Tuesday 16 February 2016

Serbia/Syria - The Parallels Are Frightening.

Two Shots Heard Round The World: Gavrilo Princip's assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, was the necessary provocation that allowed the Entente powers to set in motion the General European War that they - and Serbia - had been planning for more than a decade. In Syria, today, there are frighteningly strong parallels with the Great Power intrigues and transformative territorial ambitions that led to the outbreak of war in 1914.
SYRIA HAS BECOME the Serbia of the early Twenty-First Century. In the early years of the Twentieth Century, Serbia was Europe’s tinder-box. All the major powers understood the risk Serbia posed, but each of them had too much at stake in the Balkans to hazard bringing the criminal Belgrade regime to heel. The same can be said of Syria. The major powers all have a great deal to lose by ending the Syrian civil war and restoring peace to the Middle East.
What this means, however, is that the seething rivalries fuelling the Syrian civil war could, at any moment, draw the major powers into a military confrontation – with profound consequences for the whole world. Just as Britain, France and Russia knew that Serbia could very easily be made the pretext for a war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, the United States and its key Middle Eastern allies know that Syria could very easily be turned into a shooting war against the Russian Federation and Iran.
The fatal flaw in the great powers’ relationship with Serbia in the early Twentieth Century was that Serbia had geopolitical aspirations that could only be satisfied by a general European War. The Serbian dream was to become the leader of a new South Slav (Yugoslav) kingdom carved out of the Balkan provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That was never going to happen while Austria-Hungary endured. Serbia wanted – Serbia needed – a general European war.
In Syria, the raging fratricidal battles are being driven by two, mutually exclusive, geopolitical and religious visions of the region’s future.
For Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s beleaguered President, the best outcome of the civil war would be the creation of a Shia Islam alliance extending all the way from Syria’s Mediterranean coast, through Iraq, to Iran’s borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
For Syria’s Sunni majority, the ultimate goal is the creation of a Sunni Islam alliance embracing Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
The success of either of these arrangements would fundamentally derange the geopolitics of the Middle East. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the two leading nuclear powers, the USA and the Russian Federation, both have planes in the air and (some) boots on the ground in Syria.
Tipping The Scales: The intrusion of Russian air power in support of President Bashar al-Assad's government has dramatically upset military calculations across the Middle East.
President Vladimir Putin would dearly love to have a friendly Shia confederation stretching protectively along the Russian Federation’s southern flank. That the increasingly erratic regime of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would find itself squeezed between the two (and, quite possibly, a newly created independent Kurdish state) only adds to the attractiveness of this outcome.
For President Barack Obama, the situation is a great deal murkier. Washington’s unshakeable alliance with the State of Israel leaves it in something of a quandary. Jerusalem already lives in existential fear of an assertive (i.e. nuclear-capable) Iran. It’s reaction to an Iran-dominated Shia confederation stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean can only be imagined! But a vertical alliance of Takfiri-driven Sunni states, stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea, would, if anything, be worse! How long could it be before nuclear-armed Pakistan applied to join this incipient Caliphate?
Russia’s much clearer set of objectives is reflected in its much clearer foreign and military policies in the Middle East. It’s straightforward goal is to keep Bashar al-Assad in power and destroy the Turks’ and the Saudis’ Takfiri proxies – which include the Al Qaeda aligned al-Nusra Front as well as the murderous Islamic State. [The Takfiris are Muslims who claim the right to brand as apostate, and make war upon, every Muslim who, according to the Takfiris’ radically literal interpretation of the Quran, is guilty of deviating from the “true” path of the Prophet.]
So far, the Russians and their Syrian Government allies are doing pretty well. Thanks largely to Russia’s fighter-bombers, the strategic rebel stronghold of Aleppo is on the point of falling to Assad’s army.
To the Turks and the Saudis, the fall of Aleppo would be a disaster. Not only would the rebels’ crucial supply lines to Turkey be severed, but the road to the Islamic State’s Syrian “capital”, Raqqa, would lie open. But, as Ankara and Riyadh both know, the moment the “moderate” rebels and the Islamic State are defeated, the Syrian civil war is over. And if that happens, there will be nothing to prevent the extension of Iranian power all the way to the Syrian coast.
Hence the Saudi-Arabian Crown Prince’s excited talk about sending tens-of-thousands of ground troops to Syria via Turkey, ostensibly to destroy Islamic State, but actually to establish a “buffer zone” along Turkey’s southern border with Syria. Russia has warned that any such breach of international law will be answered with military force.
On Sunday, Turkish artillery began shelling Kurdish positions across the Syrian border.
The parallels with Serbia in 1914 are frightening.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 16 February 2016.


