The Rapidly Approaching Apocalypse

The Rapidly Approaching Apocalypse


Terrorist deaths so far this month indicate at least 700 will die from this violence this month. The terrorist violence in Iraq has been steadily increasing since the Americans left in 2011. In the first six months of this year over 3,000 were killed. That’s far from the 2007 carnage, where over 3,000 a month died, but it is still a big jump from only a year ago. If the current death rate continues, this year will suffer about a third of the losses inflicted during the worst years of the terror attacks (2006-7). What is likely to prevent that is growing anger among the Shia majority and the increased activity by Shia terror groups and their death squads that simply kill any Sunnis they can find. The Shia terrorists can usually find the Shia run security forces willing to look the other way. Terror attacks on Sunnis are increasing. The Shia militias were defeated by Iraqi security forces in 2008, and officially went into semi-retirement as part of the deal that got most Sunnis to stop supporting the Sunni terrorists. But in the last few years thousands of these Shia gunmen have come out of retirement. First they were used to add additional security to Shia neighborhoods that were being hit by Sunni terrorists. This would usually work because the Sunni terrorists scouted potential targets and if the security was too tight and incorruptible, they would go elsewhere. In addition, Iran has been offering good pay to go off and support the Assad government in Syria and over 2,000 Iraqi Shia have gone in the last year. This has slowed the revival of the old (2005-8) Shia death squads. Sunni terrorists are also heading for Syria to join the rebels. What many nations in the region fear is that the Sunni/Shia violence in Syria and Iraq will merge and trigger a larger Sunni/Shia war involving Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This is a worst case that gets less implausible with each passing month.

Iraqis are frustrated with their inability to end the centuries old violence between Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, and Kurds (who are mainly Sunnis but that doesn’t matter). Until 1918, when Turkish rule ended, the Sunni minority was supreme because the Turks were Sunni. Any Shia or Kurdish resistance was quickly and brutally suppressed. When the British took over from the Turks after 1918, they used the existing Sunni Arab dominated bureaucracy to run things. The current government, dominated by Shia politicians, is accused of trying to establish a Shia dictatorship that would be no better than the Sunni dictatorship established in the 1950s, when Sunni soldiers murdered the royal family and shut down the parliament of the constitutional monarchy that had existed from 1932-58. The constitutional monarchy was an imperfect democracy, but in hindsight it was better than the decades of Sunni Arab corruption and violence that followed. The British established monarchies in Jordan as well, and that worked out despite the fractious minorities there. But in Iraq the Sunni radicals were not satisfied with compromise and that led to decades of violence. There is no end in sight, even though the current Shia government, and the Shia majority it represents, is capable to destroying the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq. That is where this is headed, and neighboring Sunni nations (especially Saudi Arabia) are not (as the Iraqi Sunnis hope) going to invade to prevent the destruction of the Sunni Arab minority. Some Sunni Arab politicians recognize this danger, but they do not have enough support among the Sunni Arab population to turn off the Sunni Arab terrorism (which is the only thing that will stop the coming backlash).

The Syrian civil war has spilled over into western Iraq during the last year. This area (Anbar province) is mostly desert, sparsely populated (1.5 million), and mostly Sunni. Think of it as the northernmost part of the Bedouin desert area, which Saudi Arabia occupies most of to the south. Saudi Arabia is the Bedouin heartland and the Anbar tribesmen feel a religious and cultural kinship with the Saudis. During the centuries of Sunni Arabs dominating the Shia majority in Baghdad and to the south, the Anbar Sunnis did not get along with the Baghdadi Sunnis because the latter considered themselves as superior (by virtue of education, wealth, and power) to the mangy nomads and small farmers of Anbar. But in the last decade of Saddam’s rule, the Baghdadi Sunnis made peace with their fellow Sunnis in Anbar, the better to defeat increasing Shia unrest and rebellion. The Anbar Sunnis now see themselves as the champions of Sunni Arab resistance against the hated and despised Shia. In response to this, some 20,000 Iraqi soldiers moved to the 600 kilometer long Syrian border two months ago and began attacking Sunni terrorists and blocking their movement across the border. The main objective of this operation was to halt support for Syrian rebels by Iraqi Sunni and to keep the road to Syria open for Iranian supply convoys (for Syrian government forces and pro-government militias). The Iraqi troops are attacking known Sunni terrorist and smuggler bases along the border.

