Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 27.04.18

Massenbach-Letter. News

  • Carnegie: Unheard Voices: What Syrian Refugees Need to Return Home.
  • Al-Monitor: Russia rotates its Mideast diplomats.
  • Map: Balance of Power- Syria.

· Augengeradeaus: Gesprächskanal Berlin-Moskau – zwischen den Verteidigungsministerien (m. Nachtrag).

· George Friedman; War and the Asymmetry of Interests – The United States is a global power in a world filled with asymmetric interests.

  • NZZ: Die Syrien-Konferenz in Brüssel berät über zusätzliche Hilfsmöglichkeiten.
  • Al-Monitor: Trump emerges from Macron meeting ready to take on Iran in Syria
  • Endless Endgame: Whither Russia-West Confrontation?

by Elkhan Nuriyev, Russia in Global Affairs, Moscow, April 2018

  • What is going on in Yerevan?

April 18, 2018 -EPA-EFE/VAHRAM…- Mikael Zolyan – Ph.D. in History, Associate Professor, Yerevan State Linguistic University

  • The Caucasian Knot: Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of April 16-22, 2018
  • The Evolution of the Peshmerga vs. the Case of Islamic State in Iraq

April 17, 2018 – REUTERS/Ako Rasheed Marianna Charountaki – Ph.D., Lecturer in Kurdish Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester

  • A Pyrrhic Victory: the History of the Sanctions War Against Iran

April 20, 2018 – EPA-EFE/ABEDIN…Ivan Timofeev -PhD in Political Science, RIAC Director of Programs, RIAC Member, Head of "Contemporary State" program at Valdai Discussion Club, RIAC member.

  • The Ethical and Legal Issues of Artificial Intelligence

April 23, 2018 -Vostock-photo – Maksim Karliuk -Research Fellow at the HSE – Skolkovo Institute for Law and Development, National Research University Higher School of Economics.

Massenbach* Al-Monitor: Russia rotates its Mideast diplomats

lexander Efimov has been named ambassador to Syria.

Read more:

MOSCOW — Russia is replacing its ambassador to Syria. Many believe that Alexander Kinshak, 56, who has served in the Damascus post since 2014, will be appointed next month to lead Russia’s Foreign Ministry Department for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Alexander Efimov, 59, Russia’s current ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will take over as ambassador to Syria. The shift comes amid bigger swaps in the MENA department that have been taking place this year.

On March 27, MENA Department director Sergey Vershinin, 64, was appointed deputy foreign minister — a position that became vacant when Gennady Gatilov, 68, was appointed to be Russia’s permanent representative to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva. The Geneva post had been previously occupied for seven years by Alexey Borodavkin, 68, whom President Vladimir Putin appointed as ambassador to Kazakhstan in February.

Some Russian media outlets titled their reports on the coming appointment of Efimov as “Lavrov lobbies for a peace-making ambassador to Syria,” stressing Moscow’s need for a comprehensive postwar approach in its Syria policies. (Sergey Lavrov is Russia’s foreign minister.) The departing ambassador has long been a troubleshooter type of diplomat for Russia in the region. Having started his diplomatic career in 1988, from 2002-2004 Kinshak served as minister counselor of the Russian diplomatic mission to Iraq and then led the embassy in the country as charge d’affaires; Putin honored Kinshak with the Order of Courage for his service in Iraq. From 2004-2008 Kinshak served as deputy director for the MENA Department in Moscow, and then was designated back to the region as ambassador to Kuwait from 2008-2013 before moving to Syria in 2014.

As ambassador to Syria, Kinshak was instrumental in conducting Russia’s diplomatic efforts on the Syrian track, including talks with Damascus over arms supplies for Assad and Russian military facilities in Khmeimim and Tartus, as well as negotiations with Kurds and Americans. In February, he warned of an impending US attack on Syria in order to “undermine efforts on political settlement [in the country]."

“Recently, the issue of Syrian government use of chlorine and sarin in eastern Ghouta and Idlib has been spun [in the media]. Given the notorious experience of the [April 2017] Khan Sheikhoun incident, we cannot rule out that this is an effort to launch a new military attack on Syria to prop up losing militants and undermine political settlement,” he said in February.

