Category: Alexander G. Markovsky

Assad and the Art of Survival


Since everything is pointing to Assad as the perpetrator of the recent chemical attack, most observers are puzzled as to what his intentions could possibly be.  One year ago, not only was he winning the war, but Washington expressed its intent to abolish the policy of Assad’s removal and work with Moscow to destroy ISIS.  However, after the chemical attack at the city of Khan Sheikhoun, Washington made a 180° reversal when secretary of state Rex Tillerson declared that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”

Today, ISIS is for all practical purposes being defeated.  President Trump announced pending American withdrawal from Syria, and soon another chemical attack followed.  The incident will likely result in changing the American position and a postponement of the announced withdrawal.  What could possibly be accomplished by gassing civilians both back then and now?

As Napoleon Bonaparte expressed two centuries ago, “international incidents must not be allowed to shape foreign policy; foreign policy must shape the incidents.”

The sophist may ask whose foreign policy is being shaped by those incidents.

In the Middle East, nothing is ever as it appears.  Assad’s survival hangs on the rivalry between Russia and the United States.

As long as the relationship between the two countries is adversarial and as long as Washington demands Assad’s removal, and as long as America stays engaged in Syria providing counterbalance to Russia, Assad is safe.

The Russians see this cold-blooded tyrant as the best, if not the only, hope for stability in the middle of the Muslims’ “war of all against all” and will not allow him to fall, turn Syria over to Islamists, and have the Russian position in the region dramatically weaken.

Conversely, if Moscow and Washington were able to establish common goals to which both countries manifested their desire to work toward eradication of terrorism and solving some of the Middle East’s problems, that evolution could leave Assad politically dispensable, perhaps even available to be used as an exchange currency in a grand bargain.  The prospects of American withdrawal would leave Assad one on one with Putin, who will reduce him to servitude.

With little subtlety and a lot of daring, Assad, by ordering the chemical attacks and thereby provoking international indignation, has been achieving his objective of driving a wedge between Russia and the United States, preventing their coalescence and ensuring continued American engagement.

In both instances, revolted by the atrocities, President Trump, acting on the mood of the moment, did exactly what Assad expected him to do.  After each attack, Trump declared moral absolutes, accused Moscow of culpability, and demanded that Russia sever ties with the butcher Assad.

The folly of this approach is that Washington is acting out of morality, showing little pragmatism, while Moscow is acting out of pragmatism without morality and governed by a different sense of proportion.

Although deeply embarrassed by the events, Russia, which has historically been ruled by ruthless autocrats and whose populace still remembers the horrors of communism, cannot be influenced by the deaths of a few hundred people.  It certainly does not rise to the level of concern that may persuade Moscow to amend its strategic objectives toward the Mediterranean that were set up centuries ago by Peter the Great and further advanced by Catherine the Great.

Russian policy toward Syria is a continuum going back to the 1960s.  It is shaped not by episodes, but by parallelism of national interests.  Assad offers Russia access to the Mediterranean through a warm-water port for the Russian navy and military bases, which allows Russia to be a consequential player in the Middle Eastern balance of power.  In return, Russia has assumed the role of principal arms supplier and the source of the Assad regime’s sustenance.

This collaboration doesn’t come cheap for Russia in terms of investments and relations with the United States and other members of the world community.  And within Russia as well, there is an incipient opposition to Russian involvement in Syria.

Nevertheless, for Moscow, if you can’t get the girl you love, you love the girl you get.

Within this context, the election of Donald Trump offered the opportunity to manipulate Russian necessities to American advantage and build a new world order based on collaboration with Russia.

Instead, the United States, after “successfully” defending the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, extended that failed policy toward defending the people of Syria, leaving Moscow perplexed about the administration’s policies and objectives.  

Were the attacks on Syria isolated incidents or a declaration of the right to intervene in the affairs of sovereign states under the banner of moral supremacy?  By degrading Assad’s capabilities, isn’t Washington helping the Islamists?  Or is there some uniquely American unity of opposites? Going forward, will American foreign policy be based on incidents or long-term geopolitical interests, the power of arms or the power of reason?

After the recent bombing, Trump declared, “mission accomplished!”  The unanswered question is, “Whose mission was it?”  After all, keeping friends and enemies off balance is Assad’s art of survival.

Alexander G. Markovsky is owner and CEO of Litwin Management Services LLC, specializing in the management of large energy-related international projects.  Mr. Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research; his prime areas of expertise are international terrorism and the economy, politics, and ideology of Russia.  He was born and educated in the Soviet Union and holds degrees in structural engineering, economics, and political science.  He immigrated into the United States in 1976 and currently resides in Houston, Texas with his family. 

Mr. Markovsky is the author of two politically charged books, Anatomy of a Bolshevik and Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat CommunismShe Adopted It.  He is a contributor to American Thinker, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, and his work also appears on the Washington Times, FrontPageMag.com, RedState.com, Israpundit.com, WorldNetDaily.com, and FamilySecurityMatters.org.

