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The West Comforts Itself: Russia Is Winning in Syria But Only Because It's Evil

The National Interest: 'Authoritarian' Russia is winning in Syria, but only because it's using 'brutal' methods that 'democratic' US would never contemplate

  • So it must have been the Russians who were seen doing all that nasty stuff in Iraq 2003-2011 ??

You've got to hand it to western pundits. They're always find a way to show how west is nonetheless superior to Russia. If it's not more able it's at least more moral. 

Fact is Uncle Sam, with its $500 billion per annum military budget, can not remember when it last won a war. Yet here swoops in Putin into Syria, involving himself into what was previously seen as a never ending war and six months later, even western officials and the mainstream media are having to admit he has had a lot of success in changing things around.

So here's a problem for the west; if US lost in Iraq and Afghanistan and only made things worse in Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, how come Russia - a newcomer to the game of Middle East interventionism - is then actually accomplishing its war aims in Syria? 

And here comes the winning answer: Russia is winning because it is less moral than the West and can employ methods that are more brutal and effective. See The National Interest which first laments that fighting guerrillas is hard to do (when you're a shining democracy like the good ole, respectable US of A): 

In stark contrast with President Obama’s much-maligned policy of gradual escalation, Putin’s “scorched-earth tactics” in Syria have brought Washington face-to-face with a disturbing realization: coopting hearts and minds may be less effective than bombing them to oblivion. 


Conventional wisdom holds that democracies are better positioned than authoritarian regimes to combat insurgencies. Broadly speaking, when democracies conduct counterinsurgency they subordinate killing bad guys to winning over the hearts and minds of the local populace, thereby depriving the insurgents of their base of support. 

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General David Petraeus and his fellow COINdinistas brought this population-centric, “clear-hold-build” rationale to America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dramatically shifting the focus away from the use of conventional military force. The rest is history.

But says it's something that's far easier when you're "authoritarian":

The authoritarian approach to counterinsurgency, in contrast, is best characterized by one key tool—repression. Modern history is littered with case studies illustrating authoritarian COIN’s dominant characteristic. 


Granted, there is by no means academic consensus on the utility of violence in COIN, but it is clear that authoritarians bear certain advantages. Authoritarians employ repressive measures on a vast scale.

Traditionally, authoritarians will torture, deport, murder and arbitrarily imprison insurgents, their supporters and anyone unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire.

Such tactics, in many cases, succeed in coercing the insurgents’ supporters into submission, ultimately draining the insurgency of popular and logistical support. That, or they simply cripple the insurgents’ military capability directly.

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Unconstrained by democratic pillars like accountability and transparency, authoritarian counterinsurgents complement the use of extreme and indiscriminate violence with tight control over information and shrewd propaganda.

Authoritarians care little for the hearts and minds of an insurgent-ridden population. Instead, they exploit humanity’s baser instincts, stoking fear and hatred to mobilize a chauvinistic domestic majority against a vulnerable, disaffected minority. The power of the “terrorist” label knows few bounds.

The authoritarian counterinsurgent needn’t fret over narrowly defined exit strategies or restrictive rules of engagement.

Russkies of course are "authoritarians":

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A cursory look at Moscow’s Syrian intervention suggests the Kremlin is channeling elements of authoritarian COIN to great effect.


Russia’s tactics in Syria may strike observers as mindlessly brutal, but they are not without strategic logic. Brutal, yes; mindless, no.

There you go, after Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, normalization of torture, black sites, renditions, white phosphorus, depleted uranium, checkpoint killings, midnight raids, Fallujah birth defects, 500.000 Iraqis perished under UN sanctions and at least 150.000 killed by US arms directly, it was really the niceness of the United States which prevented it from scoring a victory in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The incredible attention paid by the US to hearts and minds of occupied populations prevented ruthless "counter-insurgency" tactics which may well have been successful. It did not prevent the sacking and poisoning of Fallujah, dishing out of collective punishment by shutting off utilities, rules of engagement that had US troops killing Iraqis for carrying a shovel or being seen using a cell phone, for driving too close to US occupation patrols, or not stopping far enough before a checkpoint. It did not prevent them from carrying a decade-long occupation of a foreign country where they were unwelcome by super-majorities of the population or presiding over and profiting from a widescale sectarian civil war they did much to trigger.

However, Russia on the other hand is a ruthless authoritarian country which can, and does, freely employ brutal methods, which explains its Syria success. That's somewhat curious given that its Syria "counter-insurgency" force consists of just 50 military aircraft. (Compared to America's 150,000 Iraq occupation force.) How many war crimes can such a force accomplish?  

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According to the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the Russian military is so far responsible for about 1,000 civilian deaths in Syria. If true that's a gruesome figure but it's far, far less than US' butcher bill in the Middle East.  Somehow then the The National Interest's explanation of Russia's greater brutality fails as an explanation of its relative success.

How about this for an alternative hypothesis: the highly moral and decent (if you wish) US failed to achieve its war goals in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria because in those countries it represented a foreign invasion and occupation. The dictatorial and brutal (if you wish) Russia on the contrary is acting in Syria to counteract the worst of a foreign jihadi-Saudi-Turkish-American invasion and hostile and destabilizing interference. 

US attempted to exercise mastery over Iraqis in their own country. Russia is merely helping Syrians remain masters in their own  that's the difference.

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