For his distinguished service in Syria, Kinshak was honored with another state award — the Order of Honor. But as the situation on the ground has been changing, his public profile gradually decreased. His successor in Syria brings a different background and toolkit. Efimov, who started in the Foreign Ministry in 1980, also previously followed in Kinshak’s footsteps when he served as deputy director for the Foreign Ministry’s MENA Department from 2010-2013 before becoming ambassador to the UAE. From 2004-2008 he was Russia’s minister counselor in Jordan.

Efimov’s focus in Abu Dhabi was primarily on economic cooperation between Russia and the UAE and he helped establish a $7 billion joint bilateral investment fund. Thus, his experiences and contacts may come in handy now that Russia seeks regional and international funding for the restoration of Syria. Russia and Syria are also developing a road map on economic and trade cooperation to boost Syria’s economy and development in the postwar stage. All of this will require the design of multiple projects and obtaining financing for them. A shift in the ambassador’s role in Damascus from being a “war manager” (as Kinshak was seen) to being an “economic manager” (as Efimov is seen) is a move in that direction.

The shifts in the apparatus come as Russia eyes its next steps in Syria, particularly the supply of S-300 systems to create a layered air defense system. Lavrov said the decision had been triggered by the US-led strikes on Syria.

“Now, we have no moral obligations. We had the moral obligations, we had promised not to do it some 10 years ago, I think, upon the request of our known partners,” said the Russian foreign minister, alluding to his country’s agreements with Israel, the latest in 2010, when Israel asked Russia to annul an existing supply contract with Syria.

A source in the Russian Foreign Ministry who agreed to comment on the issue of diplomatic changes on condition of anonymity dismissed the idea there are bigger policy goals behind the chain of new appointments.

“It’s just technical procedure. People come, people go, no one got fired or anything, people instead got promoted, which may mean the Kremlin appreciates their performance.”

Another source with insight into the issue who spoke to Al-Monitor not for attribution said that if any policy changes involving Syria do occur, they won’t be due to new appointments within Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

“The Syria file is a prerogative of the Russian Defense Ministry, not the Foreign Ministry. It would be [Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail] Bogdanov, Vershinin, Gatilov, and [now, possibly, Kinshak] who would be important diplomatic go-tos on the Syria track but the actual policymaking wouldn’t come from them.”

Maxim A. Suchkov, Ph.D., is editor of Al-Monitor’s Russia-Mideast coverage. He is a non-resident expert at the Russian International Affairs Council and at the Valdai International Discussion Club. Formerly he was a Fulbright visiting fellow at Georgetown University (2010-11) and New York University (2015).


Al-Monitor: Trump emerges from Macron meeting ready to take on Iran in Syria

Jack Detsch – April 24, 2018

US President Donald Trump emerged from a wide-ranging meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the White House today with a new outlook on America’s role in Syria.

Instead of focusing on his oft-stated desire to quickly pull out the 2,000 US troops battling the remnants of the Islamic State (IS), Trump laid out a strategic justification for long-term US involvement in the conflict. He and Macron, he said, shared a common goal to “leave a strong and lasting footprint, and that was a very big part of our discussion.”

“As far as Syria is concerned, I would love to get out. I’d love to bring our incredible warriors back home,” Trump said at a joint press briefing with Macron after their meeting. “With that being said, Emmanuel and myself have discussed the fact that we don’t want to give Iran open season to the Mediterranean.”

The change of tone marked a significant win for the 40-year-old French president, who has used fist bumps, a military parade and an Eiffel Tower dinner to help persuade Trump to remain diplomatically and militarily active in the Middle East. Rather than rip up the Iran deal, Macron said, the United States should work with Europe to strengthen oversight of Iran’s nuclear program while keeping Tehran in check, notably in Syria.

“I’m very happy about the discussion we had together, because we raised very new issues and very new solutions together, and especially the fact that the Syrian crisis and the Syrian situation should be part of this broader picture,” Macron said.

Today’s comments alongside Macron represent a continuing evolution of the Trump administration’s public position on Syria.