Anonymous said...

It is American foreign policy in the Middle East that is the problem in Syria.

The Americans believe that their policy of regime change is the correct one, they went into Iraq and fucked that country, they went into Afghanistan and fucked that country, thay helped to overthrow Gadaffi in Libya and fucked that country, they went into Syria with armed rebels and fucked that country.

We have Daesh and millions of refugees because of American foreign policy, the leaders of politics in America are bastards, dirty low life bastards who should be charged with War crimes.

They will not be because they are Americans but they should be.

Mark Hubbard said...

Cheers for this Chris.

I've struggled with the geo-religious-political issues in the Syrian conflict and this puts it into a nice framework to work from.

Wayne Mapp said...


Haven't you rather overstated the aspirations of the respective parties.

For instance Assad's ambitions are satisfied by simply regaining control of the fractured state of Syria, they do't really extend beyond that That also satisfies Russia.

I agree that the US objectives are more muddled. While they are clearly against ISIS, the rest of their objectives are much less clear - do they even know what they are?

Israel likes Assad being the ruler of the whole of Syria (though not the Golan Heights). To them he is predictable. Every other option is potentially worse. For Israel, Syria is a bit like Egypt; "better the devil you know."

So Syria is not like Serbia of 1914. The Syrian regime does not need a global readjustment to achieve its goals, at least as I have stated the Syrian goals. Therefore the current conflict has much less potential to suck the great powers into a global vortex.

Whatever your views about the US and Russia having nuclear weapons, I think it is pretty undeniable that they result in both parties going to extraordinary lengths to avoid direct military confrontation. And that is pretty clear in respect of Syria.

The Russians bomb the opponents of Assad. The US bombs ISIS. And notably unlike Russia seemingly are able to do so without causing massive civilian casualties, the reason being the US has much better targeting and much more precise weapons. The Russians technology (that is hardly any precisely guided weapons) seems to be no more advanced than that used by the USAF in Vietnam.

Both countries are taking great care to ensure their aircraft do not get into conflict situations with each other, which they can do because they have fundamentally different war aims, which of itself reduces the prospect of conflict between the two of them.

Nick J said...

The only hope for us is if MAD (mutually assured destruction) is still in vogue in both Washington and Moscow. A ground war might quickly escalate to this.

The US through its proxy EU / NATO (now including Poland and the Baltic states) and via standard regime changing process (Ukraine) has pushed far too close to the Russian frontier which can only have one response. This deliberate provocation is very worrying, one can only assume that the Americans know that:
* they are well past peak oil and understand that the tar sands and fracking were a giant waste of resources, money and energy.
* that the Saudi reserves are truly overstated and in sharp decline.
* that the largest producer of oil with good EROEI (energy returned on energy invested)is now Russia.

Rest assured that the USA would avoid the Middle East like the plague if there were no oil there. The sooner oil runs out and the West leaves that region to mend its own problems the better.

Now that the worlds biggest oil and gas supplier is Russia both the Chinese and Americans want access to it (not to mention European interest) the issue escalates. The US wants regime change in Russia, in fact they would like the place to implode and run it like they have Saudi etc. The Chinese wont want that because they have trade and supply arrangements with a friendly Moscow. That is what the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation is about. The American centric TPPA and the "Asia Pivot" strategy aims to lock China in, and to project US imperial economic and military prerogatives respectively (yes Kiwis the TPPA is not about trade, its an imperial geopolitical play).

Now that the US has to import oil and it has de-industrialised (mainly to China who have masses of $US on hand) the empire despite huge military superiority may be incapable of pursuing a war on a global scale. One option is nuclear, lets hope they are not stupid enough to test it out.

Oh did I mention, despite the lack of fanfare in the western media, the world economy is in free fall. Both the Chinese exchange and Wall St are crashing, have a look at the graphs. War has always been a welcome distraction.

