Obama Admin Struggles to Explain Syrian Rebel Collapse

Posted: Feb 06, 2014 12:01 AM
Obama Admin Struggles to Explain Syrian Rebel Collapse

Pakistan: Preliminary peace talks failed to take place because the Pakistani government team failed to show.

Negotiating teams nominated by the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were supposed to open preliminary talks in Islamabad on 4 February and to develop a preliminary "roadmap" for peace talks.

The government delegation did not show up because of government doubts about the authenticity and authority of the Pakistani Taliban delegation. Specifically, the government wanted assurances that the TTP-appointed committee could make binding commitments on behalf of the TTP's leadership council.

The Taliban responded to the government's request for clarification by saying its committee will have the three members all of whom are ready for the talks. It is now up to the government to respond.

Comment: One of the longstanding hazards in negotiations with the Pakistani or Afghan Taliban is that the negotiators are charlatans. It is a Pashtun epic virtue to deceive the enemy. Thus, the Sharif government is prudent to require credentials checks.

Even with the utmost care, the government has no way of knowing for certain that the Taliban negotiators and the leaders they represent can make a binding agreement. The anti-government jihadists in Pakistan are not all members of the TTP.

An agreement reached with the TTP leadership might only be enforceable in a limited Pashtun region. Still a ceasefire in any part of Waziristan would be a start.

Musharraf update. A spokesman for the former president told the press today, "We can confirm that former President Musharraf has posted bail and intends to appear in the special treason court on February 7th, 2014."

According to the press statement, Musharraf wrote on the bail bond "I do not recognize the authority of this special treason court, but I am complying for the greater good of the rule of law."

"It is extremely relevant to note the formation, composition, jurisdiction, impartiality, independence and lawful authority of the special treason court is itself under question and under review in superior courts of Pakistan,"

Comment: The ruse of heart failure has run its course and Musharraf must appear in court to answer the charge of treason. Denial of the court's authority is a loser's gambit, especially for a man who arrested the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

It is clear that the Sharif government wants Musharraf to suffer embarrassment by appearing in court as would a common criminal. It is not clear that the government is willing to risk the potentially destabilizing consequences of Musharraf's conviction.

Syria: Special comment. The Ba'athist government in Damascus appears to be holding its own. The best indication of increased stability is that the focus of most combat reports is the city of Aleppo, most of which has been under opposition control. This means the government and its allies are taking the fight to the anti-government fighting groups.

The security situation generated comments by two senior US officials.

The US Secretary of State denounced Syria's use of barrel bombs dropped by helicopters. He described the tactic as barbaric. The statements deserve comment because they imply that opposition forces are too feeble to shoot down helicopters dropping 50 gallon drums packed with explosives and they exaggerate the tactical use of barrel bombs.

The Secretary acknowledged a significant shortcoming in opposition capabilities because at least a million shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles are readily available for purchase in the gray arms market. Nevertheless, the Syrian opposition fighters have no defense against helicopters dropping barrels.

A few old hands will recall that Vietnam used barrel bombs dropped from slow and low flying transports to help defeat the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 40 years ago. Barrel bombs proved to be more precise than iron bombs dropped by faster moving combat aircraft. They are a poor country's precision bomb. One commentary described the barrel bomb as an aerial Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

The US Secretary of State provided no explanation why aerial IEDs are more barbaric than ground-based IEDs.

The second odd comment was by National Intelligence Director Clapper. He said that the chemical weapons disposal deal between the US and Russia saved the Ba'athist government in Damascus.

The facts show that long before the chemical weapons disposal deal, the opposition in Syria was a flop. As one Brilliant and Insightful Reader noted, there never was a single opposition. There were and remain many oppositions, fighting each other more often than the Ba'athist forces of the government. They never coordinated and never accepted higher leadership.

The chemical weapons destruction deal actually helps stabilize regional security by reducing the threat to Israel beyond anything the Israelis could accomplish with their own military and diplomatic skills. The agreement already has produced a degradation of the missile-born chemical weapons threat to Israel. The US-Russian agreement never had much to do with the fighting in Syria.

Syria has so much tonnage of chemical weapons and precursors that it could long ago have wiped out most of the opposition pockets and their civilian supporters. Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons includes non-persistent agents that could be used with little risk of detection.

The failure to meet artificial deadlines about removing chemical agents in the midst of an armed uprising should surprise no one. All intelligent observers knew that the deadlines depended on security conditions. The US imposed a deadline but offered no security to help Syria meet it.

Syria's willingness to continue the program is far more surprising and reassuring, especially to Israel. Plus it has Russian backing.

Clapper's staff seems to have confused correlation with causation in the briefing materials they provided him. The improved condition of the Ba'athist government is primarily a function of Russian assistance, Iranian assistance, help from Hezbollah and the utter ineptitude of the opposition plus incessant internecine fighting. Syria's chemical weapons capabilities have no bearing on those factors.

The US policy and intelligence failures in Syria have created a reprieve for the Christians, other minorities and ancient monuments of human civilization in Syria, all of which the Islamists promise to destroy. The chemical weapons deal is primarily a windfall for Israel.

Egypt: For the record. Multiple Egyptian blogs and press services reported that on 2 February Field Marshal al-Sisi decided to run for the presidency and intends to announce his candidacy before 17 February.

Comment: This move is in the mainstream of Egyptian political culture since World War II. However, interim President al-Mansour assured the public that the era of a "military pharaoh" will not return.

End of NightWatch


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