Before his ouster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the United States to maintain an open-ended presence in Syria to roll back Iran’s influence and topple President Bashar al-Assad.

“US disengagement from Syria would provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria,” Tillerson said in a speech at Stanford University in January. “As we have seen from Iran’s proxy wars and public announcements, Iran seeks dominance in the Middle East,” outlining the so-called land bridge strategy that Trump alluded to today.

At a National Security Council meeting in early April, Trump’s chief military and diplomatic advisers asked the president to leave US forces in Syria to prevent insurgent IS cells from regrouping at the Iraqi border. But that same day, Trump doubled down on his calls for a quick US troop withdrawal, while urging regional powers to step up with money and troops — an exhortation he repeated today.

“To me, the main thing [Trump’s advisers] achieved seems to be getting Trump to back off the idea that the US is going to leave soon,” Amanda Sloat, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for southern Europe and eastern Mediterranean affairs, told Al-Monitor. “But it does raise the longer-term question of at what point do we draw down, and what that does to [US-backed Kurdish forces] that remain in those liberated areas.”

The US-led coalition has trained more than 11,000 Syrian Arab and Kurdish troops since the start of the counter-IS campaign in 2015. By some estimates, Iran may have as many as 125,000 proxy forces in Syria, making up much of Assad’s troop strength as the seven-year war has decimated the regime’s once formidable army.

A surge of recent US airstrikes near the border with Iraq, in addition to $1.3 billion in the Pentagon’s 2019 budget request for Iraq and Syria, could be aimed at stopping fighters, weapons and supplies from moving back and forth. Specifically, the Defense Department is asking for $290 million to help Iraq monitor its border crossings with Syria, including scanners, 1,500 border guards and other equipment. But experts say Iran primarily extends its supply lines in Syria through the air.

“The Islamic Republic’s primary supply route to Syria has been the air bridge,” said Amir Toumaj, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “On the Syria side, the US doesn’t have ground influence in certain areas that the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] has, most prominently the border town of Abu Kamal.”

France has also doubled down in supporting Kurdish fighters despite risking offending Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a NATO ally. Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, confirmed to Al-Monitor today that France has provided strike aircraft, ground artillery and trainers in Syria during the three-year campaign.

France also fired missiles from naval and air forces during US-led strikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities earlier this month.

“In the long run, we need to win peace, and make sure that Syria does not fall into any hegemony in the region,” Macron said at today’s press conference. “So to that effect, the approach which is agreed means that we can work, and work on all of the situation, the whole of the situation in the region, and with these efforts, to contain Iran in the region.”

It’s not yet clear how the United States and France could hold territory to resist Iran, beyond current American postings on the border and providing money to train Iraqi troops and put up checkpoints. In January, US Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that Iran did not possess a “land bridge” in the region, and has called for the United States to stand by the UN-backed Geneva peace talks.

Despite balking at US commitments in the Middle East, experts say the commander in chief will likely defer to the top generals and diplomats running the war unless it hurts him politically.

“President Trump does not think about Syria unless it’s going to put a crimp in his game in the 2020 elections,” said Nick Heras, a Middle East fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. “So as long as he can act like a tough guy and dodge a grenade, he’s fine.”

Jack Detsch is Al-Monitor’s Pentagon correspondent. Based in Washington, Detsch examines US-Middle East relations through the lens of the Defense Department. Detsch previously covered cybersecurity for Passcode, the Christian Science Monitor’s project on security and privacy in the Digital Age. Detsch also served as editorial assistant at The Diplomat Magazine and worked for NPR-affiliated stations in San Francisco.


From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)

  • Endless Endgame: Whither Russia-West Confrontation?

by Elkhan Nuriyev, Russia in Global Affairs, Moscow, April 2018

“….What is currently happening in West-Russia relations is not a new Cold War; it is not even a renewed East-West divide. It is a grand high-stakes geopolitical game that has been fueled by decades of mutual mistrust and competing interests of great powers.

The current international situation reminds one of a chess game in which kings, queens, and pawns are moved with an illusion of an absent opponent, neglect for his possible moves, and unawareness of potential positions of the opposing chess pieces. Yet in this game the chessboard is a very real battlefield with such hotspots challenging global security as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and other modern pivot states. The ability to see the entire battleground is therefore crucial….”

