It’s been awhile since we did one of these; at least a year, obviously. I’d forgotten how much fun the last one was, and we had lots of great entries. The photo is courtesy of Yalensis, from the Russian papers, and features President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a man-hug, on the occasion of the latter’s recent visit to Sochi.
Photos typically need a bit of background for context, and this one particularly so given there was a bit of a what-actually-happened media struggle over the sequence of events in Syria. According to the official Washington version, The United States of America noticed that Assad was having a bit of a tough time with this new Islamic fundamentalist group which had basically come straight outta nowhere, and which was variously titled ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State and some other tags which were less popular and which I have forgotten. Anyway, much as the United States disliked Assad and wanted him gone – owing to his practice of strafing crowds of peaceful protesters with heavy machine guns and suchlike, which it claimed he had done according to its network of Syrian opposition activists, but did not ever provide any evidence – it had noticed he was having a problem with his ISIS infestation, and reserved the right to step in wherever the emergence of a threat which might one day impact US national security was observed. Therefore, it would invite itself into Syria to fight ISIS. And since the USA always likes to have friends along to lend an international cachet to its operations, it invited its friends into Syria as well, and appointed itself head of the ‘US-led Coalition’. After nearly two years of this, Syria invited the Russian Federation and Iran’s Hezbollah in to help it defend Damascus; an initiative the United States regarded as counterproductive to say the least.
According to the alternate version – which was occasionally hinted at in the Russian press but which was never the official Kremlin analysis, at least prior to Russia committing a small contingent of forces – was that if this period of 18 months or so constituted a typical example of American suppression of a fundamentalist movement, then they sucked at it like a black hole. American air strikes returned to their bases as much as 70% of the time without having expended any ordnance, and when they did it was hard to avoid the impression that they were simply bombing ahead of ISIS fighters in order to provide a Syrian-Army-free zone for them to advance into. Despite lots of grapevine about ISIS selling oil from captured oilfields through Turkish avenues in order to raise money for its operations, including photography of oil-truck convoys, American leaders declined to bomb them because they said it would risk killing some of the truck drivers, who were helpless civilians – what did people think they were; savages?
Whichever narrative was the more accurate, the facts on the ground spoke for themselves. During the 18 or so months the United States was at the helm of the anti-ISIS effort, ISIS relentlessly advanced and consolidated territorial gains, until it controlled fully three-fourths of Syria and was in the suburbs of Damascus itself. At this point, Bashar al-Assad’s government invited the Russian Federation and Hezbollah to participate on the Syrian state’s behalf, to assist in defending it against ISIS. The American-led coalition was still present in Syria, but had never been invited. Russia responded with a small-scale force of between two and three dozen combat aircraft of various types, some Special Forces troops, a few engineers and some headquarters and communications staff. Hezbollah also sent some fighters, although I don’t recall ever seeing any official numbers. And within three weeks, certainly less than a month, the ISIS advance stopped and it was forced onto the defensive against relentless, around-the-clock air strikes. Within three months from that time, ISIS was in retreat, and except for the recapture of Palmyra – owing largely to Russian overconfidence and the early withdrawal which resulted – it never regained the initiative, fighting a rearguard action all the way back to its strongholds in Aleppo and Raqqa.
There’s much more, and I’d be happy to discuss it if people wish to do so, but the main purpose of this is the photo caption contest, which will be judged by popular acclaim at some point when we have gotten enough entries. I’ll repeat the three which have already been lodged at the previous post:
- “Thank you for everything you did, my friend! The cameras shall capture our hug and give Matt an embolism.”
- “OK, OK, I get it, I like you too but it wasn’t that much – 35 aircraft and some Spetsnaz.”
- “Putin: I’ve got to tell you Bashar that now that you have defeated the takfiris and driven them out, I might have to transfer some of the aircraft and my advisors to Yemen.”
Assad: “What?! Boo-hoo!”
Putin: “There, there, don’t cry!”
I look forward to many amusing sallies. I still have a few of the Novorossiya tin soldiers left, and offer the choice of the remaining ones to the winner, although two are already winnings for Cortes and Vivian; I just keep forgetting to send them. Good luck to all entrants, and as before with the previous contest, your first comment must be a photo-caption entry. After you have submitted your entry, you can as usual talk about anything you like.