The Sunnis on both sides of the border are fighting back but these Sunnis are also fighting each other. Since Saddam fell the Sunni Arabs have always been divided into Islamic radical and Sunni nationalist factions. The Islamic radicals (best typified by al Qaeda) want a religious dictatorship, while the Sunni nationalists want a more secular Sunni dominated government (like Saddam’s). This rivalry has proved disastrous for the Sunni cause. In Iraq, the Sunni Nationalists turned on the Sunni Islamic radicals in 2007, fearing that all Sunnis would be killed or driven out of Iraq and that led to the collapse of the Sunni terror campaign. This had begun in 2004, as Saddam’s “Plan B” (in the event his government was overthrown, as it was in 2003). The terror campaign was to eventually put the Sunni Arabs back in power, but the brutality of the Sunni Islamic terrorists (deliberately killing Shia women and children in large numbers) turned most public opinion in the Moslem world against the Sunni terror campaign. The Sunni Nationalists wanted to concentrate their attacks on Shia security forces and politicians, but the Sunni Islamic terror groups just wanted to kill as many Shia as possible. This was in part because Sunni Islamic terrorists consider Shia heretics, who must be killed. In Syria the Sunni Islamic terrorists are repeating the mistakes made in Iraq by trying to impose their strict lifestyle rules and deliberately slaughtering civilians. This is causing a growing number of clashes with their allies, the Sunni nationalists (who want to replace the current Shia dictatorship with a Sunni dominated democracy).

Iraq’s main problem remains corruption and the inability to find or keep in office honest and efficient leaders. This can best be seen by the inability to increase oil production. Iraq has 150,000 million barrels of oil in the ground. Since Saddam was deposed in 2003, production has risen from one million to three million barrels a day. The government gets most its revenue from oil income, which is currently over $80 billion a year (from the exported oil). Iraqis pay no income taxes because of this, but that makes the oil fields all the more important. While GDP is $130 billion, it would be a third of that without oil. Some 95 percent of the $80 billion annual government budget comes from oil profits. But the rampant and seemingly uncontrollable corruption means that little of that oil income goes to improving roads and other infrastructure, not to mention security and all the other things you need to expand oil production. Corrupt politicians steal most of the oil income and are not very trustworthy when it comes to making business arrangements with foreign firms needed to increase oil production. Despite all the oil wealth, a quarter of the 33 million Iraqis are still very poor and unemployment is over ten percent. Many Iraqis admit the corruption is the core problem, but no one has been able to get a critical mass of cooperation needed to get most of the corrupt practices out of government and business.

July 19, 2013: North of Baghdad a bomb went off in a Sunni mosque, killing twenty and wounding at least 40.

July 13, 2013: On the Syrian border police intercepted a vehicle carrying Syrian Sunni rebels. A gun battle ensued that left one policeman and two Syrians dead. The Syrian rebels escaped back into Syria. This was one of those rare instances where Iraqi police or soldiers intercepted Sunni gunmen (Syrian or Iraqi) crossing the border (away from the official crossings).

July 11, 2013: In Anbar Islamic terrorists celebrated the start of Ramadan by making at least a dozen attacks on security forces in the last 48 hours, leaving 16 dead.

July 10, 2013: Iraq is refusing to accept Iraqis who entered Holland illegally and were ordered by Dutch courts to be sent home. Iraq demanded $10,000 per person to take them back, and the Dutch would not go that high, at least not yet.

Syria war widens Shi’ite rift between clergy in Iraq and Iran


Syria war widens rift between Shi’ite clergy in Iraq, Iran



NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) – The civil war in Syria is widening a rift between top Shi’ite Muslim clergy in Iraq and Iran who have taken opposing stands on whether or not to send followers into combat on President Bashar al-Assad’s side.


Competition for leadership of the Shi’ite community has intensified since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein, empowering majority Shi’ites through the ballot box and restoring the Iraqi holy city of Najaf to prominence.