  • What is going on in Yerevan?

April 18, 2018 -EPA-EFE/VAHRAM…- Mikael Zolyan – Ph.D. in History, Associate Professor, Yerevan State Linguistic University

The events of the last few days in Yerevan seem to have come as a surprise not just to the authorities and analysts, but to many opposition supporters as well. Only a week ago, it seemed that nothing could threaten Armenia’s internal political stability, and that the upcoming transition to a parliamentary republic would run smoothly."

  • The Caucasian Knot: Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of April 16-22, 2018

Mass protests in Yerevan / Special operations against militants conducted in three regions of Southern Russia / Top-ranking officials detained in Kuban / On April 16-22, 2018, 11 persons fell victim to armed conflict in Northern Caucasus /

  • The Evolution of the Peshmerga vs. the Case of Islamic State in Iraq

April 17, 2018 – REUTERS/Ako Rasheed Marianna Charountaki – Ph.D., Lecturer in Kurdish Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester

  • A Pyrrhic Victory: the History of the Sanctions War Against Iran

April 20, 2018 – EPA-EFE/ABEDIN…Ivan Timofeev -PhD in Political Science, RIAC Director of Programs, RIAC Member, Head of "Contemporary State" program at Valdai Discussion Club, RIAC member.

  • The Ethical and Legal Issues of Artificial Intelligence

April 23, 2018 -Vostock-photo – Maksim Karliuk -Research Fellow at the HSE – Skolkovo Institute for Law and Development, National Research University Higher School of Economics.

“Ethics and law are inextricably linked in modern society, and many legal decisions arise from the interpretation of various ethical issues. Artificial intelligence adds a new dimension to these questions. Systems that use artificial intelligence technologies are becoming increasingly autonomous in terms of the complexity of the tasks they can perform, their potential impact on the world and the diminishing ability of humans to understand, predict and control their functioning. Most people underestimate the real level of automation of these systems, which have the ability to learn from their own experience and perform actions beyond the scope of those intended by their creators. This causes a number of ethical and legal difficulties that we will touch upon in this article. ..”


Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Carnegie: Unheard Voices: What Syrian Refugees Need to Return Home

  • Peace is not possible without justice!

As the Syrian regime regains territory, there have been growing calls in neighboring countries for refugees to go home.

Yet refugees have conditions for a return—conditions that political efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict have largely ignored.

To understand refugee attitudes toward return, the Carnegie Middle East Center listened to the concerns of Syrians—both male and female, young and old—struggling to build meaningful lives in Lebanon and Jordan.

What is most striking is that despite the increasingly difficult challenges they face, a majority are unwilling to go back unless a political transition can assure their safety and security, access to justice, and right of return to areas of origin.

Economic opportunity and adequate housing are important but not requirements. Above all, their attitudes make it clear that both a sustainable political settlement and a mass, voluntary return are contingent upon international peace processes that account for refugee voices.

Listening to Refugees

· Facing mounting social and economic difficulties, refugees feel trapped between host countries that do not want them and a Syria to which they cannot return.

· Refugees are pessimistic about the prospects for a Syrian peace deal. They reject any proposals that could lead to Syria’s fragmentation, oppose the idea of deescalation zones, and have no confidence in safe zones.

· The refugees’ primary conditions for return are safety and security. But they do not believe they are achievable without a political transition and have little faith that the Syria to which they aspire will soon be attainable.

· They have no confidence in the political actors involved in Syria, and most anti-regime refugees do not believe the opposition truly represents them.

· Women and young men are among those most fearful of returning to Syria. They are concerned about the lack of security and possible persecution under President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Many young men fear conscription.

· As the war drags on and conditions in their host countries worsen, an increasing number of refugees are considering resettling outside the region, particularly in Europe. However, they fear that once they leave the region, they may not be able to return.

· Essentially, the notion of a voluntary return of refugees is losing meaning. Restrictive policies in Lebanon and Jordan may force refugees to return to an unsafe environment in Syria; while the regime’s policies in Syria—on housing and property rights, military conscription, and vetting procedures—may make it difficult, if not undesirable, for them to return.

