly, Putin was the head of the KGB and a successful spy in Germany for many years during the cold war, don’t you think he is 10 steps ahead of a president who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth? Please people, we are dealing with a very serious tactician here and he knows damn well how to play the game and it’s about time the west stopped puffing its chest up to scare this guy, it is never going to work!

    geopolitics is a game of chess and at this point his queen is knocking the wests men down with very cunning expertise. What Turkey and Saudi Arabia are about to do is suicide and will only end in a nuke going off in anger for the 3rd time in history.

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