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In childhood, the kid with the chessboard chooses his opponent.  Why not in adulthood?  And what if you could not only control you opponent but make the same another rival’s opponent . . . how cool would that be?

That would be so far beyond cool as to have arrived at deliciously evil.


For Moscow — Putin’s post-Soviet neo-feudal Russia, “New Nobility” and all — ISIS serves at least these functions:

  1. A destination for its own unwanted homegrown Islamist terrorists, i.e., a good place to channel as many as may go.
  2. Bashar al-Assad’s best defense, for the realpolitik theatrical “Assad vs The Terrorists” becomes for the general opposition, including NATO opposition to the tyrant’s rule, “Assad or The Terrorists” (mirroring slogan: “Assad, Or We Burn The Country”).
  3. Related to the previous, ISIS becomes the primary military war-on-terror focus for the west, which comes with diplomatic, human, and financial costs to the west.
  4.  Incubated by its own enemy, the Assad regime and its backers, ISIS has been positioned in time and space to destroy the revolution once pressed by the Free Syrian Army and serve as a foil to the combined forces of Assad, Khamenei, and Putin, all of whom today may at will attack the same even if preferring other non-ISIS (and still noncombatant) targets.
  5. Even better, ISIS appears to have had great luck appropriating U.S.-backed bases, equipment, and materiel with a minimum of resistance — or maximum of cooperation.
  6. The Islamist pseudo-dictator Erdogan in Turkey, despite the state’s NATO status, may use the same ISIS excuse as cover to get in some licks against the more familiar enemies of the state, i.e., the Kurdish community (NATO has recently reasserted itself in Turkey through military diplomacy).
  7. As goad to the west and cover for Russian intervention, ISIS has handily provided Moscow with an invitation to produce and bulk up a “forward operating base” in Syria.
  8. Most of all, ISIS serves the preservation of a medieval worldview fit to the possession of political absolute power (political absolutism).

In ISIS, Khamenei (he may thank Assad and Putin) has chosen a familiar Sunni opposition for Iran’s purchase in Iraq’s Shiite militia community.  Once again, Iranian Revolutionary Guard get to get their boots into battle with their old Baathist foes, now serving as generals in Baghdadi’s cause.

Related Teasers, Links, and Reference

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, established in 1949, has 28 members devoted to the idea of collective security. Prediction: By the time President Obama leaves office in 2017, the NATO pledge of mutual defense in response to aggression will have been exposed as worthless. Objectively the alliance will have ceased to exist. The culprits? Vladimir Putin—and Barack Obama.

Continetti, Matthew.  “The Coming Defeat of NATO: How Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama will break the Atlantic alliance.”  Washington Free Beacon, October 2, 2015.

The long-term aim would be to defeat or demoralise the non-Isil opposition, so that Isil became the regime’s only enemy. That would force the West to back President Bashar al-Assad against it. “They want to clean the country of non-Isil rebels, and then the US will work with them as Isil will be the only enemy,” the Damascus source said.

Akkoc, Raziye and Roland Oliphant.  “Russia kills US-backed Syrian rebels in second day of air strikes as Iran prepares for ground offensive.”  The Telegraph, October 2, 2015.

Russia bombed Syria for a third day on Friday, mainly hitting areas held by rival insurgent groups rather than the Islamic State fighters it said it was targeting and drawing an increasingly angry response from the West.

The U.S.-led coalition that is waging its own air war against Islamic State called on the Russians to halt strikes on targets other than Islamic State.

Perry, Tom and Lidia Kelly.  “U.S., allies demand Russia halt Syria strikes outside IS areas.”  Reuters, October 2, 2015.

Next came Russia’s move on Syria. The weapons that Russia is sending there are not an attempt to settle the conflict. They are there to protect the Assad regime, which is its cause. Moreover, ISIL does not have warplanes: Russia’s air defense missiles are in Syria for a different purpose.

This became clear on Wednesday, when America was given less than an hour’s warning that the Kremlin was imposing, in effect, a no-fly zone in Syria. With this the Russians not only mounted a direct challenge to American authority. They also ripped up the rulebook of military diplomacy. America was aghast, but had no response.

Lucas, Edward.  “In [Putin’s] terms, he is winning.  And on our terms we are losing.” First section, Politico, “What is Putin Really Up To in Syria: 14 Putinologists weigh in.”  October 1, 2015.

