Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The New Conservative Party Leader Is...

As leadership races go, the race to replace Stephen Harper has been a very low key affair - with a few exceptions. It is a peculiar mix of back room types, previous ministers and even a flashy billionaire for good measure. There has been some very controversial, bordering on out right racist comments made by a number of the front runners - which have marred the race with a distasteful brush. Comments like "Canadian values" tests, bans based on race, and the list goes on. Comments that do not belong in Canadian society let alone a race to lead one of Canada's two contending political parties. A disgraceful race to the guttural bottom.

There is Bernier from Quebec who was sprinkled with pixy dust way back by then Prime Minister Mulroney. Carefully groomed through the ranks, Bernier was seen as a Quebec star apparent until he left confidential national security notes in his Hells Angels girlfriend's bedroom. He was demoted out of Cabinet for that "little mishap", placed in a very quiet place, and kept out of the lime light so he could be brought back at a time like this. Aside from his major mistakes, Bernier is a non-starter outside Quebec. Look to Bernier as a king maker for an Ontario-based contender.

Then there is Kevin O'Leary, the out spoken and somewhat detested billionaire who has made a public career out of running people into the ground - not exactly appealing. Apart from his corrosive personality, O'Leary brings a jump to the race as he does his best to impersonate Donald Trump - for better or worse. The truth is by the time the next Canadian election will be held, the already notorious Trump will be viewed in a much dimmer light. Hardly the role model to lead your party into an election in Canada. For that reason, and that reason alone O'Leary should be ruled out.

The person I initially thought would have the best shot at leadership was Kellie Leitch. Well educated, and well known in Conservative circles, Leitch has all the connections to get her to the top. However, and it always struck me odd, the unwritten rules really forbid a backroom-type from running for the front room, yet that is exactly what Leitch is doing. Even more odd, even bizarre, is her choice of the "Canadian values" flag as her standard. She has really caused herself some significant brand damage with that position - the kind of damage that sticks and never goes away.

Which brings me to the best choice for a brand new leader - Erin O'Toole. O'Toole is an experienced politician. He took the absolutely poisoned Department of Veterans Affairs over from Julian Fantino - a man who managed  to completely isolate the Conservatives military vote. In reality, O'Toole's rescue of Veterans Affairs shows he can take a severely damaged brand, and turn things around completely. That is the true test of a good politician and leader. O'Toole is also from Ontario, where the Conservatives need to win big. He is unassuming, down to earth, friendly, but also serious. He inspires trust - a key necessity for the Conservatives. He is also the perfect contrast to Trudeau. He is not flash and dash with no substance. It cannot be emphasized enough that the perfect foil to Trudeau's terrible performance will be key in the next election.

Now having stated that Erin O'Toole should be the next leader of the Conservative Party, I wonder if the Party itself can see the forest for the trees. Will it be another case of a pre-set leadership race, with  pre-planned alliances giving us the all too predictable result - as has been the case in the past? Will Bernier cross the floor to Leitch to crown her, and she in turn make him her Quebec lieutenant? Or could it be visa versa? Time will tell, but the Conservatives need to make the right decision this time. No Harper like candidate (read Leitch or O'Leary). No Quebec-first candidate (read Bernier). No Mr. Nice Guy but no substance candidate (like the ex-Speaker). What they need is a reasonable and trustable person, who has a good record in government with no associated negative baggage. That bill fits Erin O'Toole perfectly. If the Conservative Party of Canada has learned anything, the next Conservative Party leader will be Erin O'Toole.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Syria is for Syrians

You could be excused for thinking the world has taken a madness pill, and jumped off the deep end. Whether it is the schizophrenic American political scene, the deep and divisive European internal political battles, the Middle East in turmoil, or the fact that the stock markets continue on as if nothing is happening, the place has lost the plot. Speaking of lost the plot, this post focuses on the almost unbelievable actions of foreign nations in Syria, and what may well come next.

Let's start with the rules. The Laws of Wars encompassed within the Convention of the Hague, 1907, specifically defines how a war amongst nations must be declared:

"Article 1

The Contracting Powers recognize that hostilities between themselves must not commence without previous and explicit warning, in the form either of reasoned declaration of war or of an ultimatum with conditional declaration of war."

The United States and Turkey signed this Convention. Ironically, Syria did not. Now Syria is the victim of hostilities perpetuated upon it by two countries who have solemnly sworn not to do so. All the rest flows from this. When the Syrian "uprising" began it was people on the streets - unarmed people. They didn't have small arms, artillery, tanks, or anti-aircraft weapons. Where did all that come from? They didn't have bank accounts with hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a 4 year long conventional war against their own government. Where did that come from? It came from the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia - that's where.

Having abandoned the very basic convention of declaring a war on Syria, there was no reason to believe that the rest of the war would be any different. No rules. No holds barred. The law of the jungle where might is right seeped into the country of Syria. Hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered in the name of ... regime change. That's really what it boils down to. The Russians and Iranians want to keep a strategic ally in the region, and the Americans, Turks and Saudis want them gone. Let's not disgrace the name of democracy and liberty by suggesting the war in Syria has a thing to do with those tenants of freedom.

So where are we going from here in Syria? The map below will tell you where we are now:

As you can see, the blue area in the top to middle part of this picture is the area of Northern Syria controlled by Turkey after it invaded with armed militia supporters. The yellow areas are controlled by essentially the Kurds (backed with armed Americans). The green areas are controlled by the Syrian, Russian, and Iranian forces. Several things come to mind. Firstly, the Kurds are quite divided in the territories they hold. To the west they hold large parts of northern Aleppo. To the east they hold the areas around Manbij. In between them the Turks hold the area around Al-Bab. What makes things tricky for the Kurds is they cannot unite their territories in the east and west without engaging Turkish forces, which would give Turkish President Erdogan the excuse he needs to go full in with large military forces. So, realistically, the Kurds have no hope of holding the area of Northern Aleppo.

