By Russell Bruce
“That was nae fair, getting big Jenny tae tuck her skirt intae her knickers jist as you went sneaking roun ma back. Pure Daily Mail diversion. clever though – A’ll gie ye that. Calls for ma team tae hive a tactical meeting the nicht.
“There’s the bell, 16 minutes an the monitors oot.
“Same time tomorrow then”
From playground games life progresses to some kind of normality for most people, but to a very small number of individuals they get their hands on the actual trigger. To war, or not to war? For May and Macron this was their first opportunity to engage in military action. May made a clear reference to this in her first public statement and was obviously delighted to be seen holding Trump’s hand again.
Few countries have the geopolitical complexity of ruthless dictator Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. Calculations may have been carefully made but the wisdom of the action is highly questionable. A number of ‘ancillary’ considerations are not without meaning.
I am reminded of The Glass Bead Game by German author Hermann Hesse. It was not published in Germany until after WWII due to Hesse’s anti fascist views. The rules and description of the game are not tightly defined. Some have invented actual games with their own interpretation. I always saw it as a chess-like game in multiple layers with connectivity operating on both the horizontal and vertical axis. Making unexpected connections was certainly part of what Hesse wanted to engage his readers with.
The US did not want to hit any Russian targets. The Russians decided to stay out of things leaving Assad exposed to the16 minute barrage on three of the identified chemical weapons facilities or sites with delivery potential. At least two target possibilities were abandoned because of the danger of Russian or civilian collateral damage.
There is almost virtual universal agreement that the use of chemical weapons should meet with international condemnation. Sixteen minutes of high explosive impact does not solve this issue. In the wake of the action, and behind the scenes, detailed and separate evaluation is being undertaken by the US Pentagon and the Russians.
The difficulty of bombing Syria was always a fraught calculation because Assad had a Russian air defence system installed to discourage such attempts. With a missile fired the equivalent of every 8 seconds this was a chance to find out how many would make it through to target. It is certain that the sequence and frequency of missile firing bursts, from three locations, was pre-timed in great detail.
The Russians have a newer, more sophisticated system installed at their Syrian bases. They were not going to expose or engage it. Assad was ‘on his own’ when the sky suddenly glowed with high explosive projectiles.
The Russian military bases in Syria are the Russian’s core reason for being involved, that and a Russian natural gas pipeline. Assad owes them. He is Russia’s man in charge of bits of his country. That is the basis of the relationship but if Assad becomes a liability to Russia he is dead meat.
Trump spoke about his new ‘smarter’ missiles. This is Lockheed Martin’s new, stealthy, low radar susceptible air launched JASSM cruise missile, according to Bloomberg. Never used in a live conflict situation before, both the Russians and the Pentagon will be studying its impact and performance with much interest. Produced at Lockheed’s Alabama plant it carries a high impact 1000-lb penetrating warhead.
The reality is everyone involved in Syria is skirting around their perceived interests handling their ‘glass beads’ with some care. The US and Russia are equally concerned to avoid one another. Israel, who undoubtedly provided much on the ground intelligence is now concerned their ‘informal’ understanding with Russia over their Syrian and Iranian ‘interests’ may now be at risk according to Haaretz. Hezbollah openly work with Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria.
Iran has its own concerns. Trump has threatened to walk away from the nuclear deal. Iranians are getting restless with their government and the lifting of sanctions is of considerable importance to improving their lot. US ally and NATO member, Turkey, is knocking lumps out of the Kurds in Northern Syria where the US with 2000 troops on the ground is supporting moderate Kurds who want to create a Kurdish homeland. Trump really wants to walk away and pull his troops out, probably one of Trump’s wiser thoughts, but it would look like a retreat at the moment.
ISIS is still in control of a number of small areas and is likely to look at other theatres of operation. This will not make the UK, France or the US any safer after 16 minutes missile activity in the early hours of Saturday morning. Waiting to undertake their investigation of the chemical attack, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have been delayed in gaining safe access to search for evidence in Douma.
Saudi Arabia supports Assad, yet is supposed to be a key US ally. Their claimed new mission is to be nicer to women and lock up those associated with the old guard whilst continuing to knock the shit out of Yemen. Britain walked away from Aden handing over control of the colony in 1967 when it became part of Southern Yemen until 1990.
Britain now has a new £40m naval base in Bahrain, reversing over sixty years of withdrawal east of Suez. Just what an over stretched Royal Navy and MOD really need when all attempts to balance the books continually end in failure.
There is not a little historical significance to Britain and France being involved. Both countries have an imperial past, drawing straight lines through deserts to mark imperial delineation.
The Tories flew ministers back from business abroad in case of a difficult session for May. Gary Gibbons for Channel 4 News judged May had got away with it. For all the posturing over the weekend Corbyn failed to muster his troops and Labour was again unable to corner May. In the end Labour dabbed her with a lick of Teflon.
The SNP forced a division on Syria. Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster leader, said: “We had to express our view on lack of Parliamentary engagement”. Labour, clearly divided, on Syria, abstained. Blackford asked: “What is the point of Labour in Parliament? At least the SNP are an effective opposition.”
Aligning the glass beads needs careful consideration. There are two exceptions – the former London eye surgeon who continues to target his own people with the ruthless determination that has been a 50-year Assad family tradition and the Labour party who have mislaid their beads and do not understand the game of opposition.