The Ba’ath regime was strongly anti-American, so it’s not surprising that–despite the unfortunate fate of the Iraqi Communist Party–it was primarily a client of the Soviet Union (not the US), and this relationship continued up until the moment when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Weintraub, Jeffrey.  “Who armed Saddam? – Some Reality Checks.”  Jeff Weintraub (blog), March 31, 2003.

That Baathists helped ISIS, before the declaration of the ‘Caliphate,’ to rush into Iraq last year, and assist in the battles for key nodes in Iraq, is indisputable. Even in the Second Battle of Tikrit, just fought in the past few weeks, Baathists were a prominent component of ISIS forces. The very fact that Saddam Hussein’s al-Tikriti tribe was tossed out of their tribal domain certainly bore the hallmarks of the ultimate revenge against the Baathist core.

Karasik, Theodore.  The erratic ISIS and Baath party connection.  Al Arabiya, April 18, 2015.

Moscow’s action were in line with the strategy it had used to defeat the separatist movement in Chechnya, infiltrating the insurgency, driving it into extremism, and facilitating the arrival of al-Qaeda jihadists who displaced the Chechen nationalists. In Syria, Russia’s actions accord with the strategy adopted by the regime and its Iranian masters to present Assad as the last line of defence against a terrorist takeover of Syria and a genocide against the minorities. New evidence has emerged to underline these points.

Orton, Kyle. “How Russia Manipulates Islamic Terrorism.” The Syrian Intifada, September 8, 2015.

Testimony from gendarmerie officers in court documents reviewed by Reuters allege that rocket parts, ammunition and semi-finished mortar shells were carried in trucks accompanied by state intelligence agency (MIT) officials more than a year ago to parts of Syria under Islamist control.

Four trucks were searched in the southern province of Adana in raids by police and gendarmerie, one in November 2013 and the three others in January 2014, on the orders of prosecutors acting on tip-offs that they were carrying weapons, according to testimony from the prosecutors, who now themselves face trial.

While the first truck was seized, the three others were allowed to continue their journey after MIT officials accompanying the cargo threatened police and physically resisted the search, according to the testimony and prosecutor’s report.

Pamuk, Humeyra and Nick Tattersall.  “Exclusive: Turkish intelligence helped ship arms to Syrian Islamist rebel areas.”  Reuters, May 21, 2015.

Alfred, Charlotte.  “The Strange Irony Hidden Among the Highest Ranks of ISIS”.  The World Post / Huffington Post, September 12, 2014.

CIA Directorate of Intelligence.  “Soviet Relations with the Baathists in Iraq and Syria: Special Report, Weekly Review, June 27, 1969, approved for release May 2002.

Gardner, David.  “Turkey: The high price of Erdogan’s power grab.”  The Big Read, Financial Times, September 22, 2015.

Hannah, John.  “Erdogan’s Deadly Ambitions.”  Foreign Policy, September 21, 2015.

Lowe, Christian and Julia Edwards.  “Russia to U.S.: talk to us on Syria or risk “unintended incidents’.”  Reuters, September 11, 2015.

Moore, Jack.  “Iranian Military Mastermind Leading Battle to Recapture Tikrit From ISIS.”  Newsweek, March 5, 2015.

O’Toole, Molly.  “Russia is Setting Up A Forward Operating Base in Syria, Pentagon Confirms.”  Defense One, September 14, 2015.

Pamuk, Humeyra and Nick Tattersall.  “Turkey launches heaviest air strikes yet on Kurdish group.”  Reuters, July 29, 2015.

Sly, Liz and Craig Whitlock.  “Turkey denies reaching accord with U.S. on use of air base against Islamic State.”  The Washington Post, October 13, 2014.

The Economist. “Why Turkey called a NATO Article Four consultation.”  July 28, 2015.

Turovsky, Daniil.  “How Isis is recruiting migrant workers in Moscow to join the fighting in Syria.”  The Guardian, May 5, 2015.

Weiss, Michael.  “Russia Is Sending Jihadis to Join ISIS.”  The Daily Beast, August 23, 2015.

Update – December 5, 2015

Orton, Kyle.  “How Assad Funds the Islamic State”.  The Syrian Intifada (blog), November 29, 2015.

Update – June 19, 2016

Fox News.  “Pentagon, Russia hold video conference after bombing of CIA-backed Syria rebels.”  June 18, 2016.

Update – July 25, 2016

Posted to YouTube 10/16/2015.

Update – August 25, 2016

National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.  “Harvard University Reveals Secret Documents Proving Assad’s Involvement in Rise of ISIS.”  August 23, 2016.  Article comments from 2015 Der Spiegel article by Christoph Reuter based on papers obtained from the battlespace in 2013.