We have a problem. This may be the moment the Chinese stand up and represent sense. One can only hope.

Charles E said...

What an odd view of the world you have Nick. Where do you get your views from? Blogs?
These are my contrary views which you will think of as odd in return I presume, but I bet experts in international politics & economics are more likely to agree with them, as that is where they largely come from:

The world is awash with oil and it will never run out, but it will be and is being replaced. There is not only more of it about than ever, we need less of it every year. Peak oil? Bullshit. Peak demand? Past.
The US is oil sufficient if it wants to be but need not be with such cheap supplies available from many competing sources. It is using less and will continue to do so as electric cars and gas turbine trucks take over there;
But they have no desire to see the ME really explode as it could as that would drag them in further since they have allies there, and close by especially Turkey.
Russia is in a desperate financial state with such a drop in oil prices and Saudi flooding the market so yes they have greater interests in the ME now than any outsider except Turkey. They would like a war to drag in Saudi to raise the price of oil but they also have a lot to fear from terrorism in their back yard and at home. So if they go in deeper then their citizens will blame that on Putin should terrorism result as would be very likely.
There is a risk of war between Russia and Turkey but because the latter is in Nato this makes it very unlikely, which proves the benefit of Nato.
Russia's ego has suffered greatly from the collapse of its Soviet Empire and that makes them dangerous but they have very few allies anyone else would want so they are likely to put up and shut up in the long run, because they are broke and have huge internal problems with rank corruption, and social problems like drug and alcohol abuse; They will not collapse but sooner or later the oligarchs will remove Putin who has been a disaster politically externally and financially internally;
China has exploited Russia's weakness with a cheap gas deal and will be delighted with low oil prices so their pretended friendliness with Russia is just that, a pretence. Further decline of Russian power and economy favour their desire for commodities. But they too have huge internal problems keeping the lid on their growing middle classes' desire for more political freedom while also keeping the money flowing to them and their 600m poor; China risks & fears turmoil more than anything so their external focus is always subject to keeping things ticking over internally. With a decline in growth they may have peaked as a financial power already as Japan did over 20 years ago.
Meanwhile the US has good growth, cheaper energy and extraordinary technology so they are sitting pretty. Their cheap energy plus tech are a huge boon so their industrial output of high value product has gone up rapidly. Stock markets have been hit by the decline in China, but they have had years of huge rises so it is not surprising and will mean little in the long run. In fact it is good news for smart investors. These are not Chinese (they have no idea) and certainly not Russians (they don't invest).
Yet US politics are bizarre currently so they risk a lot if they replace the current sensible President with one of the many idiots currently putting their hands up. (I'm sure you'll agree with the latter point at least!)

greywarbler said...

Interesting Chris. I hope I can watch it on the tele at a safe distance and preferably made in Hollywood. As for Nick J you seem to be just giving the facts and have a good grasp of them. I have yet to read Mr Mapp's which will follow a reliable refrain no doubt.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" that the Saudi reserves are truly overstated and in sharp decline.
* that the largest producer of oil with good EROEI (energy returned on energy invested)is now Russia."

Hmmmm. Too simplistic. Venezuela's oil sand reserves for instance are much more readily available than Canada's, and can be accessed using relatively conventional methods. Therefore we should maybe count them as the world's largest – marginally.

But there are other countries with proven accessible oil reserves more than Russia's

Russia however does have the world's largest natural gas reserves.

Some estimates claim that there is a shitload of Saudi oil yet undiscovered. That is, the US geological survey. I presume that's a reasonably reliable source?

US oil imports have increased slightly, but only because fracking oil is comparatively expensive at the moment. However American companies are finding cheaper ways to do this and are staying remarkably competitive, something I find a little surprising.

So if any country is still capable of pursuing a war on a global scale and I'm not quite sure what that means in this context, it is the US.

And I'm pretty sure that the US presence in the Middle East is a little more complicated than securing oil supplies. I don't know enough about it to be certain, but I'm pretty sure it's not all about the oil.

Nick J said...

The reluctance you mention of Russian and US forces to get into direct conflict can only be a good thing.

