A Roll of Film at Jawaharlal Nehru’s Family House in Allahabad

Anand Bhavan is the former Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru’s family house in Allahabad India. All frames were shot by the author with a Leica M6 TTL Camera, with Leica Summarit M 35 mm f 2.5 lens. The photos were shot on 15 January, 2020. The building behind Anand Bhavan, where former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was born, is Swaraj Bhavan.

The film was hand developed by the author using Tetenal Colortec C-41 process and scanned with an Epson Film Scanner.

 

 

India Trip Blog 8. The Residency, Lucknow. (10 January 2020)

India Trip: Blog 8 The Residency (January 10, 2020)

3:10 Afternoon. Out a little after nine and now I came back to the hotel just before three o’clock. It was enough time to go and photograph that Residency place. It is much bigger than I had imagined with many buildings. Some were blown up in the war, apparently. But the grounds are vast. I shot about four rolls of film, two of black and white and two of color. So it was quite a lot. The place is a gold mine for a photographer. I only saw a few people there, all with cell phones. They were all Indians, except for one Australian couple. I talked to them a little.

It is great to have plenty of time to go where one wants and plenty of time to change your film. It takes some organization and it is good not being marched around as in a tour! Man! I hate that so much on a tour.

I got an auto rickshaw just in front of the hotel. He took me to the Residency for Rupees 200. I know that it is more than a local would pay, but nothing to me, so I can just make the guy happy with that extra one dollar. He got me there.

Man! It was very cold in the morning, going there in that open rickshaw. I really do not remember that much cold in India before. Maybe it was because of the storm. It was a good day, a sunny day. The traffic was horrendous, even more so coming back. When I came back, the guy asked for Rupees eighty. I paid him Rupees one-hundred and he wanted to give me change. Pitiful!

When I got to the Residency, I paid Rupees 300 for the entry fee. The museum is closed on Fridays, but that was alright with me. My objective was to do some photography. Maybe I got too careless in the end, as there is so much to photograph. But I just did it the best that I could do and I hope that most pictures are decent. I would like a few extra good ones.

I saw right away that the Residency is the place where young lovers and couples meet secretly. They can meet in the day and be seen by few people. It has to be in the day, as the place closes at five in the afternoon.

Walking around the compound, one should not go too far from the track laid out for visitors. I went back from the track to get a better shot of that old mosque, but some dogs came out and started barking. They did not appear to be friendly, so I back tracked quickly. It turned out alright.

Two times today people asked to make selfies with me. Man! I thought that I looked awfully old in those cell phone photos.

Another couple came and talked to me. They were from Andhra Pradesh. The guy said that he was an electrical engineer. I have to say that he did not strike me as terribly bright. But probably language. His wife got the gist of what I was saying much more easily than him. I think that she understood English easily.

Some people seem quite nosy. He asked my age. I asked him to guess. He said 70. Then he asked me what city that I thought was developing fastest in India. I told him that I didn’t have any idea.

I said that they were all developing too fast for me. I said that I like slow development. I tried to joke around with him, but usually, he did not get it. But generally, his wife understood the joke. An engineer!

He asked me how many times I had visited India. I said that I could not remember. (a lie) “But I keep making the same mistake over and over,” I said. He didn’t seem to get that joke. An Engineer? But I told him that I did like coming to India, anyway.

3:55 Afternoon. Friday 10 January. I am sleepy and just about ready to crap out now.

There is a lot of pounding going on up above. It sounds like it is in the room above me. My legs got quite tired today at that place and I needed a rest for sure.

It was okay for a one-day outing. Tomorrow I will try going to the Bara Imambara. And maybe to the Chhota Imambara. (the Hussainabad Imambara). They are close together, but a little farther than the Residency from here. They are in the north-west of the city. There are several things to go to here if one takes the time to do it and take pictures.

Afghanistan

When will the USA leave the rest of the world alone and let people rule themselves?

First, fix things in the USA!

I Knew the War in Afghanistan Was a Lie

This article originally appeared at TruthDig.

Nightmares still haunt me. Sometimes it’s the standard stuff associated with classic post-traumatic stress disorder: flashbacks of horrible attacks and images of my mutilated troopers. More often, though, peculiar as it may sound, I dream that my sociopathic, career-obsessed colonel calls to give me another late-night order to do something unnecessary – usually dangerous, always absurd – the next day.