In Iran’s holy city of Qom, senior Shi’ite clerics, or Marjiiya, have issued fatwas (edicts) enjoining their followers to fight in Syria, where mainly Sunni rebels are fighting to overthrow Assad, whose Alawite sect derives from Shi’ite Islam.


Shi’ite militant leaders fighting in Syria and those in charge of recruitment in Iraq say the number of volunteers has increased significantly since the fatwas were pronounced.


Tehran, Assad’s staunchest defender in the region, has drawn on other Shi’ite allies, including Lebanese militia Hezbollah.


Hezbollah’s open intervention earlier this year hardened the sectarian tone of a conflict that grew out of a peaceful street uprising against four decades of Assad family rule, and shifted the battlefield tide in the Syrian government’s favour.


The Syrian war has polarised Sunnis and Shi’ites across the Middle East – but has also spotlighted divisions within each of Islam’s two main denominations, putting Qom and Najaf at odds and complicating intra-Shi’ite relations in Iraq.


In Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who commands unswerving loyalty from most Iraqi Shi’ites and many more worldwide, has refused to sanction fighting in a war he views as political rather than religious.


Despite Sistani’s stance, some of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite political parties and militia, who swear allegiance to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have answered his call to arms and sent their disciples into battle in Syria.


“Those who went to fight in Syria are disobedient,” said a senior Shi’ite cleric who runs the office of one of the top four Marjiya in Najaf.




The split is rooted in a fundamental difference of opinion over the nature and scope of clerical authority.


Najaf Marjiiya see the role of the cleric in public affairs as limited, whereas in Iran, the cleric is the Supreme Leader and holds ultimate spiritual and political authority in the “Velayet e-Faqih” system (“guardianship of the jurist”).


“The tension between the two Marjiiya already existed a long time ago, but now it has an impact on the Iraqi position towards the Syria crisis,” a senior Shi’ite cleric with links to Marjiiya in Najaf said on condition of anonymity.


“If both Marjiiya had a unified position (toward Syria), we would witness a position of (Iraqi) government support for the Syrian regime”.


The Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad says it takes no sides in the civil war, but the flow of Iraqi militiamen across the border into Syria has compromised that official position.


Khamenei and his faithful in Iraq and Iran regard Syria as a important link in a “Shi’ite Crescent” stretching from Tehran to Beirut through Baghdad and Damascus, according to senior clerics and politicians.


Answering a question posted on his website by one of his followers regarding the legitimacy of fighting in Syria, senior Iraq Shi’ite cleric Kadhim al-Haeari, who is based in Iran, described fighting in Syria as a “duty” to defend Islam.


Militants say that around 50 Iraqi Shi’ites fly to Damascus every week to fight, often alongside Assad’s troops, or to protect the Sayyida Zeinab shrine on the outskirts of the capital, an especially sacred place for Shi’ites.


“I am following my Marjiiya. My spiritual leader has said fighting in Syria is a legitimate duty. I do not pay attention to what others say,” said Ali, a former Mehdi army militant who was packing his bag to travel from Iraq to Syria.


“No one has the right to stop me. I am defending my religion, my Imam’s daughter Sayyida Zeinab’s shrine.”


A high-ranking Shi’ite cleric who runs the office of one of the four top Marjiiya in Najaf said the protection of Shi’ite shrines in Syria was used as a pretext by Iran to galvanise Shi’ites into action.




In the 10 years since Saddam’s fall, Iran’s influence in Iraq has grown and it has sought to gain a foothold in Najaf in particular.


Senior Iranian clerics have opened offices in Najaf, as well as non-governmental organisations, charities and cultural institutions, most of which are funded directly by Marjiiya in Iran, or the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, local officials said.


The Iranian flag flies over a two-storey building in an upscale neighbourhood of Najaf, which houses the “Imam Khomeini Institution”, named after the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.


The Imam Khomeini Institution is one of many Iranian entities that have engaged in social activities in Iraq, focusing on young men, helping them get married, and paying regular stipends to widows, orphans and students of religion.