Since everything is pointing to Assad as the perpetrator of the recent chemical attack, most observers are puzzled as to what his intentions could possibly be.  One year ago, not only was he winning the war, but Washington expressed its intent to abolish the policy of Assad’s removal and work with Moscow to destroy ISIS.  However, after the chemical attack at the city of Khan Sheikhoun, Washington made a 180° reversal when secretary of state Rex Tillerson declared that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”

Today, ISIS is for all practical purposes being defeated.  President Trump announced pending American withdrawal from Syria, and soon another chemical attack followed.  The incident will likely result in changing the American position and a postponement of the announced withdrawal.  What could possibly be accomplished by gassing civilians both back then and now?

As Napoleon Bonaparte expressed two centuries ago, “international incidents must not be allowed to shape foreign policy; foreign policy must shape the incidents.”

The sophist may ask whose foreign policy is being shaped by those incidents.

In the Middle East, nothing is ever as it appears.  Assad’s survival hangs on the rivalry between Russia and the United States.

As long as the relationship between the two countries is adversarial and as long as Washington demands Assad’s removal, and as long as America stays engaged in Syria providing counterbalance to Russia, Assad is safe.

The Russians see this cold-blooded tyrant as the best, if not the only, hope for stability in the middle of the Muslims’ “war of all against all” and will not allow him to fall, turn Syria over to Islamists, and have the Russian position in the region dramatically weaken.

Conversely, if Moscow and Washington were able to establish common goals to which both countries manifested their desire to work toward eradication of terrorism and solving some of the Middle East’s problems, that evolution could leave Assad politically dispensable, perhaps even available to be used as an exchange currency in a grand bargain.  The prospects of American withdrawal would leave Assad one on one with Putin, who will reduce him to servitude.

With little subtlety and a lot of daring, Assad, by ordering the chemical attacks and thereby provoking international indignation, has been achieving his objective of driving a wedge between Russia and the United States, preventing their coalescence and ensuring continued American engagement.

In both instances, revolted by the atrocities, President Trump, acting on the mood of the moment, did exactly what Assad expected him to do.  After each attack, Trump declared moral absolutes, accused Moscow of culpability, and demanded that Russia sever ties with the butcher Assad.

The folly of this approach is that Washington is acting out of morality, showing little pragmatism, while Moscow is acting out of pragmatism without morality and governed by a different sense of proportion.

Although deeply embarrassed by the events, Russia, which has historically been ruled by ruthless autocrats and whose populace still remembers the horrors of communism, cannot be influenced by the deaths of a few hundred people.  It certainly does not rise to the level of concern that may persuade Moscow to amend its strategic objectives toward the Mediterranean that were set up centuries ago by Peter the Great and further advanced by Catherine the Great.

Russian policy toward Syria is a continuum going back to the 1960s.  It is shaped not by episodes, but by parallelism of national interests.  Assad offers Russia access to the Mediterranean through a warm-water port for the Russian navy and military bases, which allows Russia to be a consequential player in the Middle Eastern balance of power.  In return, Russia has assumed the role of principal arms supplier and the source of the Assad regime’s sustenance.

This collaboration doesn’t come cheap for Russia in terms of investments and relations with the United States and other members of the world community.  And within Russia as well, there is an incipient opposition to Russian involvement in Syria.

Nevertheless, for Moscow, if you can’t get the girl you love, you love the girl you get.

Within this context, the election of Donald Trump offered the opportunity to manipulate Russian necessities to American advantage and build a new world order based on collaboration with Russia.

Instead, the United States, after “successfully” defending the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, extended that failed policy toward defending the people of Syria, leaving Moscow perplexed about the administration’s policies and objectives.  

Were the attacks on Syria isolated incidents or a declaration of the right to intervene in the affairs of sovereign states under the banner of moral supremacy?  By degrading Assad’s capabilities, isn’t Washington helping the Islamists?  Or is there some uniquely American unity of opposites? Going forward, will American foreign policy be based on incidents or long-term geopolitical interests, the power of arms or the power of reason?

After the recent bombing, Trump declared, “mission accomplished!”  The unanswered question is, “Whose mission was it?”  After all, keeping friends and enemies off balance is Assad’s art of survival.

Alexander G. Markovsky is owner and CEO of Litwin Management Services LLC, specializing in the management of large energy-related international projects.  Mr. Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research; his prime areas of expertise are international terrorism and the economy, politics, and ideology of Russia.  He was born and educated in the Soviet Union and holds degrees in structural engineering, economics, and political science.  He immigrated into the United States in 1976 and currently resides in Houston, Texas with his family. 

Mr. Markovsky is the author of two politically charged books, Anatomy of a Bolshevik and Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat CommunismShe Adopted It.  He is a contributor to American Thinker, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, and his work also appears on the Washington Times, FrontPageMag.com, RedState.com, Israpundit.com, WorldNetDaily.com, and FamilySecurityMatters.org.



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The Rise of the Victim-State



Ukraine seeks to follow the Palestinian strategy of turning defeat and victimhood at the hands of a foreign power into a continuous flow of billions in aid.



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Trump, NATO, and the Burden of the Past



With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, NATO found itself without a mission. “Mission accomplished” is not good news for a military alliance — it needs enemies for self-preservation.



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