We never got along; the man distrusted me from the start. To him, my plainly ironclad loyalty to my young soldiers was suspicious. Given his own deep-seated predilection to climb the ranks on the backs of his exhausted subordinates, he assumed I must have ulterior motives. I didn’t. Nonetheless, he kept me around because I knew the region better than most and was capable of impressing visiting generals with tactical briefings. And because, in the main, he found me useful.

It’s not that that lieutenant colonel believed in anything, even the mission in Afghanistan. Deployment was a means to an end for the guy. That said, nearly two decades as an unapologetic climber through the officer ranks had imbued him, not with any real competence – he could hardly spell “Kandahar” – but with an uncanny knack for mind-melding with his bosses. If they fancied a particular mission, he loved it. So in 2011-2012, out in the sticks southwest of the city of Kandahar, when his brigade commander championed democracy-building in the district, my colonel was all in.

For the entirety of our unit’s year in country, the colonel and I battled over the efficacy of imposing democracy (at the tip of a bayonet, of course) in rural Afghanistan. Nevertheless, my repeated and often detailed assertions to him that what the Army euphemistically titled our “governance” operations was doomed to fail were always ignored. After all, the colonel had a career to advance. In the prevailing acquiescence-over-effectiveness Army culture, questioning the basis of his given mission wouldn’t play. Thus it was that this captain would tirelessly toil to implement the boss’s fruitless attempts at promoting democracy in the very district where the Taliban had been birthed. It was a hell of a futile hoot of a year.

So, for the better part of a year, I pretended to promote “democracy” in rural Kandahar, my dense squadron commander pretended to know what that entailed, his commander pretended the endeavor was possible in the first place, and on and up it went – straight to the top, to the White House. Everyone up and down the chain of command put on a show and presented the illusion of “progress.” I knew this, viscerally, as a young captain. Heck, I was complicit in a way. Thus, I found the recent release by The Washington Post of what it titled The Afghanistan Papers equal parts astonishing and unsurprising. The documents – consider them the Pentagon Papers of my generation – present proof-positive that the generals and various U.S. officials misled the public for decades about supposed progress in what they knew was a failing, unwinnable war. The reports left me feeling partially vindicated, but mostly morose. Still, in the vein of the dark humor that helps soldiers survive absurd combat tours, let me recall some true episodes seen from a micro level that substantiate the Post’s macro scoop.

There were times that the war in southern Afghanistan, though horrifically bloody – a 40% casualty rate for our troop of about 100 kids – was incredibly funny. It was tragicomic, really. Though I knew my objections to the colonel were destined to fail, I just couldn’t resist pinging him with flippant pleas of why establishing a Jeffersonian-style representative democracy in the Arghandab Valley was an absurd crusade. Somehow, running sarcastic intellectual circles around the obtuse, knuckle-dragging colonel assuaged my admittedly arrogant and angry tendencies. My evidentiary examples were so farcical that they bordered on fiction.

I thought back on four such vignettes over Thanksgiving weekend, during lunch in a Middle Eastern restaurant on Staten Island shared with my former interpreter from Iraq and two of his Arab friends. They loved my stories about the mad, medieval nature of rural southern Afghanistan. I suppose they found some comfort in knowing their home country, for all its ongoing problems, is wildly modern compared to my former stomping grounds in rural Kandahar.

We had been discussing the prospects for democracy across the post-Arab Spring Greater Middle East. But a few beers deep, sensing that the table needed a bit of levity, I started riffing about the buffoonery of bringing “democracy” to Afghanistan. The stories I told were the very ones I’d once used to pointlessly advise my former boss about the hopelessness of our mission.

Like this one time: I was chatting over some tea with an old man in a nearby, dusty, mud-hut village. I asked the elder his age. He didn’t know; few did. I pressed, asking if he had any sense of what year he’d been born. His reply – “I was birthed during a full moon in the year before the Emir Habibullah Khan was murdered” – wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I realized that the man didn’t even know what year it was right then, nor did he likely adhere to our Western Gregorian calendar.

Still, being the history geek I am, I returned to base and googled the lineage of various Afghan monarchs. I figured out, based on the information the elder had provided, that he was probably born in 1918, making him, at that point, around 94 years old. In a country with an average life expectancy of about 46 years, this was profound.

The next day, I returned to the village to inform the old man of his actual age. He seemed equal parts surprised and pleased. A few minutes later, he demonstrated that he still had the libido to flagrantly hit on, even offer to buy, one of my handsome young male lieutenants as a sex slave of sorts. I politely declined. (And who says rural Afghanistan isn’t ready for democracy?)