Some institutions also support young clerics and fund free trips for university students to visit Shi’ite shrines in Iran, including a formal visit to Khamenei’s office in Tehran, Shi’ite politicians with knowledge of the activities say.


“We have a big project in Iraq aimed at spreading the principles of Velayet e-Faqih and the young are our target,” a high-ranking Shi’ite leader who works under Khamenei’s auspices said on condition of anonymity.


“We are not looking to establish an Islamic State in Iraq, but at least we want to create revolutionary entities that would be ready to fight to save the Shi’ite project”.


(Editing by Isabel Coles and Mark Heinrich)

The Serious Insanity of the US Senate, With Republican Liars Pushing Poison As A Cure

[Professional Neocon Liars like McCain, Levin, Bush and Cheney like to strut about in the clothes of “senior statesmen,” while they preen each other in bizarre homosexual rituals, pretending that they can see into the future.  Their favorite tactic is to warn us of the dangers that will arise from “inaction.”  If we fail to jump out of our skins every time some creep like McCain or Levin struggles to frighten us into running, then, God forbid, the war might actually end.  Every single neocon has been dedicated to causing thermonuclear war in the Middle East since chief neocon creeps like Richard Perle and Douglas Feith wrote the “clean break” script for Netanyahu.  This has always been the neoconservative intention, to use American power to make the Middle East safe for Israeli expansion.  American traitors like McCain and Levin have deceived the American people into opening the gates of hell at the direction of Benjamin Netanyahu and that little piece of shit which he runs from the middle of the Middle Eastern “shit-storm.”  


Now these same lying Senators, who were key players in getting the world into this mess, are warning us of the dangers of trying to close their doorway into the abyss.  They mean to so destabilize the Middle East that the situation can only be brought under control, or pacified, through the “limited use” of nuclear weapons.  McCain and Levin are both lying their lawyerly asses off, so that the Zionist state can use their “ambiguous” nuclear weapons on their unambiguous neighbors.

In the same manner as the American traitors, the Saudis and the other terrified Arab dictators are making the destruction of millions of their own Arab citizens possible by the anti-Semitic Israelis, out of fear for their own thick, callous hides.  The Jews are driving the Muslim leaders mad by playing upon their greatest fear, the fear of irrelevancy or being relegated to the dustbin of obscurity.  Fear that the Shiites of Iran will dominate their Sunni brethren, if left to the course that history has planned for them, drives the various Middle Eastern “royals” to do the unthinkable—make Jewish dominance inevitable, as a fate preferrable to being dominated by Shiites.  Every Sunni believer in the will of Allah must be made aware of the treachery that their leaders have planned for them, before they are forced into exchanging their Qurans for Torahs.]

The Serious Flaws in the Argument for Syrian Intervention

the American Conservative

Sens. Carl Levin and Angus King make their pitch for intervention in Syria, and they issue the usual warnings of what “inaction” will mean:

Assad’s survival, with support from Iran and Hezbollah, would surely strengthen them, to our great detriment [bold mine-DL]. If Assad breaches the international consensus against the use of chemical weapons without repercussions, the United States — and every other nation — will be less secure.

These are common claims in pro-intervention arguments, but it can’t be emphasized enough that neither of them makes any sense. Assad’s survival won’t mean that Iran and Hizbullah have been strengthened, but only that they have not suffered an even larger reversal. If Assad survives, he will be in a much weaker position than he was two years ago, and his allies will be worse off than they once were. I don’t share the hawkish obsession with limiting Iranian influence, but it’s hard to see how this is to our detriment, much less “our great detriment.” If the positions were reversed, no one would claim that the U.S. had been strengthened by propping up a client government in the face of a major rebellion. The fact that the client ruler had merely survived the rebellion wouldn’t be taken as proof that the U.S. position was improving. This would be seen as an ongoing drain of American resources, and the client relationship itself would probably start to be perceived as being more trouble than it was worth.