Establishing Conducive Policy Measures

· A safe and sustainable return of refugees requires a framework that acknowledges the political roots of the Syrian crisis rather than just its humanitarian dimension; concedes that peace is not possible without justice; and recognizes the right of refugees to return to their areas of origin.

· Safety and security can only be guaranteed through a political process that creates inclusive governance mechanisms; ends criminal impunity; and facilitates reintegration, demilitarization, and access to justice.

· While this process will take time given the many forces operating in Syria, efforts to prepare refugees for a return should begin now. These could include creating a cadre of Syrian lawyers and paralegals to inform refugees of their rights and help resolve the many anticipated local disputes. They could also include establishing a network of trusted community mediators.

· Reconstruction funding should not inadvertently empower the Syrian regime. Starting on a small scale in regions that are not under regime control could provide a better alternative for local rebuilding efforts.

· Any funding should also be conditional on the return of refugees to their homes and access to their property. A vetting process should be established to ensure that local entities receiving international funding have not been involved in war crimes and are not regime fronts.

· Meanwhile, the refugees’ right to a voluntary return must be respected. To encourage host countries to adopt policies that secure the basic needs of refugees, international support must include both humanitarian aid and economic investments geared toward job creation for host country nationals and refugees.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Policy Framework for Refugees in Lebanon and Jordan
3. Refugee Attitudes Toward a Return to Syria
4. Conclusion and Recommendations
5. Annex I: Project Methodology


Politics: From Vision to Action



Middle East

Augengeradeaus: Gesprächskanal Berlin-Moskau – zwischen den Verteidigungsministerien (m. Nachtrag)

T.Wiegold 17. April 2018 ·

In diesen Zeiten und erst recht nach dem westlichen Luftangriff auf Ziele in Syrien am vergangenen Wochenende sind solche Dinge doch zumindest fürs Archiv einen Merkposten wert: Es gibt weiterhin einen Gesprächskanal der Verteidigungsministerien in Deutschland und Russland. Der Leiter der Politikabteilung im Berliner Verteidigungsministerium, Geza von Geyr, traf sich mit seinem Kollegen im russischen Verteidigungsministerium.

Aus der Facebook-Mitteilung des russischen Verteidigungsministeriums:

Der Leiter der Hauptverwaltung für internationale militärische Zusammenarbeit des Ministeriums für Verteidigung der Russischen Föderation, Generalmajor Alexander Kshimovsky, kam zu Konsultationen mit dem Leiter der Politischen Abteilung des Bundesministeriums der Verteidigung, Géza Andreas von Geyr, zusammen.

Die Parteien diskutierten aktuelle Fragen der internationalen Sicherheit, einschließlich der Situation im Nahen Osten, Europa und Afghanistan, und tauschten Meinungen über die Perspektiven der Zusammenarbeit zwischen Russland und Deutschland auf der militärischen Linie aus.
Das Treffen wurde sachlich und konstruktiv geführt. Die Teilnehmer vereinbarten, die Kontakte fortzusetzen, um aktuelle Sicherheitsfragen und bilaterale Beziehungen zu diskutieren.

(Übersetzung mit Google Translate)

Nun gut, die Aussage ist hinreichend formalistisch („trafen sich in konstruktiver Atmosphäre zu Gesprächen über Themen von beiderseitigem Interesse“), aber allein die Tatsache, dass es aktuell ein solches Gespräch gibt, ist bemerkenswert. Meine nichtexistenten Russisch-Kenntnisse lassen mich leider im Dunkeln, was mit „Perspektiven der Zusammenarbeit zwischen Russland und Deutschland auf der militärischen Linie“ gemeint sein könnte – denn eine militärische Zusammenarbeit zwischen den NATO-Staaten und Russland ist meines Wissens nach wie vor ausgesetzt.

Nachtrag: Die englischsprachige Mitteilung auf der Webseite des russischen Verteidigungsministeriums fällt etwas knapper aus. Da fehlt vor allem die Aussage Die Parteien diskutierten aktuelle Fragen der internationalen Sicherheit, einschließlich der Situation im Nahen Osten, Europa und Afghanistan, statt dessen heißt es nur The parties discussed topical issues of international security.