Then there’s this memory: My troop ran a program we called “cash for work,” through which we’d pay tens of thousands in US dollars per week to put some 1,500 local Afghans to work on small public works projects. The idea was that if we gave the chronically unemployed men jobs, they’d eschew the Taliban’s own version of our program – call it “cash for planting IEDs” – and thus violence would lessen. I knew the inherent limitations of the scheme. It was utterly temporal and unsustainable, would distort the local economy and empower corrupt tribal leaders. I also knew that the Taliban would inevitably skim off the top of the laborers’ salaries. Nevertheless, I was on board; by then, all I cared about was keeping my troops as safe as possible.

The tasks the Afghans did for us weren’t particularly useful. I had to manufacture much of the work, telling them to clean out irrigation canals, paint yellow divider lines on the district’s one paved road, and paint Afghan flags on the hundreds of concrete barrier walls surrounding the hopelessly indefensible nearby police station. The absurdity of the program was perhaps best illustrated by my troop’s favorite laborer-mascots: “backpack man” and “the ride.” The former was a triple amputee with just one arm. The latter had no arms but carried his one-armed friend on his back to work each day. Both had lost their limbs by stepping on errant, ubiquitous IEDs. Despite their physical limitations, we paid them the same salaries as the other workers. “The ride” would carry “backpack man” to the canal, where that one-armed go-getter would grab a pickax and start digging. The whole scene was a macabre inspiration for us all.

Friday was payday for the cash-for-workers. The Army, bureaucratic beast that it is, insisted that we adhere to regulations stipulating that each and every Afghan line up each week and “sign” their names on a standardized form prior to cashing in. (This is despite the fact that it had no qualms about handing out a backpack full of cash.) No one seemed to care when I reminded the bosses that 95% of these guys were illiterate; they had to sign, I was told. So, some Afghans would scribble something random, others would make a thumbprint in ink. One drew a marvelous little chicken next to his name each week. (And who says rural Afghanistan isn’t ready for democracy?)

Another time, the colonel informed me that the time had come to update the local Afghans’ farming techniques. The brigade sent me a nice fellow from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – an agriculture expert from Kansas – to revitalize husbandry in rural Kandahar. I asked my boss not to bother. Better for the USAID guy to earn his bloated salary from the safety of headquarters than risk his life down in my sector, where soldiers got killed on the regular.

The USAID expert’s plan was to introduce PVC pipe-based irrigation to the district. To that end, he built what he called a “model farm” outside my combat outpost as an example for the Afghans to follow. The local farmers were going to ignore the new technology, or steal the materials, I’d told my colonel. These people were content with their 13th-century-era but fairly functional irrigation methods, I’d emphasized.

As expected, the colonel ignored me. When some locals stripped the “model farm” of its materials one dark night, the colonel summoned the Kansan to headquarters. We never heard from him again, the poor, well-meaning guy. (And who says rural Afghanistan isn’t ready for democracy?)

More ludicrous still, my senior commanders decided that our stuck-in-the-Middle-Ages district was ready for some third-wave feminism. In the Army way, they came up with an acronym for a new unit: the Female Engagement Team (FET). The idea was to pluck one of the handful of female staff officers in our male-dominated cavalry reconnaissance squadron and assign her to go on combat patrols and “engage” with local Afghan women, to assess their concerns, and … well, it was never clear what the squadron would actually do after that. In a bit of particularly ironic slapstick, the young West Point-trained officer chosen was – wait for it! – a New York Jew. The whole charade dovetailed with the preposterous fiction that establishment elites have bandied about: that the original purpose of America’s post-9/11 foray into Afghanistan had anything to do with women’s rights.

When I heard about the new FETs, I felt obliged to remind my colonel that after nine months spent in the villages of the sector, I hadn’t seen a grown woman, given that the local men cloistered their wives as if the entire district were a Catholic convent. I reminded him of the maybe 12-year-old girl in the nearest village I’d taken a shine to months before. She had piercing green eyes, a boisterous personality and had impressively held her own while playing rough games with the village boys.

For months, I’d given her candy, dolls and anything else I could scrounge up. My mother started sending toys and snacks specifically for this girl. Then one day, she disappeared. I started asking around about her. Finally, one of the local elders told me what had happened. She’d had her period, he explained, and, as per local tradition, she was immediately clothed in a full-length burka and stashed indoors until her parents could arrange a marriage with, inevitably, some older man. I never saw her again.