They also have no realistic hope of holding their territories on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River centered on Manbij. As I write this, Syrian and Russian forces are making big advances shown as pink on the map. (see operational map below) They are pushing to and reaching the Euphrates River to  the southern flank of the Kurds Manjib beach head. It is now only a matter of time before the Kurds will have to withdraw from the Manbij area to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. Here their position is far more defensible from the Syrian army, and to a lesser extent the Turkish Army.

That makes the Euphrates River the new dividing line in the battle for Syria - the divide between the Kurds/Americans and everyone else. There is, however, a weak link in that line of defence - Deir al- Zour. This city and nearby airbase is controlled by the Syrian army, and is located to the south of Al- Raqqa (the ISIS self declared capital on the Euphrates. This map gives you a good idea of the area and the cities involved:

Deir al- Zour bridges the Euphrates and leaves any Kurdish partition of  North Eastern Syria highly vulnerable. In fact, it makes such a complete partition almost impossible to defend. Currently, the Kurds and Americans are concentrating their forces on the battle to retake Al-Raqqa. They have it surrounded on three sides with its back to the Euphrates. The US has just deployed 2200 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, and 1000 reservists to Kuwait in preparation for the final battle of Al-Raqqa. They have also deployed air mobile artillery, and the 400 troops that go with it, directly to the Al-Raqqa front. As of this morning the Americans and Kurds were within 50 km of the northern gates to Al-Raqqa. It may be a grind, but ISIS has no hope of winning that battle. Al-Raqqa will be laid to waste by American artillery and air strikes.

What comes then? Well, if the American and Kurdish intention is to create a Kurdish territory out of North eastern Syria, which this writer considers a foregone conclusion, then a battle for Dier-al-Zour will be next. It is a strategic must to seal a gaping hole in the Euphrates River defence concept. That will involve the Americans and Kurds attacking the Syrian and Russian military located there. A dangerous proposition indeed.

It has always been the case, since the ISIS advance was halted on the door steps of Bagdad, that the real danger of foreign powers throwing international law to the wind would play itself out once their common menace had been eliminated. We are almost at that point now. Mosul is essentially finished for ISIS. Al-Raqqa is surrounded. It's like the final weeks of Nazi Germany for ISIS right now. What unfolded after Nazi Germany fell was the iron curtain, the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War. Will that happen in Syria? Will the Americans put the brakes on and hold the Kurds to the eastern banks of the Euphrates? Will the Syrians and Russians be prepared to allow that to happen while they turn their attention toward the areas around Damascus and Ibdib that still require action to rid them of Islamic and Turkmen militias? Would that be a fatal move for Syria? And what of Turkey? Would it be prepared to allow a new Kurdish region to be added to the autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Iraq? That would leave just the South Eastern area of Turkey for the Kurds to capture and form their treasured vision of a united Kurdistan - one that already has the implicit and military backing of the United States.

The most plausible scenario, given the pragmatic chess strategy of Russian President Putin, is that the Syrians take the western bank of the Euphrates, and the Kurds/Americans take the Eastern bank - for now. Then the Russians and Syrians will turn their focus to the pockets of resistance in North Western Syria, and isolated pockets around Damascus and their border with Lebanon (Hezbollah and Iran likely playing a predominant role there). It seems Putin is willing to forestall any one-on-one confrontation with the US until after his rearmament program is finished - around 2020. In the mean time he is in the defensive mode, as is clearly demonstrated in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The problem with his strategy, as can be quite clearly seen in the Ukraine conflict, is that it gives the Americans time to establish positions in the area, and reinforce/bolster the local military. Now, instead of Russia taking on an isolated Ukrainian military of 50,000 it faces an unofficially NATO aligned country with over 200,000 troops. The same scenario is almost certainly going to play out in the Kurdish territories. In some ways, if you're Putin, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The real lesson in all of this is that abandoning the rules of order for expediency can never be sanctioned, and that to see it any other way is to invite chaos to the orderly conduct of societies around the world. It has to be said, because it is patently obvious, that the Americans hold the full responsibility for chaos that their cavalier actions have created in the world. They have changed the term "national interest" into the all encompassing "national right". They have claimed the world as their own with no right to do so. An unfortunate, but predictable consequence of the fall of the Soviet Union. A living case of power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. They have perverted the "peace dividend" that was so greatly lauded when the Berlin Wall fell into a "we'll take what we want when we want dividend", and in doing so turned the world against them. It is the Americans who were not invited into Syria to help fight ISIS. Just as it was the Americans that fanned the flames of the civil unrest in Syria to begin with, and it was the Americans, in conjunction with the Saudis, that financed it.

The only solution for Syria is that Syrians decide what their country will be. To demand otherwise is to place yourself in a type of arrogance not befitting the average person. Always remember it is not righteous people who start wars, it is the self-righteous. The ones that place their beliefs above all others and enforce them over all others. Recent history has shown that the Americans will not allow the Syrians to decide the future of their country, and that is a terrible indictment upon them. It is also a terrible indictment against the rest of us that we allow this type of "God syndrome" to have a place in the civilized  world we claim ours to be. In that way, Syria today is a reflection on all of us - our greed, our arrogance, our uncaring hypocrisy. The very same traits that have their roots in all our conflicts of the past. It shows that despite all our achievements as a species, when all that is stripped away, we continue to act as though we still carry clubs and dwell in caves. That's the really sad part of it all.