From a real warfare viewpoint I suggest that your confidence in US technological superiority is misplaced. I listened to Tariff Ali describe the Iraq war that accurate weapons seemingly won so many years since. His sources told him the US was not prepared for an immediate post war uprising against occupation but there it was happening. The Iraqi army realised that the accuracy and power of US weaponry was too much to take head on so slipped away to fight asymmetrically. They are still in the field fighting the world's most powerful accurate army. Shades of Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Another challenge to US technology was the USS Donald Cook incident during the Crimea crisis. A Russian jet buzzed the ship whilst jamming the latest greatest radar air defense system. The ship turned tail defenseless. Google it. Sometimes technology is easily disabled or outsmarted. Nobody gets a monopoly for long.

Robert M said...

Wayne Mapp to me you seem totally deluded. After all as Minister of Defence you accepted communist disarmer Heather Roy as your deputy and froze the Navy's fuel supply in a senseless way. The Russians in Syria have demonstrated that much of their supposed cold war capability is real. Calibre has shown the Club 54 and Sislers will hit with merciless accuracy. Even Hyman Rickover believed in the late 1980s that the USN carriers would last about 2 days at sea and possibly a week if they were in port. In the later stage of the Cold War the American build up was fairly austere, I mean the New Jersey and F-16 and F-18s were a lightweight joke compared with Mig 29 or a SU 34. The total real time interception of USN and strategic communications gave them until 1985 when the Walker brothers spies were rounded up, gave them a wartime winning advantage, the strategic triad being irrelevant only the Minuteman being effective the SSBNs being only an ultimate doomsday weapon to be used much later, if somebody thinks that is the end. Gorbachev was a minor agricultural official not part of the Soviet intelligence and military system who was essentially tricked by a few minor plays by John Lehman and Thatcher and the Soviet military having lost their certain war wining advantage were prepared to go to ground for 25 years. However unlike Beatty , the US lacked the sense to demand the destruction of the equivalent of the Bayen and the Deflinger and the Slava, Peter the Great battlecruisers, Akulas and Sierra with their Mach 4-8 200 km range ten channel AA capability. The United States warships are equally ancient with subsonic missiles like Tomahawk and Harpoon and very ordinary crews of untalented ordinary men, up against the last true bloodline navy. As Solytinetskyn said the only great thing in the USSR is the Navy and its not the Soviet Navy and its the Russian Navy. In WW1 the fight between the German and Russian Armies was a very close run thing and WW2 the best SS and German Army soldiers were smashed by Rossilinsky and Zurkov between 5-7 December 1941 with the Germans losing a million of their best troops.

Andrew Nichols said...

Like you I see some hideous parallels.
to totally eliminate any rival for Israel. 2. Providing the corridor for an oil/gas pipeline from the Gulf to the Med - eliminating the Russian supply for Europe.

Lots of arms (newly minted stuff via the Gulf and smuggled stuff from Libya, training and political support for the insurgents who annoyingly dont seem very western friendly at all. Franticly seeking a Free Syrian Army/moderate rebel group to support but in the mean time make up for it by pretending Al Quaeda in Aleppo are actually the nice moderates worthy of support. Hypocritical Exceptionalist bastards as usual

Israel wants Syria eliminated as a the supporter of Hezbollah that defeated Israel the last time it invaded Lebanon. Fixes wounded jihadis and shells bomb Syrians for them as long as the former dont attack the Golan Heights. Fewer Israeli air raids since the Syrians got Russian missiles that can do nasty things to Kfir fighters.

Saudis/Gulf theocrats want to kill shias and replace their govts with medievalist outfits like theirs. Their insurgents ISIS Al Quaeda and wannabe jihadi foreigners were doing a great job until the Russians showed up. Totally evil lot

The Turks or rather the Erdogan gang old style expansionists and keen to kill Kurds. For these reasons and the money to be made from ISIS oil working with the Saudis. Much evidence indicates Turks responsible for the False Flag Ghouta chem weapons incident materials and may actually be the real destroyers of the Aleppo hospitals and schools (given their current missile launching spree) Serious problem for the US and its foreign legion because of the NATO Pact obligations where they might attack the Russians in an attempt to get Uncle Sam involved. Unstable crooks

The Kurds - Seeking every opportunity to carve out the Kurdistan they have deserved but never got since the end of WW1 when it was seen as more important to divvy up the oilfields and holiday resorts between the Frogs and Poms (and set aside a chunk of Palestine for Herzogs Zionist weirdos.)