Oh, and nothing useful ever transpired from the squadron’s FET experiment. (Who says rural Afghanistan isn’t ready for democracy?)

I can’t help but surmise that the original sin of America’s Afghan war, particularly after the initial 2001 invasion, was the reflexive assumption that within this landlocked Central Asian country, an imposed, Western-style representative democracy could take root. Seen from the relatively cosmopolitan capital city of Kabul, where most American generals and diplomats resided, that might have seemed plausible. However, the “view from Kabul” was different from my perspective from the Afghan version of Appalachian Kentucky.

My vignettes are admittedly personal, local, area-specific and, one might argue, the equivalent of viewing a complex war from 30,000 feet through a soda straw. But humility be damned – I’m also a scholar, and I’m confident in my widely shared assessment that on a macro level, Afghanistan as it stands today remains a mess. And now I’ve got The Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers in my evidentiary corner. Fact: Nineteen years into America’s longest war, Afghanistan is in a worse state than at any time since the US military invasion.

More of the country is contested or controlled by the Taliban than ever before (to such an extent that the US military has decided to stop measuring that inconvenient data). The Afghan government’s revenues can’t pay for its security forces without foreign aid. Local police and army casualties are unsustainable, and the country’s opium crop has had another record bumper crop of a year.

None of this bodes well, yet American troops remain and still die there. Worse, this year, no doubt, one of the dead will be a young man or woman born after Sept. 11, 2001.

To ask one final time: Who says rural Afghanistan isn’t ready for democracy?

I do.

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen

Saved by the Russians

OPINION|TD ORIGINALS

Russia Isn’t Getting the Recognition It Deserves on Syria

Scott Ritter

Russia Isn't Getting the Recognition It Deserves on Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Sergei Chirikov / AP)

At a time when the credibility of the United States as either an unbiased actor or reliable ally lies in tatters, Russia has emerged as the one major power whose loyalty to its allies is unquestioned, and whose ability to serve as an honest broker between seemingly intractable opponents is unmatched.

If there is to be peace in Syria, it will be largely due to the patient efforts of Moscow employing deft negotiation, backed up as needed by military force, to shape conditions conducive for a political solution to a violent problem. If ever there was a primer for the art of diplomacy, the experience of Russia in Syria from 2011 to the present is it.

Like the rest of the world, Russia was caught off guard by the so-called Arab Spring that swept through the Middle East and North Africa in 2010-2011, forced to watch from the sidelines as the old order in Tunisia and Egypt was swept aside by popular discontent. While publicly supporting the peaceful transition of power in Tunis and Cairo, in private the Russian government watched the events unfolding in Egypt and the Maghreb with trepidation, concerned that the social and political transformations underway were a continuation of the kind of Western-backed “color revolutions” that had occurred previously in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004).

When, in early 2011, the Arab Spring expanded into Libya, threatening the rule of longtime Russian client Moammar Gadhafi, Russia initially supported the creation of a U.N.-backed no-fly zone for humanitarian purposes, only to watch in frustration as the U.S. and NATO used it as a vehicle to launch a concerted air campaign in a successful bid to drive Gadhafi from power.

By the time Syria found itself confronting popular demonstrations against the rule of President Bashar Assad, Russia—still struggling to understand the root cause of the unrest—had become wary of the playbook being employed by the U.S. and NATO in response. While Russia was critical of the violence used by the Assad government in responding to the anti-government demonstrations in the spring of 2011, it blocked efforts by the U.S. and Europe to impose economic sanctions against the Syrian government, viewing them as little more than the initial salvo of a broader effort to achieve regime change in Damascus using the Libyan model.

Moscow’s refusal to help facilitate that Western-sponsored regime change, however, did not translate into unequivocal support for the continued rule of Assad. Russia supported the appointment of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to head up a process for bringing a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis, and endorsed Annan’s six-point peace plan, put forward in March 2012, which included the possibility of a peaceful transition of power away from Assad.

At the same time Russia was promoting a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian crisis, the U.S. was spearheading a covert program to provide weapons and equipment to anti-Assad forces, funneling shipments from Libya through Turkey and into rebel-controlled areas of Syria. This CIA-run effort, which eventually morphed into a formal operation known as Timber Sycamore, helped fuel an increase in the level of violence inside Syria that made it impossible for the Assad government to fully implement the Annan plan. The inevitable collapse of the Annan initiative was used by the U.S. and its European allies to call for U.N. sanctions against Syria, which were again rejected by Russia.

