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Two Aircraft Carrier Strike Groups in Philippines; Kerry Supports Military Intervention Proposal for Syria

Next Cold War Roundup 6/21/16

Two aircraft carrier strike groups were sent to the Philippines to conduct exercises, an unusual event, as a show of force to nations in the region. US and Russian fighter jets engaged in southeast Syria after Russia bombed a New Syrian Army base near the Jordan/Iraq/Syria border. John Kerry came out in favor of the State Dept. dissent memo calling for US military intervention against the Assad government. Michele Flournoy, assumed Sec. Defense nominee in a Clinton administration, introduced a detailed plan for US military intervention in Syria, which calls for attacks on both ISIS and the Syrian government forces, risking all out war with Russia and Iran.

Neocons & Liberal Interventionists Present Plan for Regime Change in Syria Under a Clinton Administration

_ Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and Michelle Flournoy, the likely defense secretary choice of a Hillary Clinton administration, discussed a new plan for US military intervention and regime change in Syria in a presentation and a white paper, titled, “Defeating Islamic State: A Bottom-Up Approach.” The paper was produced by a study group that includes Kimberley Kagan, David Petraeus and Joe Lieberman. The plan includes escalation of US military involvement in (68 page PDF). Iraq and Syria, regime change in Syria, challenging Russia and Iran, and the division of Syria.

_ The plan was discussed at CNAS annual conference on Monday.  The title of the event was “National Security Inheritance.”

_ Flournoy talked about one of the US-proxy forces, the Southern Front, currently located in southwest Syria near the border of Syria, Jordan and Israel.  She said they are 30,000 strong and claims they were formed from 40-50 “relatively more moderate” Syrian groups and trained by the US and Jordan, beginning in February, 2014.

The Case for a More Robust U.S. Intervention in Syria,” he says: “The United States can do more to achieve a political settlement—invasion and containment aren’t the only options.”  These new proposals claim to be a new way, a “middle way” (Century Foundation) or a “third way” (CNAS) that are different from existing CIA plans for regime change in Syria but they seem to be mainly just modified to account for the fact that Russia has intervened since the last time they made a major push for it.

_ Essam Zaytoon, a man who claimed to represent the  the Southern Front’s Foreign Relation Office attended an Iraeli conference last week and appeared on Israeli television for an interview. He said the Southern Front (SF) was “a rebel faction operating under the umbrella of the biggest Syrian opposition organization, the Free Syrian Army.” The Southern Front’s spokesman later denied that Zaytoon was a representative of SF and said they oppose peace with Israel and would never attend a conference.

Draft Version of State Dept. “Dissent Cable” Memo Leaked, Kerry Signals Support

_ A draft version of a four page memo without signatures was leaked to the New York Times on Friday in which they clamor for US military intervention to cripple the Syrian government. notes that the memo, which is “not that interesting” has been dominating the discussion since its release but Pres. Obama continues to resist the pressure from the neocon and liberal interventionist factions. Washington Times quotes the spokespeople of both the White House and the State Dept. saying there is no military solution and no better solution than the one we are pursuing right now. The arguments are largely the same ones that have been persistently made and splashed across the mainstream media periodically since at least 2012.

_ John Kerry has just come out in support of the dissent memo for regime change in Syria.

John Kerry’s Oslo Forum Remarks on Syria and Russia’s Response

_ At the Oslo Forum last week, before the incident between the US and Russian air forces, Kerry said this:

“Just a quick word about Syria, because I just met briefly – I met for about an hour with Foreign Minister Zarif. It is very clear that the cessation of hostilities is frayed and at risk, and that it is critical for a genuine cessation to be put in place. We know that, we have no illusions. And Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite. In fact, it is very limited now with respect to whether or not Assad is going to be held accountable. And meanwhile, we also are prepared to hold accountable members of the opposition who have both been playing off each other to continue the violence and break the cessation.” [Emphasis added]

_ Russian armed forces chief of staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, responded on Tuesday to John Kerry’s message to Russia about losing patience:

“If anyone’s patience on Syria is waning, it is ours, not the United States. We are in full compliance with our obligations to maintain the ceasefire and ensure national reconciliation in Syria. The American side always has problems with the ‘opposition under its control’,” Gerasimov said.