The Russians - reacting once more. Longterm allies of the Syrians since Soviet days Three aims 1. Protecting their Med base at Tartus. 2. Dealing to a whole bunch of insurgents who if successful in Syria will turn their sights on Russias moslem republics 3. Sticking it to Uncle Sam.
Clobbering insurgency with the Syrians. First up Al Quaeda in Alepp, cutting off the Turkish supply routes to that and the latters ISIS Erdogan Corp Oil Jihadi ISIS corridor. Have largely achieved the first goal Now also racing to Raqqa to beat the Saudis/US etc to waste ISIS and establish the facts on the ground for Assads govt. Showing up the nonexistent US/western bombing of ISIS. Focussed Nasty, brutish and effective and for all that with Iran the only foreign nation fighting there in accordance with International Law.

Syria and Assad are the last vestige of the secular socialist style dictatorships. Bashar Assad a reluctant leader after his older bro the heir to the brutal John Cleese lookalike Hafez got killed. At the end of their tether till the Russians arrived before which they were retreating fast and dropping bombs made of explosives in drums of fuel (crude analogues versions of the US Daisy Cutter) from elderly helicopters ie the "barrel bombs" so often wittered on about in pompous John Kerry Phil Hammond press releases

The Iranians - looking after an ally in the existential scrap started with gusto by the Sunnis. Playing the long game. If Uncle Sam didnt have his head up his arse wrt the lunatics in Tel Aviv and Riyadh, the Iranians would be a far more natural and rational ally.

Our mainstream media doing what they have always done in all of our senseless wars - cheerfully following the Establishment line no matter how lacking in evidence.

Yep Chris Sure looks like a good recipe for WW3.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting take.

Patricia said...

Doesn't Russia have access to the Mediterranean through the Dardanelles with a naval base on Syria's Mediterranean border? Now what would happen if the USA got Turkey to close the Dardanelles and acheived regime change in Syria. Probably WWW111.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Wayne Mapp

First, I'm curious to know where your ideas on Russian military technology come from. My reading (and even my casual viewing of the RT channel!) suggests that Russian capability in aircraft, missile, artillery and anti-aircraft technology is state-of-the-art. Do, please, share your references.

Second. Assad cannot simply limit his aspirations to regaining control of his country. Not with the incipient Saudi-Turkish alliance placing him between a rock and a hard place. A greater-Shia alliance, with Iran at its heart, is essential if the pressures from Sunni Islam (not forgetting that 70 percent of Syrians are Sunni Muslims) are to be withstood.

The creation of a Kurdish buffer-state would also serve Syria's interests by interposing an implacable enemy between itself and its Turkish enemies.

Third. Historically, Syria and Serbia have a great deal in common. Both have become the focus of foreign policy and military agendas of such radical geopolitical intent that a single, well-planned provocation, or even a simple accident, could precipitate a military confrontation into which most of the Great Powers are drawn.

Turkey, in particular, would love to use the situation in Syria to draw Nato into a full-scale assault on the Assad regime - something the Russians would be bound to resist. The parallels with the way the French used the Serbs to trigger a Balkan crisis, into which their Russian ally could be drawn, thus igniting the long-sought-for war of revenge against Germany, are striking.

Nick J said...

Charles, my sources are many and varied, no one holds a monopoly on the "truth". These people think they do, and they agree with me about who is the number one producer. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2241rank.html

Of course oil is not renewable, here is from the good old US Christian Science Monitor http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2014/0714/How-long-will-world-s-oil-reserves-last-53-years-says-BP

Guerilla, suggest that you take a little bit more in-depth look at "peak oil", despite the world appearing flush with cheap oil it requires far greater analysis. Production got a huge boost through non traditional extraction methods. Fracking and tar sands represented a bubble, they are arbitrages of other energy. Unless cheap energy is available to extract from tar sands etc it is not worth doing. Similarly fracked gas was trumpeted as a 40 year window, most bores folded in 24 months. Of course there were financial market shenanigans going on, all pretty fast and lose with reality.