While Russia continued to call for a political solution to the Syrian crisis that allowed for the potential of Assad being replaced, it insisted that this decision would be made by a process that included the Syrian government, as opposed to the U.S. demand that Assad must first step down.

The Military Solution

The failed Annan initiative was replaced by a renewed U.N.-sponsored process, known as Geneva II, headed by Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat with extensive U.N. experience. The Geneva process stalled as Brahimi sought to bridge the gap between the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition—which insisted upon Assad’s resignation as a precondition to any talks about the future of Syria—and Russia, which continued to insist that the Assad government have a voice in determining Syria’s future.

Complicating these talks was the escalation of violence inside Syria, where anti-Assad forces, building upon the massive amount of military aid received from the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, aggressively pushed for a military victory that would moot the Geneva II process.

By June 2013 the situation had devolved to the point that the U.S., citing allegations that the Syrian government was using a nerve agent against rebel forces, was considering the establishment of no-fly zones in northern Syria and along the Jordanian border. While sold as a humanitarian move designed to create safe zones for Syrian civilians fleeing the fighting, the real purpose of these zones was to carve out large sections of Syrian territory where the opposition could organize and prepare for war under the umbrella of U.S. air power without fear of Syrian government retaliation.

The concept of Syria’s chemical weapons being used by the U.S. to justify military action against the Syrian government was not hypothetical. In 2012, President Barack Obama had declared that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be considered a “red line,” forcing the U.S. to act. When, in August 2013, a major chemical weapons incident occurred in Ghouta (conclusive attribution for the attack does not exist; the U.S. and NATO contend that the Syrian government was behind the attacks, which the Russians and the Syrian government claim were carried out by anti-Assad opposition for the purpose of compelling U.S. intervention), it looked like the U.S. would step in.

Committing to a larger war in Syria was not a politically popular move in the U.S., given the recent experience in Iraq, and when Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September 2013, the Russians suggested a solution—the disarmament of Syrian chemical weapons under the supervision of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). When Secretary of State John Kerry opened the door to that possibility, Russia and Syria jumped on the opportunity, paving the way for one of the great disarmament achievements of modern times, an action that won the OPCW the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013.

The disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons was a huge success, for which Russia received little recognition, despite the major role it played in conceiving and overseeing its implementation. Russia had hoped that the disarmament process could lead to the establishment of international confidence in the Assad government that would translate into a diplomatic breakthrough in Geneva. This was not to be; a major peace conference planned for 2014 collapsed, and efforts to revive the failed talks were sidelined by the escalation of violence in Syria, as the armed opposition, sensing victory, pressed its attacks on the Syrian government.

The situation in Syria was further complicated when, in 2013, the organization formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq renamed itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and started carving out a so-called caliphate from the ungovernable expanses of eastern Syria and western Iraq. Having established its capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa, Islamic State launched a dramatic offensive in early 2014, capturing large swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq, including the Iraqi city of Mosul. By 2015, the Syrian government, under pressure from anti-Assad rebels and the forces of Islamic State, was on the brink of collapse.

The consequences of the loss of Syria to forces dominated by radical Islamic ideology do not seem to have been fully considered by those in the West, such as the U.S. and its European allies, which were funneling military aid to the rebel forces. For Russia, however, which had its own experiences with Muslim separatist movements in the Caucasus region, such a result was deemed an existential threat, with thousands of Russian citizens fighting on the side of Islamic State and the anti-Assad opposition who would logically seek to return to Russia to continue the struggle once victory had been achieved in Syria. In September 2015, Putin urged the Russian Parliament to approve the intervention of the Russian military on the side of the Syrian government. The Parliament passed the resolution, thus beginning one of the most successful military interventions in modern times.

The impact of the Russian intervention was as dramatic as it was decisive. Almost immediately, the Russian air force helped turn the tide on the field of battle, allowing the Syrian army to launch attacks against both the anti-Assad opposition and Islamic State after years of losing ground. The Russian intervention helped pave the way for the commitment by Hezbollah and Iran of tens of thousands of ground troops who helped tipped the scale in favor of the Syrian government. The presence of Russian forces nipped in the bud all talk of Western military intervention and created the conditions for the Syrian government to eventually recapture much of the territory it had lost to Islamic State and the anti-Assad rebels.