“Our US partners are still undecided where there are opposition forces and where there are ‘turncoats’ from international terrorist organizations.”

Conflict Between US Navy Fighter Jets and Russian Fighter Jets Over Syria, Bomb Attack on “New Syrian Army”

_ “Russian and American warplanes confronted one another in the skies above Syria after Moscow bombed an elite force of US-trained rebels.” After the incident, the US and Russia held a video conference. The elite force has been called the “New Syrian Army” and they opened a new front and began operations recently near the borders of Jordan, Iraq and Syria.

_ Military expert Moon of Alabama provides analysis on the LA Times report of two “Russian surprise attacks” on a “New Syrian Army” base near the Jordan/Syria/Iraq border, which he believes is a violent push back against John Kerry’s delaying tactics which amount to a refusal to separate al Qaeda “rebels” not included in the ceasefire agreement from other Syrian rebels who are covered by the ceasefire agreement. This aggressive attack seems to be a serious escalation, or at least has the potential to be.

_ Jane’s Defense reports that the Pentagon-backed New Syrian Army claims to have been “attacked by Russian aircraft more than 10 times.”

_ Report from Russia’s Ministry of Defense says the target was 300km from any area the US had designated as an area where the oppositio is located and the US and Russia are now working more closely together on a map.  Moon of Alabama believes this dispatch from Russian MoD is confirmation of his take on the situation.

_ CNN reported that the Russian MoD denied bombing the US-backed rebels but cited the same statement released on Facebook which does not appear to be a denial. The Washington Post released images from the London-based and pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The images allegedly show the “aftermath of the strikes on the base at Al-Tanf” and “what appears to be the tail section of a RBK-500 cluster munition.”

_ There have been previous reports of Jordanian special operations forces and perhaps British and other foreign special forces.

Current and Former German Officials Protest NATO “Warmongering” Against Russia

_ Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Germany should work to mend relations with Russia rather than join in the western effort to provoke them and enter a new arms race. He also said the sanctions are ineffective and should be gradually lifted. Schroeder “ridiculed the idea that Russia ‘may be nurturing a plan to invade NATO-countries,”’stressing that the notion is completely out of touch with the real state of affairs.”

_ German foreign minister Steinmeier criticized NATO for warmongering against Russia. “What we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation further through sabre-rattling and warmongering.” Zero Hedge calls this a great scandal within NATO and notes the other areas of escalation.

_ Bulgarian prime minister Borisov said he doesn’t need war and refused to join a NATO flotilla in the Black Sea. To send warships as a fleet against Russian ships exceeds the limit of what I can allow […] “To deploy destroyers, aircraft carriers near [the resort cities of] Bourgas or Varna during the tourist season is unacceptable […] Nobody wants to create NATO fleet. That’s nonsense. NATO has neither the resources nor the desire to maintain a Black Sea fleet.” 

Syrian Battlefield

_ The Southfront military review for June 21 reports that:

  • ISIS counterattacked and reclaimed territory from the Syrian coalition in Raqqa
  • SDF have launched an operation west of Manbij
  • ISIS regained some territory in Aleppo
  • Iraqi forces and allies continue to make progress in Fallujah and now controls about 80% of the city

Israeli Intelligence Chief Doesn’t Want ISIS Defeat in Syria, Withdrawal of Superpowers

_ Major General Herzi Halevy:  “Israel does not want the situation in Syria to end with the defeat of ISIS […] “Withdrawal of the super powers from the region and letting Israel alone in front of Hezbollah and Iran that possess good abilities Will make Israel in a hard position” . Therefore, we’ve to do all we can so as not finding ourselves in such situation”,

Deteriorating Relations With China

_ Last Friday’s Crosstalk was on the topic of “rumors of war – this time in the South China Sea” and the assertion that the US is pivoting from “a policy of engagement with Beijing to one of confrontation” and how attempting to contain China is dangerous.  The US has a $600B trade relationship with China. The guests are James Bradley, author of “The China Mirage,” Harry Kazianis, Sr. Fellow at the China Policy Institute and author of “The Tao of A2AD,” and Peter Navarro, UC Irvine prof and author of “Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World.”