Vom deutschen Verteidigungsministerium gab es dazu keine offizielle Stellungnahme. Wie übrigens schon bei einem ähnlichen Treffen vor einem Jahr, auch damals nach einem Luftangriff als Reaktion auf einen vermuteten Chemiewaffenangriff.

Nicht im direkten Zusammenhang, aber in der aktuellen Lage auch von Bedeutung ist diese aktuelle Meldung der russischen Nachrichtenagentur TASS:

Russian military uncovers militants’ chemicals lab in Syria’s Douma


*Massenbach’s Recommendation*

War and the Asymmetry of Interests

  • The United States is a global power in a world filled with asymmetric interests.

By George Friedman

This past weekend, I attended a re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington, the battle that started the American Revolutionary War, in Massachusetts. The pleasure of being with children and grandchildren was my primary motive. But as I watched the superb re-enactment, an obvious question came to mind: Why did the Americans defeat the British, not just at Lexington but in the war itself? The British forces were better armed and better trained, and there were potentially far more of them. On a purely military basis, the British should have won, yet they didn’t.

A phrase came to mind: asymmetry of interests. The concept of asymmetrical warfare has become commonplace in recent years. It refers to warfare in which different types of technology and tactics confront each other, like improvised explosive devices against armored brigades. Sometimes, the force with what appears to be inferior technology can compel the force with superior technology to withdraw. This is what we see in the American Revolution. We need to consider why.

For the Homeland

About 56,000 British troops were deployed at the height of the Revolutionary War, supplemented by 30,000 Hessian mercenaries in a kind of coalition. The Americans deployed about 80,000 regular and militia forces. The British forces were far better trained and, most important, had more and better artillery. The Hessians were professional soldiers. The Americans had a core of trained soldiers, but the militia troops were a mixed bag. During the war, 25,000 American troops died in battle or from disease compared to 24,000 British. The British losses were a fraction of the global British force, but for the Americans, this was 5 percent of the free white male population, according to the website Foxtrot Alpha‏.

The British forces were united. The American population was divided. A little less than half of all Americans were committed to the revolution. A fifth were loyal to the British. Thus, both sides were fighting on a terrain in which substantial parts of the population opposed them. The British drew their supplies from Britain, while the Americans had to draw their logistics from the population – with some help from the French.

When you look at the disparities, the losses and the disunity, the Americans should have lost. It is true that the final battle involved the French fleet, but the Americans stayed intact as a fighting force for eight years to reach that point. So even leaving the French out, the Americans were not defeated. And to keep fighting, the Americans had to absorb tremendous casualties without a decisive break in cohesion and morale.

They were able to do it because of the asymmetry of interests. The Americans were fighting for their homeland. Defeat would subordinate the United States to British power for a long time. They had no interests that could compete with the interest to defeat the British. The British, on the other hand, were simultaneously engaged in a struggle with France for domination of Europe and control of the oceans, a contest that would lead to global empire. For the British, the American Revolution was not a matter of indifference, but neither was its outcome decisive in determining Britain’s place in the world.

The British were prepared to deploy a substantial force in North America, but having done that, they went on with their nascent industrial revolution and their global concerns. The amount of time and casualties they could rationally devote to North America had to be seen in the context of broader interests. They could absorb casualties, but the war could not be an absolute imperative.

Absolute War

World War II is on the other end of the spectrum, a rare war in which all major powers had absolutes at stake. Britain, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union and the United States all faced, or could face, existential consequences from the war. Their interests were symmetrical. It was therefore a war in which no effort was spared by anyone to avoid defeat and attain victory. In a sense, the war, once commenced, ceased to be political. It became a purely military conflict in which anything less than total military and industrial commitment would be irrational. There was precious little political maneuvering once the war got fully underway in 1941.