Suggest you start with the BP annual production survey, the US Geological Survey are reliable but only in as much as they can report what they are told. There is massive conjecture over the reality of the "figures" for Middle East reserves. The validity of Russian reserves is in less dispute and they represent new and hard to exploit fields. The old Baku fields have gone the same way as Texas.

On US reserves I trust Hubbert. His prediction in 1956 that U.S.oil production would peak in about 1970 and decline thereafter was scoffed at then but his analysis has since proved to be remarkably accurate. The USA are even with non traditional extraction methods a bulk importer of energy, which may be bad for their ability to fight a long war.

Suggest if you really want to get to the bottom of the oil / financial nexus a good person to listen to is Nicole Foss of www.theautomaticearth.com. One thing is for sure the mainstream sites wont tell you the whole truth.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I somehow think it's more the fact that the Russians don't really give a shit about civilian casualties rather than the state of their equipment, though it's probably not quite as cutting-edge as the US. There are a bit more brazen with their denials, and if you look at their record in Afghanistan.....

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Robert, you gotta stop making these grand general statements. The Mig 29 is not rubbish compared to the F-18, and even the F-16s stand a chance if it's not a close fight. That particular early Mig 29 does not carry enough fuel to be useful, and its avionics are crap compared to the US ones. Mig 29s have been shot down by US planes without corresponding losses in just about every theatre they've fought in. Mostly they never see who shot them down. In a dogfight, yes it's brilliant, but these days it doesn't very often get to that.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Wayne, I'm surprised you have the nerve to comment these days, considering your assertions about Afghanistan and Iraq, which were shown to be rubbish a little while after you proposed them. :)

Andrew Nichols said...

that a single, well-planned provocation. Such as bombing a string of hospitals and schools?

Simon Cohen said...

Chris,I am confused by your statement:
"The parallels with the way the French used the Serbs to trigger a Balkan crisis, into which their Russian ally could be drawn, thus igniting the long-sought-for war of revenge against Germany, are striking."
Bearing in mind the fact that I have degrees in history that relate to the causes of World War 1 in the Balkans and the Middle East I have no knowledge of any evidence that the French used the Serbs to trigger a Balkan crisis into which their Russian ally could be drawn.Could you please cite your sources for this.
I however have no doubt that the Serbs precipitated a crisis with Austria Hungary secure in the knowledge that they would be supported by the Russian but where the French come into all of this is a mystery to me.

Wayne Mapp said...

Dealing with specifically with the weapons being used.

Yes, Russia has smart weapons, but judging by what they are doing in Syria they apparently do not have that many. Intensive air operations can use up such weapons at a high rate. It is not obvious that over recent years that the Russians have been adding enough of such weapons to their inventory. I suspect that many of the weapons being used date back to the pre Cold war era, which is why there are not that many of them. In the first Gulf War 90% of US airstrikes used "dumb" weapons. By the time of the Iraq war 90% were smart weapons. But Russia has not spent anything like the US changing its weapons inventory from "dumb" to "smart". The virtual continuous war that Us has been involved in since 2001 has meant US weapons inventories are extremely modern, that is all the old weapons have been used up.

The photos of the Russian aircraft in Syria often show "unguided "dumb" bombs on the aircraft, rather than guided weapons and missiles. This has been noted by many observers.

The use of unguided bombs also explains the relative inaccuracy of many of the strikes, and why they are of such a volume. Precise weapons mean far fewer strikes.

I also wonder if the Russians would have enough forward observers (JTAC's in Western parlance) actually directing the strikes. However, this implies that enough guided weapons are available. A JTAC typically marks the target with a laser beam. The guided weapon then follows the beam to the target. This can also be done by airborne laser designators marking the target. However, a lot of the Russian planes do not seem to be carrying designator pods.

greywarbler said...

Reading Anderew Nichols racy cover of Syria and surrounds, the geopolitical whatsit of it all, and history repeating itself I can't help thinking that if an area was studied in its totality, with educational tutoring as in this blog, the secondary students would get a real and vital understanding of the place. Just knowing the amount of oil drilled each year, or the supposed reserves, the names of the leaders, and the major religious and political hegemony doesn't seem half as compelling.

A good project would be for the class to set itself up as a committee handling this explosive mixture, and look for ways to defuse the situations, and who could ally themselves with whom, to get what result.