Unheralded Peacemaker

The connection between military action and diplomacy is a delicate one. For some nations, like the United States, diplomacy is but a front for facilitating military action—the efforts to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq stand as a prime example. For Russia, however, the decision to intervene militarily in Syria was not seen as an end unto itself, but rather as the means by which Russia could shape the political landscape in such a manner as to make a political solution realistic. From the Russian perspective, the Geneva II process was an empty shell, having been hijacked by Saudi Arabia and its anti-Assad proxies.

In January 2017, Russia took the diplomatic offensive, initiating its own peace process through a series of summits held in the Kazakh capital of Astana. This process, which brought together Turkey, the Syrian government and Iran, together with Russia, quickly supplanted the Geneva II talks as the most viable vehicle for achieving a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict. By directly linking diplomatic talks with the fighting on the ground, the Astana process had a relevance that Geneva II lacked. For its part, Russia was able to woo Turkey away from insisting that Assad must leave, to a stance that recognized the territorial integrity of the Syrian nation, and a recognition that Assad was the legitimate leader of Syria, at least for the time being. The Astana process was lengthy and experienced its share of ups and downs. But today it serves as the foundation of a peace process that, unlike any of its predecessors, has a real chance of success.

Bridging the gap between the finesse of diplomacy and the brutal violence of military action is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. For its part, the United Nations has undertaken so-called peacekeeping operations with mixed effect. In recognition of the importance and difficulty of this kind of work, the Nobel Committee awarded the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize to the U.N. Peacekeepers. When the diplomatic solutions reached in Astana needed to be implemented in Syria, Russia turned to the most unlikely source for turning objectives into reality: the Russian military police. A relatively new entity in the Russian military establishment, formed only in 2012, the military police were tasked with a wide range of missions, including convoy protection, area security, restoring law and order and resettlement operations.

In late 2016, as the Syrian army was positioned to recapture the city of Aleppo from rebel forces, Russia deployed a battalion of military police to Syria. The mission of these troops was not to engage in frontline fighting, but rather to restore law and order and win the trust and confidence of a civilian population wary of the potential for retaliation at the hands of the victorious Syrian army.

By all accounts, the Russian military police performed admirably, and soon the Russian ministry of defense dispatched more battalions of these new peacekeepers, who quickly established a reputation of being fair arbiters of the many cease-fire agreements brokered through the Astana process. The Russian military police were ubiquitous, whether policing the no-man’s land separating warring parties, escorting convoys of rebel fighters and their families to safe zones or providing security for OPCW inspectors.

The final phases of the Syrian conflict are playing out in northern Syria today. The last vestiges of the anti-Assad opposition, having been taken over by al-Qaida, are dug in in their final bastion in Idlib Province, their ultimate defeat at the hands of the combined Russian-Syrian armed forces all but assured. The American intervention in northeastern Syria, begun in 2015 as a means of confronting and defeating Islamic State but continued and expanded in 2017 as a vehicle for destabilizing the Assad government, has imploded in the face of a geopolitical reality in transition, facilitated in large part by the combined forces of Russian diplomacy in Astana and Russian-led military action on the ground in Syria.

By successfully wooing Turkey away from the U.S., Russia has dictated the reality on the ground in Syria, greenlighting a Turkish incursion that put the American forces deployed there in an impossible situation, prompting their evacuation. While the U.S. continues to maintain a military presence in Syria, occupying a border crossing point at Tanf and a series of military positions along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in order to secure nearby Syrian oil fields, the ability of the U.S. to logistically sustain this force is doubtful, making its eventual withdrawal from Syria inevitable.

Moreover, by compelling an American withdrawal from northeastern Syria, Russia broke the back of the U.S.-supported Kurdish autonomous entity known as Rojava, and in doing so prevented a larger war between Turkey, the Kurds and the U.S.

In greenlighting the Turkish incursion into northern Syria, the Russians invoked the 1998 Adana Treaty, which guarantees the sovereign inviolability of Syria’s borders. The processes involved in stabilizing the Turkish-Syrian border, defeating the anti-Assad forces in Idlib, evicting the Americans from Syrian soil, and integrating the Kurds into a future Syrian government are lengthy, complex and not necessarily assured of a positive outcome. One thing is certain, however: The prospects for peace in Syria are greater today than at any time since 2011. And the fact that Russia has deployed even more battalions of its military police to Syria to oversee implementation of the current cease-fire bodes well for the prospects of success.

Despite literally salvaging victory from the jaws of defeat, the scope of the Russian accomplishment in Syria is muted in the United States, thanks to rampant Russophobia that has insinuated itself into every aspect of the domestic political discourse. Under normal circumstances, the Russian accomplishment in Syria would have been deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, if not for the Russian diplomats and leaders who oversaw the effort to forge peace from the furnace of war, then at least for the Russian military police whose actions in Syria embody the very definition of humanitarian peacekeeping.