For many Americans, the WWII model, which I will call “absolute war,” ought to be the model for fighting all wars. Instead, none of the U.S. wars since WWII have been absolute. As a result, since that time the U.S. has been unable to decisively defeat enemies that are militarily inferior. Korea resulted in stalemate. Vietnam resulted in stalemate, withdrawal and the defeat of America’s Vietnamese allies. The wars against jihadists have not resulted in a decisive, positive outcome for the United States. The only conflict since WWII in which the U.S. achieved its strategic goal was Desert Storm, where the Iraqi army was defeated in Kuwait. Many blame strategy or insufficient public support or a host of other reasons for this.

There might be truth to all these reasons, but I think the fundamental reason was an asymmetry of interest between opposing forces. Consider Vietnam. Vietnam was on the periphery of American strategic interest. The U.S. was less concerned with Vietnam than with the consequences in the region and elsewhere if North Vietnam were to unite the country under communism. Those consequences were hypothetical – even if they occurred, they might not undermine U.S. interests substantially. On the other side, the North Vietnamese were fighting for fundamental national imperatives, chief among them the unification of Vietnam under the ideological and political control of Hanoi. From this, they might control all of Indochina and emerge as a major regional power able to counterbalance China.

In other words, the outcome of the wars in Vietnam – French and American – went to the heart of the North Vietnamese national interest. The wars from the French and American points of view were not insignificant but were still on the margins of national imperatives. The unification of Vietnam under a communist regime was essential to North Vietnam. Blocking North Vietnam’s ambitions was of interest to the United States, but not an absolute imperative. It was part of a mosaic of interests.

The British were not prepared to devote all the resources they had to fighting American rebels. Doing so would have been irrational. Even defeat at the hands of the heavily committed Americans was more palatable than throwing their fleet into battle with the French at that time and place. For the British, there was nothing absolute in North America. It was a political war, not an absolute one. The same has been true of the United States in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, only one of these wars was won, while over time, the imperative that led to war dissipated.

When Great Powers ‘Lose’

In a democratic society, sacrificing lives without an absolute commitment to victory is unsavory. All of the wars since World War II have left a bad taste in the mouths of Americans. Sacrificing lives for tactical advantage, rather than for the direct defense of the homeland, is unpalatable. Sacrificing them for tactical advantage that is abandoned over time is worse. Absolute war is moral; political war designed to bring temporary advantage has the air of immorality.

In watching the re-enactment of Lexington, I could imagine British planners thinking, “We can’t abandon North America, but we can’t ignore the French, and the French are more important.” They must have spent many hours being briefed on the French and far less on the Americans. In due course, since the Americans were prepared to die far out of proportion to the interests of the British, their notional helicopters lifted off their notional embassies and left with their global power surging in spite of defeat.

Great powers have multiple interests, and not all interests are the same. That means a global power is prepared to initiate and withdraw from wars without victory, for tactical and political advantage. Over time, paying the cost of the war becomes irrational. Great powers can “lose” wars in this sense and still see their power surge. Fighting in a war in which your country’s interest is not absolute, and therefore the lives of soldiers are not absolute, is difficult for a democracy to do. In most of the world, the great power will encounter an asymmetry of interest. Those who live there care far more about the outcome of the war than the great power does. And so, the great power withdraws from Syria when the price becomes higher than the prize. Given the string of defeats, it is expected that the great power is in decline. Like Britain after its defeat in North America, it is not in decline. It has simply moved on to more pressing interests.


NZZ: Die Syrien-Konferenz in Brüssel berät über zusätzliche Hilfsmöglichkeiten. Ziel der Konferenz am Mittwoch ist vor allem, Unterstützung für die notleidende Zivilbevölkerung im Bürgerkriegsland Syrien zu organisieren. Zudem soll am Rande auch darüber diskutiert werden, wie die Bemühungen um eine friedliche Lösung des Syrien-Konflikts gefördert werden können.Sieben Antworten zur aktuellen Lage in Syrien (read more att.)



see our letter on:

*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*


04-25-18 NZZ_Syrien_ Antworten zum Vorgehen der USA im Syrien-Krieg.pdf

04-24-18 Carnegie_Yahya_UnheardVoices-What Syrian Refugees Need to Return Home.pdf

04-24-18 Artificial Intelligence – Russia_Iran, Armenia, Pershmerga.pdf