Any use of chemical weapons is atrocious, but it’s far from clear that the U.S. and other states have been made less secure by the reported use of these weapons by regime forces in Syria. What would make many other nations less secure is the regime’s loss of control of its chemical arsenal, and that becomes more likely if the U.S. follows Levin and King’s recommendations and provides weapons to the rebels and starts bombing Syria. If the concern is to reduce the chances that terrorist organizations acquire chemical weapons, Levin and King’s proposed policy would do just the opposite. Since they specifically rule out ground forces in Syria under any circumstances, they aren’t proposing that the U.S. secure these weapons. The claim that their proposal has something to do with securing the U.S. and other countries against chemical weapons use falls apart under the least scrutiny.

The stability argument may be the least persuasive part of the pro-intervention case. Direct U.S. military action in a foreign conflict typically has destabilizing effects on the country in question and on its neighbors. Bombing targets in Syria will add to the civilian death toll, and it will cause people to flee from those areas that are coming under attack, which would further add to the numbers of the internally displaced and refugees. This would not lessen regional instability caused by the conflict, but would in all likelihood exacerbate it. If the U.S. is concerned most of all with the stability of Syria’s neighbors, it would be a terrible mistake to do what Levin and King recommend.

Civil wars within civil wars

At least since the Dulles brothers in the 1950s, as Secretary of  State and head of the CIA, we have entered into civil wars in Iran and  other parts of the Muslim Middle East.  We have reaped the whirlwind. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan are with nuclear weapons, and now the damned fools want to enter the Syrian civil war. Are we not yet able to recall Vietnam? Is there no collective memory?

This old man remembers what happened when economic sanctions were placed upon Japan in the 1930s. When Japan could not get oil any other way, they launched their fleet and their planes for Pearl Harbor. We left them dismal choices. I was at the United Nations in Geneva when we did the same thing to Iraq in the first Gulf War. Economic sanctions always hurt the  wrong people. I spoke out against this at the United Nations.

And this madness is a civil war within a civil war. Islam is in a hundreds-of-years’ civil war, now. It will go on for hundreds of years yet. We in the West, led by four hundred years of venal popes and a failing feudalism, launched four hundred years of the Crusades. It was a savage war against Islam, killing thousands of Jews and fellow Christians, before slaughtering the Muslims throughout the Middle East, from the 10th through the 14th centuries. We in the West barely had time to go home, remount new horses, and again slaughter Muslim, Christian, and Jew.

We then went through this madness in the Wars of  Religion in Europe, for 130 years, before the Treaties of Westphaiia and  Utrecht, in the 17th and 18th centuries, ended this self-slaughter, for a while. After that, secular nation-states emerged, praise be to God. Only Turkey, in all these millions of people in the Middle East, has so opted. We are warring against tribes, people, not really nation-states. Most of the Middle East was simply drawn on a map by an Englishwoman following the insanity of the First World War, in 1918. These lines made no sense then and they make even less sense now.

We have thousands of times overkill with our own nuclear weapons. We are among the most warlike nations on the planet. We may teach democracy best by example. See today’s headlines, any day, about how our democratic republic is spied upon by our own government. George Bush set this last wave of insanity in play. But presidents before him, and now Obama, continue the beat. We must live peacefully and democratically, not in a war state, a police state, or in a state of war against an idea (terrorism) instead of a particular state for a limited time, with Congress providing the metes and bounds for the president.

And Congress cannot constitutionally delegate a plenary right, which the war power certainly is, to the president, like craven cowards. Present legislation presently does exactly that: “There, Mr. President, you take the army and go make war on whomever you choose.” Except for attack on the United States, Congress alone has the power to decide for war. A perpetual state of war is the way to sure destruction, with the only question being which year will see our obliteration, nuclear war would bring. The war powers of Congress. and the president don’t authorize Armageddon,

As we move on in this direction, all the historians of earlier times tell us exactly what will happen: Like Rome, we now dominate the  world. And like Rome, we are dangerously close to triggering our own destruction. The former Soviet Union also self-destructed, in Afghanistan, where the Brits and many others were all defeated. We will be too. Beginning next year, we will  bring our troops back home. And within a very short while, Afghanistan will be just like it was before. This is so because Afghanistan is in Afghanistan. This geographic fact determines most things. When we leave, just like the Vietnamese, and the Iraqis, and the Pakistanis with nuclear weapons, where the CIA has been waging its dirty little  war for two decades, tribal life, and wars, will continue, time out of mind.