Two Carrier Strike Groups in Philippines

_ US sends two aircraft carriers to Philippines in a “rare move.” Two carrier strike groups with the USS John C. Stennis and USS Ronald Reagan, just completed training exercises and Adm. John Richardson noted that it “should be considered a signal to other nations in the region that the United States is committed to its allies” and said: “For anyone who wants to destabilize that region, we hope that there is a deterrence message there as well,”

Iran Sanctions

_ Peter Lee (“chinahand”) reports that “US sanctions relief w/ Iran held up because Treasury refuses to withdraw “moneylaundering concern” designation from Iran financial system. Therefore no bank can do $ dealings w/ Iran becz of risk of US prosecution. Possibly anti-Iran deal cohort in Treasury blocking removal of designation in defiance of USG policy. Believe it or not, it’s happened before, when Treasury refused to implement State Dept deal w/ North Korea over return of Banco Delta Asia funds. Hardliner obstruction w/in Treasury OFAC happens, people.”




_ During a speech to Ukraine National Guard, Pres. Poroshenko  “stated that National Guard troops might go to Donbass region for ‘a combat test.‘” Ukraine media reported that Poroshenko wants to test the national guard troops (mainly ultra-nationalist, former neo-Nazi militias) in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, “participation of the National Guard’s rapid response force in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO).”

_ Oliver Stone’s documentary “Ukraine on Fire” premiered at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy


Analysis and Opinion

_ Crosstalk with Pepe Escobar and Peter Kuznick (author and co-producer of “The Untold History of the United States”) on “Exceptionalism’s Wars.

_ Walt and Mearsheimer: “The Case for Offshore Balancing: A Superior U.S. Grand Strategy.” Americans are finally questioning their country’s grand strategy. The aims would be limited and “promoting peace, although desirable, is not among them” or would a responsibility to protect. This would reduce the amount of resources directed abroad, allow for “greater investment and consumption at home,” and reduce the risk of anti-American terrorism. Walt and Mearshemier say that this would be a return to a strategy that served America well for many decades, allowing powers in other regions to check each other and intervening only when the balance of power broke down while post-Cold War “liberal hegemony” has been a failure.

“There is a better way. By pursuing a strategy of “offshore balancing,” Washington would forgo ambitious efforts to remake other societies and concentrate on what really matters: pre­serving U.S. dominance in the Western Hemisphere and countering potential hegemons in Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Persian Gulf. Instead of policing the world, the United States would encourage other countries to take the lead in checking rising powers, intervening itself only when necessary. This does not mean abandoning the United States’ position as the world’s sole superpower or retreating to “Fortress America.” Rather, by husbanding U.S. strength, offshore balancing would preserve U.S. primacy far into the future and safeguard liberty at home.”

_ Dan Drezner uses the Washington Post to respond to Walt and Mearsheimer’s Offshore Balancing proposal. He says he has three problems with it. One, he doesn’t see the distinction between the status quo liberal hegemony and offshore balancing and claims that some of the issues they have the most problem with have been declining in the past decade (e.g. regime change, democracy promotion). Second he wants to know how offshore balancing will deal with Russia and he disagrees that they are not a rising power. Drezner’s third question doesn’t make a lot of sense to me so I choose not to summarize it. Drezner seems to admit huge problems with status quo grand strategy but the worst parts of it are waning so no need for this new grand strategy. Perhaps he falls into the camp Walt & Mearsheimer mention as wanting a “subtler version” of liberal hegemony.

_ Drezner also notes that the current presidential election is “likely to prompt the biggest debate about American foreign policy in a generation.” I hope so, but so far it hasn’t.

_ In January, a Brookings Institute fellow said that academic realism, which is what Walt and Mearsheimer’s analysis would be classified as, is “so far out of the political mainstream” that it is “cast aside”. He talks about the bipartisan “sanctity of U.S. alliances and the U.S.-led international order as a whole” and says that “no one in the establishment favors large-scale retrenchment from what have come to be recognized as vital interests for over 60 years.”

Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.