Michael G. Roskin – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 03 May 2022 03:09:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.6 Another Russian War? Is Putin done letting Israel hit Iran in Syria? https://www.juancole.com/2022/05/another-russian-letting.html Tue, 03 May 2022 04:08:55 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204441 (Special to Informed Comment) –

Conflict recently flared again in the Levant — in Jerusalem, Lebanon’s south and Gaza. An Israel-Iran war is just waiting to happen. Mideast belligerents act as if they’re annoyed at being bumped out of the headlines by Ukraine’s war.

Actually, the two conflict zones are connected. The link: Russian power.

As Russia unmasks its own weakness in Ukraine, it comes under pressure to withdraw from Syria, where it has propped up the brutal Assad regime since 2015. Closure of the Turkish Straits to Russian ships would cripple the Russian operation in Syria.

One of the by-products of the Russian move into Syria is the understanding it reached with Israel to rein in Iranian forces in Syria, which arrived in 2014 to save Assad from the explosive growth of ISIS. The Russian message seems to be: “Thanks, Iran, you did a great job, but now you can return home. We’ll handle things.” Putin wants Syria for Russia.

This made an odd relationship in Syria. Either Russia allowed Israel to gather intelligence on the arrival of Iranian weapons there, or Russians did it for them. Granted, much can be learned from satellite intel — supplied by the U.S. — but nothing beats observers on the ground. Then Israel either takes out Iranian arms depots by air strikes or follows its trucks to pinpoint where Iranian weapons are cached in Lebanon.

Israel conducted dozens of air strikes on Iranian targets in Syria. Why did the Russians permit them? Their S-400 air defense system could easily prevent Israeli air strikes, but Russia made no effort to do so. Former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met many times with Putin and emerged smilling. Current Prime Minister Bennett seems to have no contact with Putin, and the arrangement may be fraying.

Putin, one surmises, told Netanyahu that he’d help him limit Iranian arms if Israel refrained from all-out war with Iran in Syria. This is what Jerusalem meant when it said it had “security interests” that prevented it from openly supporting Ukraine.

That may be over. Israeli public opinion, led by Ukrainian-born Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in the Soviet gulag, dislikes and mistrusts Russia. (BTW, Louise Nevelson, Rockland’s gift to sculpture, was born in Ukraine.)

Putin wants to prevent an Israel-Iran war in Syria so he can resume Russia’s push into the Middle East, an effort that goes back to the 19th century and caused the original Crimean War of 1853-56. The Soviet Union poured massive amounts of money and weaponry into Egypt and Syria.

Now, what would happen if Russia withdrew from its Syrian installations, the port at Tartus and its air base near Latakia? Israel, calculating that Iran, which supplies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, will soon have nuclear weapons, would be under no constraints and really hit Iranian targets, in Syria and elsewhere. Arab Gulf states would like the Iranian threat reduced.

The Point: Pressures for a new, major Mideast war may be building. What could stop it? Iran’s realization that it would face not only Israel but the U.S. and Arab Gulf monarchies and would get little or no Russian help. Rationally, Tehran should back down, but nationalistic rage still dominates Iran, which will not likely give up its nuclear program any more than North Korea will.

Iranian nuclear facilities are underground. The U.S. has provided Israel with deep-penetration bombs (“bunker busters”), but if they are insufficient, Israel could use some of its 200 or so nukes. The next Mideast war could be nuclear. We should work to prevent that.

The world would be calmer if leaders understood and accepted the universality of nationalistic pushback: Move against my country, and we’ll push back. My nation will not submit but will arm and fight. NATO always was and still is one big pushback against Russian power. Now even Sweden and Finland may join.

Leaders — especially autocratic ones, who have silenced domestic opposition — cannot comprehend that their foreign targets will push back. Japanese militarists supposed the U.S. after Pearl Harbor would leave Asia to them. Although warned of a strong Russian reaction, the U.S. kept pushing NATO eastward. Putin is astonished at Ukrainian and Western pushback against his invasion. Putin’s body language suggests he is depressed that his actions have isolated Russia and multiplied its adversaries.

Russia’s invasion also aims to recover Moldova, a Romanian-speaking ex-Soviet republic that was part of Romania before World War II. A feasible pushback, based on Romanian nationalism: Merge Moldova back into Romania, which is a NATO member.