Over time, international historians will come to appreciate what Russia accomplished in Syria, potentially ending a sectarian conflict that could easily have served as the foundation for a decades-long conflagration with regional and global consequences.

Whether American historians will ever be capable of doing the same is unknown. But this much is true: In the years to come, children will be born of parents whose lives were not terminated or otherwise destroyed by a larger Syrian conflict that almost assuredly would have transpired if not for the honest broker services provided by Russia. Intentionally or not, Russian diplomacy prevented the United States from embarking on a foreign policy disaster of its own making. While it is highly doubtful that Americans will ever muster the moral fortitude to say so publicly, those who know the truth should find the time to whisper, “Thanks, Putin,” between the barrage of anti-Russian propaganda that floods the American mainstream media today.

Like it or not, in Syria, the Russians saved us from ourselves.

Scott Ritter
Contributor
Scott Ritter spent more than a dozen years in the intelligence field, beginning in 1985 as a ground intelligence officer with the US Marine Corps, where he served with the Marine Corps component of the Rapid…

The Latest Twist in US Imperialism

The Latest Twist

The USA will not win many hearts and minds like this.

If U.S. Takes Syrian Oil, It May Violate International Laws Against Pillage

A U.S. military vehicle drives past an oil pump jack in the countryside of Syria’s northeastern city of Qamishli. President Trump is leaving some U.S. troops in Syria, with the goal of controlling Syria’s oil fields. But legal experts say exploiting the oil could amount to pillaging — a war crime.

Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump has executed a policy U-turn on Syria. He’s now tasking U.S. forces that he’d promised to withdraw from there with a new mission: securing the oil fields of southeastern Syria.

And it’s raising questions about just what he intends to do with that oil.

Trump has appeared fixated on Syria’s largely defunct oil fields in the weeks since his Oct. 9 tweet announcing he’d moved U.S. forces out of northern Syria and was bringing the troops deployed to that nation home.

“We’re keeping the oil — remember that,” Trump declared on Monday at a gathering of police chiefs in Chicago. “We want to keep the oil. Forty-five million dollars a month? Keep the oil. We’ve secured the oil.”

Trump was referring to oil fields in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province that Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces wrested from Islamic State insurgents in 2017. The area holds nearly three-quarters of Syria’s oil and gas reserves, whose production has plummeted over the past decade by more than 90%. Islamic State fighters had earlier generated substantial revenues from other oil fields farther north through smuggling operations into neighboring Turkey.

On Sunday, Trump again brought up Syria’s oil fields moments after announcing the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“It can help us, because we should be able to take some also,” Trump said of Syria’s oil while taking reporters’ questions at the White House. “And what I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an Exxon Mobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly.”

Standing by to second Trump’s pitch for exploiting Syria’s war-blasted oil fields was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“This doesn’t violate any law, in my view,” Graham declared following Trump’s remarks. “This is a win-win: The SDF will get more money if we can modernize the oil fields. We’re not going over there to enrich America — we’re over there to help our allies, deny our enemy resources that will allow them to get stronger over time and finally — and this is OK — to lower the cost to us.”

Defraying the cost of U.S. operations in Syria by selling that country’s oil — which happens to be state-owned property — strikes one expert on the spoils of war as highly dubious.

“[Trump] makes no mention of who owns the oil, and that seems like a fairly key question,” says James Graham Stewart, a law professor at the University of British Columbia. “The second question is what exactly is Trump planning to do with the oil.”

It makes quite a difference, Stewart adds, whether the U.S. is securing Syria’s oil and protecting it for its true owners or taking it without the owners’ consent.
“One would probably be more acceptable,” he tells NPR. “The other would be a war crime.”

Stewart cites numerous international agreements binding the U.S., including the Fourth Geneva Convention, that define the taking of goods during wartime without the owner’s permission as pillaging — a war crime.

And he points to a chilling precedent. “One defendant at Nuremberg called Walther Funk, who was the chairperson of the Continental Oil Company, was convicted of pillaging oil from throughout occupied Europe,” says Stewart, “precisely because the German army expropriated it for the purposes of the Nazi apparatus.”

The top U.S. military officer confirmed on Monday that an unspecified number of American troops and “mechanized forces” (tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles) are being redeployed to the desert oil fields of Deir el-Zour. But he said nothing about seizing that oil.