Unfortunately it could never go ahead because the pupils might come up with something too close to reality which arouses questions as to prior knowledge. That it was an obvious possibility to outsiders would never be recognised by the myopic in-group of advisors. I remember the 1960s tv series Mogul which became The Troubleshooters, where the writers had a group do something such as blow up an oil installation, and whatever they wrote was so close to reality that it was impossible to screen it because of likely suspicions of complicity or leaked plans.

Bushbaptist said...

Andrew Nichols is quite right. Search for the Wolfowitz Doctrine.

"General Wesley Clark … said the aim of this plot [to “destroy the governments in … Iraq, … Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran”] was this: “They wanted us to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control.” He then recounted a conversation he had had ten years earlier with Paul Wolfowitz — back in 1991 — in which the then-number-3-Pentagon-official, after criticizing Bush 41 for not toppling Saddam, told Clark: “But one thing we did learn [from the Persian Gulf War] is that we can use our military in the region – in the Middle East – and the Soviets won’t stop us. And we’ve got about 5 or 10 years to clean up those old Soviet regimes – Syria, Iran [sic], Iraq – before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us.” Clark said he was shocked by Wolfowitz’s desires because, as Clark put it: “the purpose of the military is to start wars and change governments? It’s not to deter conflicts?”"

From here:

Chris Trotter said...

To: Simon Cohen.

I would recommend Chris Clark's "The Sleepwalkers". He assembles all the evidence, but, most frustratingly, declines to draw the obvious conclusions. (Probably because suggesting Entente culpability in the outbreak of the First World War is a career-threatening proposition in the academic world.)

But simply ask yourself, after reading Clark's book, the same sort of questions a Police detective might ask if presented with the bloody corpse of Europe. Who had the motive? Who had the means? Who had the opportunity?

You might also like to check all the prime suspects' alibis. Where, for example, was the French President in the week leading up to the Russian mobilisation (the act which made war inevitable)? Hmmm, he was in Russia. Why do you suppose he was in Russia? To make sure the Tsar didn't do anything rash? Or, to make sure that he did?

Nick J said...

For the benefit of Charles E, and any others who are deluded by the current contentions that:
* the US is energy self sufficient.
* that peak oil is not a current issue because we seem to be awash in cheap fuel.

Please read http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.co.nz/ Wednesday 10 Feb. Greer sums up the fraudulent nature of these contentions better than myself.

Those of you who do not believe that the major power interest in the Middle East is driven primarily by the need to control energy supplies, might wish to reflect upon constant major power involvement in the regions conflicts. Venezuela as well has oil and has not escaped imperial entanglements, now that Russia has the major proven reserves conflict there also becomes inevitable. Chris' diagnosis of what could trigger war is plausible in the extreme, larger forces are driving this.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hmmmm.... I also did a paper on the causes of World War I, but so many years ago probably way out of date. So I won't comment on the actual conclusion. And I will say this: If it's career threatening, the odds are it's not correct. It takes a lot to threaten an academic's career, obviously depending on where teach. But controversial theories didn't prevent members of the Communist Party Historian's Group for instance, from having careers. And there are other controversial theories about this that and the other around. David Irving did lose what career he had, but his conclusions were so obviously and provably incorrect that he deserved to. As a couple of good books about his trial by the way. He was defended by at least one well-respected (albeit right-wing) military historian up to and during the trial as I remember. I may be a bit naive, but I still – mostly – believe in the self-correcting nature of science. But I'm also aware of Sayre's law :)

Simon Cohen said...