Can’t be done? But it was, in 1918, when the area voted to join Romania. One big catch: To the east of the Dniester River (easy to confuse with the Dnieper, further east), the Transnistria strip of Moldova is Russian-speaking and already the scene of violence.

With Barrett on the Court, if Trump is Reelected and goes Full Mussolini, Can he be Stopped? https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/barrett-reelected-mussolini.html Sun, 27 Sep 2020 04:03:12 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193487 Williamsport, PA (Special to Informed Comment) – “A republic, if you can keep it,” Ben Franklin famously described the new Constitution in 1787. Well, can Americans, including the Republicans, keep it, or will they let it slide into authoritarianism? I, like Franklin, am an optimist, but we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that Trump and his cult, which has taken over the Republican Party, may find a way by hook or crook to get him a second term. In that case, can the Republic be preserved?

It is now clear why President Trump insists on filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat with Federal Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett — so conservative she’s radical — before the November election. If the initial election count goes against him, Trump will call it fraudulent — due to mail-in ballots–and unfold a plan whereby Republican-dominated state legislatures certify an alternate list of Trump electors for the Electoral College. (This from The Atlantic’s scary new piece by Barton Gellman.)

If that procedure is challenged in a stacked Supreme Court, “originalist” Republican justices could find it constitutional 6-3. The Constitution does give that power to state legislatures. Still, the “original intent” of the Framers was that state legislatures faithfully reflect the majority vote. Will that matter? Alas, Federalists find original intent where it suits them.

Likewise, as Trump’s financial shenanigans–exposed in tax and bank records–come to light in New York state trials, Trump’s defense will insist on moving them to federal courts and then bumping them up to the Supreme Court. Which will find that Trump cannot be prosecuted. Trump could thus become not only illegitimate but invulnerable.

The Republic may at that point be in the hands of the Supreme Court, and the Court itself may block the authoritarian drift. The five present conservative Justices are all current or previous members of the “originalist” Federalist Society, as is Barrett. They may favor the Constitution over Trump. If there are nine on the court (assuming Barrett is confirmed), two conservatives may be unwilling to pervert the Constitution, producing a 5-4 decision against Trump. If there are only eight on the Court, one defection would tie it 4-4 and let the lower court’s decision stand. Best bet: Chief Justice Roberts.

But all these barriers to authoritarianism could fail. Does this mean the end of the United States as we know it? At that point, the Democratic majority of voters and at least one house of Congress may be able to thwart Trump’s worst designs, but planning should start now.

At least one house of Congress — it could be both in 2021 — could deny Trump the laws and budgets he demands. Ripe targets: Trump’s Mexico wall and unnecessary military spending. Step up cyber defense spending and require intel agencies to promptly report efforts at penetration. Pass more unemployment relief than Trump wants; make him veto it. Ally with anti-deficit Republicans to crimp Trump’s spending patterns.

In foreign policy, send congressional delegations to the multilateral meetings and institutions Trump rejects. These include global climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and trade flows (e.g., the Trans Pacific Partnership). Work around the hobbled State Department. (Many State officials will quietly help you.) If Trump leads us into war with Iran, reject authorization for the use of military force and restoring the draft.

Barrett scorns precedent and hates the Affordable Care Act. If it’s overturned, closely scrutinize Trump’s replacement for it. He has never produced one, but he may have to. It will contain cavernous faults, especially on pre-existing conditions. Find Trumpcare defective and sink it. When Trump supporters lose their rural hospitals, some may change their vote.

Civil society will also need to step up and activate itself as never before. COVID-19 deaths will approach a quarter-million by election day. “Herd immunity” (about 70 percent carrying antibodies) and vaccines will not arrive for months or even years. With the scientific staffs of federal health agencies silenced by unqualified political appointees, we must learn to work around their misinformation. A nongovernmental committee of scientists should serve as a data clearinghouse and alert system. Large states could also step in to double check the work of the Federal government, as Andrew Cuomo in New York has now pledged to do. To some extent, this is already happening.

So, even if worst comes to worst, we may survive. We can foresee that Trump will leave the Republican Party a shell of its former self. Out of the wreckage, traditional Republicans may become determined to reconstruct and join Democrats in restoring a badly weakened Republic. Yes, I think we can keep it.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CNBC: “Amy Coney Barrett speaks after Trump announces her nomination for Supreme Court”