Ed Firmage is the Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law, emeritus and the author, with Francis Wormuth, of “To Chain the Dog of War: the War Power of Congress in History and Law,” published by the University of Illinois Press, and many other books and articles on war and nuclear weaponry.

U.S. military should stay out of Syria


Today I heard the most disturbing news as of late. It appears the United States is preparing for military involvement in the conflict of Syria. I cannot support such actions of using our military in this conflict.

While I certainly recognize that Assad is not a good man based on the evidence I have seen, and believe he should not be in power, I do not believe it is the role of the United States to overthrow him.  And, I certainly cannot condone aiding in several of the rebel factions due to their extremist involvement, including Al Qaeda.

The factions currently fighting Assad’s regime are the same factions we fought against in the war in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. It is the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood that is fighting for control of Syria, and it is not a side I am willing to take.

I am also not willing to have our young men and women drawn into another war we should not be a part of. The United States military has lost so many lives over the last several years, and the human toll is too much.  Our ranks are stressed and pushed to the limit as it is. I speak from experience. If we add another war to our list of conflicts in which we are involved, our brave men and women will be pushed to their limits. The lives that would be lost are not worth the risk, especially replacing one dictatorship with another.

Financially we cannot afford to add the cost to the debt either.  This will negatively impact our already strained economy.

All the proponents of military action need to take a step back and really look at the situation. While I certainly feel for the innocent lives being lost in Syria, we cannot get into another drawn-out conflict. There is no interest or security threat in Syria to affect the United States.  We are also not responsible for being a buffer between two opposing forces.

Craig Bowden

North Ogden

The US’s Afghan Exit May Depend on a Syrian One

The US’s Afghan Exit May Depend on a Syrian One


Washington’s options in Syria are dwindling – and dwindling fast.

Trumped up chemical weapons charges against the Syrian government this month failed to produce evidence to convince a skeptical global community of any direct linkage. And the US’s follow-up pledge to arm rebels served only to immediately underline the difficulty of such a task, given the fungibility of weapons-flow among increasingly extremist militias.

Yes, for a brief few days, Syrian oppositionists congratulated themselves on this long-awaited American entry into Syria’s bloodied waters. They spoke about “game-changing” weapons that would reverse Syrian army gains and the establishment of a no-fly zone on Syria’s Jordanian border – a la Libya. Eight thousand troops from 19 countries flashed their military hardware in a joint exercise on that border, dangling F-16s and Patriot missiles and “superb cooperation” in a made-for-TV show of force.

But it took only days to realize that Washington’s announcement didn’t really have any legs.

Forget the arguments now slowly dribbling out about why the US won’t/can’t get involved directly. Yes, they all have merit – from the difficulties in selecting militia recipients for their weapons, to the illegalities involved in establishing a no-fly zone, to the fact that more than 70% of Americans don’t support an intervention.

The single most critical reason for why Washington will not risk entering the Syrian military theater – almost entirely ignored by DC policy wonks – may be this: the 2014 US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Help, we can’t get out”

There are around 750,000 major pieces of American military hardware costing approximately $36 billion sitting in Afghanistan right now. The cost of transporting this equipment out of the country is somewhere close to the $7 billion mark. It would be easier to destroy this stuff than removing it, but given tightening US budgets and lousy economic prospects, this hardware is unlikely to be replaced if lost.

Getting all this equipment into Afghanistan over the past decade was a lot easier than getting it out will be. For starters, much of it came via Pakistani corridors – before Americans began droning the hell out of that country and creating dangerous pockets of insurgents now blocking exit routes.

An alternative supply route through Afghan border states Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan called the Northern Distribution Network was set up in 2009, but is costlier and longer than going via Pakistan. And human rights disputes, onerous conditions on transport and unpredictable domestic sentiment toward the Americans places far too much leverage over these routes in the hands of regional hegemon Russia.