“The fundamental purpose of securing those oil fields,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, told reporters at the Defense Department on Monday, “is to deny those oil fields access to ISIS in order to prevent ISIS from resurgence, because we are still committed to the counter-ISIS campaign. And we don’t want them to resurge — they get a lot of their revenues from that.”

There was an unsuccessful attempt last year to grab some of the oil-rich lands of eastern Syria. But it was Russian mercenaries allied with Syrian government forces, not ISIS, who were involved in that attack.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked at Monday’s Pentagon briefing whether the new U.S. military mission in Syria includes protecting those oil fields from either the Russians, who are now the dominant military force in Syria, or Syria’s own government forces.

“The short answer is, yes, it presently does,” Esper replied. “Because in that case, we want to make sure that SDF does have access to the resources — in order to guard the prisons, in order to arm their own troops, in order to assist us with the defeat-ISIS mission.”

It remains unclear where that “defeat-ISIS mission” currently stands. Trump claimed this month that the U.S. has defeated ISIS and taken over 100% of its caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The U.S. has justified its incursion into Syria by citing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which targets al-Qaida and its supporters.

“You have to have a consensus on the legal basis of what you’re doing,” says Brett McGurk, who quit late last year as Trump’s special envoy for the coalition fighting the Islamic State. “And the only legal basis, the only legal reason we’re there, is ISIS,” McGurk told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell this week. “I know this issue fairly well — it’ll be very difficult legally to exploit those resources, so I’m not quite sure what the president has in mind, but it doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense.”

One expert on military ethics consulted by NPR defends Trump’s decision to guard Syria’s oil fields — and possibly exploit them. “Although it’s still controversial among some academics and others,” wrote Duke University law professor and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap in an email, “denying a terrorist group access to economic resources that make an effective contribution to their ability to sustain hostile operations is a proper military objective.”

“As to who is entitled to the revenue that may flow from working oil fields protected by the U.S. or other partners,” Dunlap adds, “that’s especially complicated in the case of a conflict against non-state terrorists.”

The government of Syrian President Bashar Assad has neither invited nor authorized U.S. forces to operate in its territory, an omission that law professor Stewart finds striking. “It’s not as if natural resources are just the property of no one, that any armed group can just waltz into a country and decide that it’s going to expropriate natural resources in the area,” he says.

The U.S. has not declared war on the Assad regime, but University of Oklahoma Middle East scholar Joshua Landis told NPR that the occupation of the Deir el-Zour oil fields by U.S. forces is really all about keeping the government that owns that oil from having it. “The main reason for America to retain that oil is to deny it to Assad,” Landis says. “This is not about ISIS — this is about greater policy in Syria, to hurt the Assad regime and to gain and retain leverage on the part of America.”

If that’s the case, the Trump administration could possibly be getting involved in a wider war, all in the name of protecting a sizable patch of Middle Eastern oil.

Looting Syria’s Oil

Trump always talked about “taking the oil” when the US invaded a country. Now he thinks he has a chance in Syria.

Wall Street imperialism, Smedley Butler and all that. Trump wants to leave Syria, but then thinks: “We will take the oil on the way out.” What a great image for the USA around the world!

That is a hell of a way to win hearts and minds! Washington forgot about that a long time ago. Now it is flat-out.

Trump Wants Deal With Exxon or Other Company to Take Syrian Oil

‘We should be able to take some’

Having sent growing numbers of troops into eastern Syria explicitly to control the oil, President Trump now says he is seeking a deal with Exxon Mobil or “one of our great companies” to go into occupied Syria and take the oil.

Trump has long suggested that in his view, the US should be able to just take oil from countries it is involved in militarily, as a way to recover some of the costs of his various wars. Trump said on Sunday that the oil is valuable and “we should be able to take some also.”

That Trump is sold on this idea is one thing, but convincing a US Oil and Gas Major to go along with the operation is another thing. The legal basis, particularly internationally, of taking Syrian oil without Syrian permission, and keeping US military forces there to keep Syria from stopping them, is going to be complicated, to say the least.

Trump’s conviction that legally it’s probably fine, after all, doesn’t mean the US company, whichever it turns out to be, wouldn’t get sued in the US or internationally for looting Syria’s oil.

These huge multinational companies are notoriously risk-averse about conflict, and would likely be so about joining the president in an oil-taking scheme of this sort. That means while Trump continues to war to keep the oil, he’s going to face a big job selling the idea to any company.