The French President Poincare and the French Foreign Minister Vivani were in Russia for a State Visit from July 20th to the 23rd.They travelled there by sea.This state visit was announced in May 1914.France and Russia were allies and this was a visit intended to reaffirm
their alliance.
On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo.
At 6:00 pm on July 23 Austria issued its ultimatum to Serbia.
On July 28 Austria Hungary declared war on Serbia.
On July 30 Russia orders general mobilization of troops.
You seem to be suggesting that the French could predict the future by scheduling a state visit in May to coincide with the crisis in July.And despite what you say it is well documented that in the week leading up to Russian mobilisation the French were at sea and then back in Paris.It is also well documented that Poincare did not learn of the Austrian ultimatum until he had left Russia and was at sea.
And to say that Russian mobilisation was the act that made war inevitable is treating events in isolation.Did not the Austrian mobilisation make war inevitable.Or the Austrian ultimatum.The answer is of course that they were all steps on the road to Armageddon.
And Chris I have read "The Sleepwalkers".It is an excellent work.I have also read the Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947 and Kaiser Wilhelm II two other excellent works by Clark.He is an extremely qualified historian as one would expect of The Regius Professor of History at Cambridge.
For you to say:"He assembles all the evidence, but, most frustratingly, declines to draw the obvious conclusions. (Probably because suggesting Entente culpability in the outbreak of the First World War is a career-threatening proposition in the academic world".is an interesting comment on how you see your credentials as a historian compared to him.Perhaps it is because what are the obvious conclusions according to you were not obvious to him.
You might also like to read "The Origins of the First World War
by Ruth Henig for another interesting viewpoint by a leading historian.

Chris Trotter said...

Well, Simon, I am intrigued that you read Clark's description of Poincare's visit and emerged from the experience unaffected. St Petersburg was positively salivating at the prospect of coming to grips with the Central Powers. What's more, you know as well as I do that it wasn't the timing of Poincare's visit that was crucial, but the use he made of it. He firmed up the Russian "war party" and sailed for Paris confident that the conflict he had wanted for so long was now a virtual certainty.

Austria-Hungary, having had their Heir-Apparent murdered by assassins organised and equipped by the Serbian Secret Police, had every right to issue its ultimatum. There was no ethical reason for the Russians to mobilise in defence of a terrorist state. War between Austria-Hungary and Serbia could have remained a localised conflict - just like the preceding Balkan wars. By ordering a full-scale Russian mobilisation, Tsar Nicholas II made a general European war inevitable.

Victor said...

A good piece, Chris.

But there's a couple of points over which I demur.

You write; 'For Syria’s Sunni majority, the ultimate goal is the creation of a Sunni Islam alliance embracing Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.'

Most Syrian Sunnis are non-combatants. Their chief concern, as far as I can make out, is to keep themselves and their families alive and safe in the face of multiple threats, most immediately from the Ba’athist/Iranian/Hezbollah/ Russian alliance, but also from Sunni extremists, Western interventionists and Kurdish-speaking fellow Sunnis.

You also write: 'But, as Ankara and Riyadh both know, the moment the “moderate” rebels and the Islamic State are defeated, the Syrian civil war is over.'

But , no, it wouldn't be over. It would just be the end of the current round of fighting, just as occurred in the immediate aftermath of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the former Soviet Union's own Afghan adventure. Sooner or later, the Sunnis would recover and, then, fighting, in some shape or form, would resume.

I normally appreciate your extended historical analogies and agree with you that there are some worrying parallels twixt the murderous morass in Syria and the circumstances that precipitated World War One.

But, as quite a few commentators have pointed out, a closer parallel is with the Thirty Years War, in 17th century Germany.

This atrocious conflict was also characterised by a deep religious schism, intense inter-communal paranoia, the curse of "non-state actors", starvation, pandemic, societal breakdown and the recurrent but rarely decisive interventions of outside powers. And, ultimately, it was ended at least as much by by exhaustion as by any other factor, with Germany's population reduced by between twenty-five and forty percent.

I find this parallel as shocking and sobering as it is apt.

Anonymous said...

What an appalling and disgusting account of ww1. Targeting the Serbian nation which suffered the most during the Great War at the hands of the Germanic race is pathetic at best. Next you'll be telling us those peaceful Germans were provoked in creating nazism and genocide by the Russians as well. One common theme throughout out the conflicts of the modern era is Anglo Saxon imperialism just look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya etc etc. You're playing the same game as those extinct haspurgs did and that is that they meddle and play games with the little guy with impunity. Think again.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The fact that Serbia suffered greatly in World War I does not mean that they are entirely innocent. After all, Germany and Japan suffered greatly in World War II.

peteswriteplace said...

A shooting war between Russia and America would achieve what? Absolutely nothing. Russia is not the USSR.

Victor said...

peter petterson

I'm not sure what, other than Mutual Assured Destruction, would have been achieved by a war between the US and the USSR.

Let's hope the two countries' current leaders are at least as sensible as Kennedy and Krushchev, if not Nixon and Brezhnev.