Unlike Iraq, where the US could count on its control over the main ports and Arab allies along the Persian Gulf border, Afghanistan is landlocked, mountainous and surrounded by countries and entities now either hostile to US interests or open to striking deals with American foes.

In short, a smooth US exit from Afghanistan may be entirely dependent on one thing: the assistance of Russia, Iran, and to a lesser degree, China.

All three countries are up against the US and its allies in Syria, refusing, for the better part of 18 months, to allow regime-change or a further escalation of hostilities against the state.

In the past few months, the Russian and Iranian positions have gained strength as the Syrian army – with assistance from its allies – pushed back rebel militias in key towns and provinces throughout the country.

Western allies quickly rushed to change the unfavorable equilibrium on the ground in advance of political talks in Geneva, unashamedly choosing to further weaponize the deadly conflict in order to gain “leverage” at the negotiating table.

But none of that has materialized. As evidence, look to the recent G8 Summit where western leaders sought to undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him “isolated” and referring to the Summit as “G7+1.”

In the meeting’s final communiqué, Putin won handily on every single Syria point. Not only was it clear that the international community’s only next “play” was the negotiations in Geneva, but there was no mention of excluding President Bashar al-Assad from a future Syrian transitional government, once a key demand of opponents. Furthermore, the declaration made it clear that there was no evidence linking chemical weapons use to the Syrian government – had there been any “evidence” whatsoever, it would have made it to paper – and Syrian security forces were empowered, even encouraged, to weed out extremist militias by all the G8 nations.

This was not an insignificant victory for the Russians – it was the first public revelation that Washington, London and Paris have conceded their advantage in Syria. And it begs the question: what cards do the Russians hold in their hand to bring about this kind of stunning reversal, just a week after Washington came out guns blazing?

America – choose your Afghan exit

The US military establishment has, for the most part, stayed out of the fray in Syria, where special ops have been ceded to the CIA and external contractors.

But as the gargantuan task of extricating the US from its decade-long occupation of Afghanistan nears, President Barack Obama has scrambled to accommodate the Pentagon’s top priority. Having assiduously avoided a negotiated political or diplomatic solution with the Taliban for years, he hopes to now pull a face-saving, 11th hour deal out of his hat with foes who will sell him down the river at a moment’s notice.

“The Americans are deeply worried that if the war continues the Kabul government and army might collapse while American bases, advisers, and special forces remain in the country, thereby putting the U.S. in an extremely difficult position,” says Anatol Lieven, a professor and Afghanistan expert at King’s College London, about the already-stalled US-Taliban talks in Doha last week. “They would obviously like to bring about a ceasefire with the Taliban.”

Even if Americans could get to the table, there are a myriad issues that could conclusively disrupt negotiations at any time – in a process that “could take years,” as various US officials concede.

For starters, the involved parties – Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government (which consists of competing ethnic and tribal leaders) and the “new Taliban” – now have multiple interests with regional players like Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, and the neighboring “Stans” which puts a serious strain on any straightforward negotiation goals.

As an example, the very same Taliban delegation now sitting with the Americans in Doha, were traipsing through Tehran late last month – ostensibly with the knowledge of all parties. And this was certainly not the first visit between the two.

While the US arrogantly kept its Afghan foes at arm’s length for years, the Iranians were busy employing soft power in their neighborhood – a task facilitated by a decade of US regional policy mismanagement that has aggravated its own allies in and around Afghanistan.

This isn’t just a matter of Pakistan and Iran inaugurating a once-inconceivable gas pipeline, as they did earlier this year. Iran is now participating in infrastructure and social service projects in the heart of Kabul, has forged working relationships with Pakistani intelligence on a variety of mutual security issues, and has built deep networks within Afghanistan’s political and tribal elite – even with the Taliban, courtesy of mentors in Islamabad.

A US security expert and frequent advisor to US military forces inside Afghanistan and Iraq gives me the bottom line:

“Iran has basically exploited our vulnerabilities and filled those gaps well.
The US’s very presence in Afghanistan has helped Iran gain tremendous influence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan because of widespread disdain for US military activities and intervention, period. This is where Iranian diplomacy has excelled. Iran and Pakistan have ramped up their relationship both in military terms and with local insurgents during the past seven years. Iran has moved in and built mosques, schools in the middle of Kabul, for God’s sakes.”

The Iranians may be able to upset hopes of a smooth US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, but, this source warns, the Russians can potentially play “spoiler” in a big way as well:

“In Kyrgyzstan we have a base there to airlift a lot of supplies – mostly food, small scale things, not heavy equipment – for US soldiers and troops inside Afghanistan. Russia has so much influence there that at one point they threatened to give the Kyrgyz more money for the base that we were renting to kick us out and shut down that essential supply route. We were forced to heavily increase our rent payments to stay there.”

A few days ago, the Kyrgyz parliament voted overwhelmingly to shut down this very Manas base by July 2014, a full six months before the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is set to complete. Was it a coincidence that the vote came up around the time of the G8 huddle in Ireland, dominated almost entirely by news about a stand-off on Syria?

The US military source also explains how easily the Russians can sweeten the pot for the Pentagon:

“We have, concurrently, gained some support to withdraw from Afghanistan thru neighboring Tajikistan with the help of the Russians – and in return we are going to have to help build some infrastructure, like roads, under the auspices of US aid. These negotiations within and between the US and Tajik governments are ongoing. On this, the Russians have given their word that if we can find a way to exit through any of these countries, they will not interfere. Of course, the politics are fluid and anything can change at anytime.”

In April, NATO reached out to Moscow for help and advice on their military withdrawal from Afghanistan. NATO is keen to ensure the cleanest exit possible, but is also concerned about volatility in the aftermath of its departure – and desperately wants to avoid the perception of “mission defeat.”

What about the Chinese?

“China’s interests are a bit different. Less focused on our military withdrawal, more inclined to undermine our long-term influences and goals,” explains my source. “The Chinese are hell-bent on influencing countries for resource extraction and allocation, given their huge domestic demand. They are very competitive with the US and are going after the same resource pool. They undermine US influence because they play the game differently – they will bribe where we have strict rules on bidding, etc., and therefore enjoy more flexibility going after these same resources.”

In other words, like just about everybody else in that neighborhood, China will edge out any US gains made over the past decade – in both the political and economic sense.

In terms of near-term domestic and international political perception, however, that loss will pale in comparison to a failure by the Pentagon to secure the safe exit of its assets from Afghanistan.

“In the final analysis,” says the US military source with great irony, “if we want to get out of Afghanistan quickly and with minimum sacrifice to troops and hardware, it would save us a great deal of trouble if we could exit with the help of – and through – Iran.”

Enter James Dobbins, who was named Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in May. The veteran US diplomat, who I had the opportunity to interview in Washington three years ago, is an interesting choice for this position precisely because he has been so vocal in advocating for US-Iranian negotiations when few others dared.

Dobbins, notably, engaged actively with Iran in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan, based on a mutual interest of replacing the extremist Taliban with a more moderate, inclusive government. But further dealings came to an abrupt halt just weeks later, when then-US President George W. Bush delivered his infamous “Axis of Evil” speech, including Iran in this trio of top American foes.

It is doubtful that Dobbins or the Doha talks can work any miracles though. The kind of exit the US needs from Afghanistan must rely on a constellation of determined players and events that would be quite remarkable if amassed.

While it is obvious to all that the combined weight of Russia, Iran and China could tip that balance in favor of an expeditious American exit, what would motivate any of these three – who have all recently been at the receiving end of vicious US political and economic machinations – to help?

A grand bargain over Syria would surely be a sweetener: you and your allies exit Syria, we’ll help you exit Afghanistan.

The problem with Washington though, is that it never fails to botch up an opportunity – always striving for that one last impossible power-play which it thinks will help it gain dominance over a situation, a country, an enemy.

There remains the concern that the US’s oft-repeated Al Qaeda mantra – “disrupt, dismantle, defeat” – will prove to be its one-stop solution for every problem.

And that is the exception to my premise about a Syrian exit. That US spoilers who cannot accept even the perception of vulnerability – let alone an outright defeat – may instead choose to catapult the entire Mideast into a region-wide war for the sake of avoiding a painful compromise.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.