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The Trump-Putin ceasefire in Syria may hold. Here’s why

The ceasefire agreed by Presidents Putin and Trump has better prospects of success than the previous ceasefires agreed by Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov because the Trump administration is more united and has a more realistic policy towards Syria than did the Obama administration.

Alexander Mercouris

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During his press conference following his meeting with President Macron, US President Trump spoke with hope and some pride about the ceasefire in southern Syria he agreed with Russian President Putin during their meeting on the margins of the G20 summit

Here is what President Trump said

One of the great things that came out if this meeting, by the way, was the fact that we got the ceasefire that now has lasted for almost five days. Five days doesn’t sound like a long period of time. In terms of a ceasefire in Syria it’s a very long period of time……

That was a result of having communication with a country. During that five day period a lot of lives have been saved, a lot of people were not killed, no shots have been fired in a very, very dangerous part of the world and this is one of the most dangerous parts of Syria itself.

By having some communication and dialogue we were able to have a ceasefire and it’s going to go on for a while. And frankly we’re working on the second ceasefire in a very rough part of Syria.

(bold italics added)

One senses in these words the pride of a man who sees himself first and foremost as a deal maker who has just done a successful deal.

Moreover in what he says President Trump is not wrong.  The previous ceasefire negotiated by by the US and Russia in Syria – the one agreed in September by US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov – required weeks of agonising negotiating to come into effect and then lasted just four days.

There are three reasons why this ceasefire however stands a better prospect of success than the two ceasefires Kerry and Lavrov agreed with each other over the course of 2016, the first in February and the second in September.

The first is that President Trump agreed it himself.   Unlike President Obama, who never wholeheartedly committed himself to either of the two ceasefires negotiated by Kerry, that means that this ceasefire has behind it the authority of the President himself.

Even when a President is as much in conflict with the bureaucracy as President Trump is, it is nonetheless far more difficult for disaffected members of the bureaucracy to sabotage a policy that is backed by the President himself.

The second is that on this issue the President may actually have the support of the key figures in the bureaucracy.

It has not been widely noted but President Trump has a far more coherent foreign policy team than President Obama ever did.

Obama’s practice was to balance supposed ‘realists’ within his administration with ideological liberal interventionists or neocons by giving both posts in his administration in a way that made it easier for him to play them off against each other.

This was justified as an inclusive ‘team of rivals’ approach supposedly borrowed from the one used by President Lincoln in the Civil War.  My opinion is that it was actually intended to cover Obama’s tracks, making it possible for him to let one member of his administration carry the can for a policy, and then using another member of the administration to undermine or overturn the policy if it ran into trouble.

A classic example was the way Ashton Carter – Obama’s neocon Defense Secretary – was allowed to sabotage the ceasefire Kerry painstakingly negotiated with Lavrov last September as soon as it became clear that it was unpopular with the regime change hardliners in Congress and the media and within the administration itself.

Though this was clever politics, it made negotiating with the Obama administration on a subject like Syria ultimately impossible.

By contrast one gets the sense that the top members of Donald Trump’s foreign policy team – Tillerson, Mattis and McMaster – are on the same page and work well with each other as a united team.  Importantly it seems that all three of them are fully signed up to the President’s Syrian policy, and want to make the ceasefire work.

The key figure is Defense Secretary Mattis.  Not only does he appear to be especially close to the President – apparently they meet regularly and often lunch together – but as a former Marine General he appears to have the  US military in Syria fully under control.

It has become increasingly clear over the last few weeks that it is Mattis who has day to day control of US policy in Syria.  Moreover he appears to be a voice of (relative) moderation.  Strikingly, following Sean Spicer’s phoney ‘warning’ to President Assad of a few weeks ago it was Mattis who stepped in to calm the situation by saying that the ‘warning’ ‘appeared to have been heeded’ so that an attack on Syria was not actually necessary.

With Mattis in control of the US military in Syria and backing the ceasefire there is much less risk of US action being taken to undermine the ceasefire than was the case with the ceasefire agreed last September.

Thirdly and lastly, despite all the problems and obstacles – some of which it must be said are self-created – the Trump administration overall has a much more realistic policy in Syria than did the Obama administration.

The Obama administration never gave up its objective of achieving regime change in Syria by overthrowing President Assad’s government in Damascus.

In the summer of 2015 it was preparing to declare a no-fly zone over Syria – ie. start a bombing campaign against the Syrian military – even at the risk of allowing ISIS to capture Damascus.  In the spring of 2016 it supported a Jihadi offensive to capture Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.   In the autumn of 2016 some of its more militant members appear pressed for military action to stop the Syrian military liberating the Jihadi controlled eastern district of Aleppo.

By contrast the Trump administration has accepted that the forcible overthrow of President Assad’s government is unachievable.  Instead it is focused on gaining leverage in Syria by establishing areas controlled by its proxies there whilst at the same time making genuine efforts to achieve the destruction of ISIS.

Recently, in the face of the rapid advances by the Syrian army, the Trump administration seems to have given up its plan to establish a big statelet controlled by its Sunni proxies in central and eastern Syria, and appears to be more focused on building up a large pro-US Kurdish controlled statelet in the north.

In my opinion this policy will also eventually fail, and I believe that the whole of Syria, including its northern Kurdish areas, will eventually be brought back under the control of President Assad’s Syrian government in Damascus.

Whether or not I am right about that, it still remains the case that this is a much more realistic policy than the Obama’s administration’s policy of seeking regime change in Damascus.

Given that the Trump administration’s objectives in Syria are more realistic and limited than those of the Obama administration, and do not include regime change in Damascus, that means that a ceasefire in southern Syria will not be perceived by members of the Trump administration as a defeat, as the two ceasefires negotiated by Kerry were perceived by members of the Obama administration.

None of this unfortunately guarantees the success of the latest ceasefire.  Given that Al-Qaeda and ISIS are still on the loose in Syria, and given that countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey are all still active there, confidence that any ceasefire anywhere in Syria is likely to hold would be foolhardy.

However President Trump is right to say that this ceasefire is more likely to hold than the earlier ones.

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BARR: No collusion by any Americans

Trump never used his powers to interfere with Mueller, and thus had no “corrupt intent” in the matter.

Alex Christoforou

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Attorney General Barr found no one in the Trump campaign colluded with “Russia” to meddle in the 2016 US election.

A devastating blow to Democrats and their mainstream media stenographers.

Trump reacted immediately…

Via RT…

With the full report on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into claims President Donald Trump colluded with Russia about to be released, Attorney General William Barr is giving a press conference about its findings.

Barr maintains the allegation that the Russian government made efforts to interfere in the election through the Internet Research Agency, an alleged Kremlin-control “troll farm”, as well as “hacking efforts” by the Russian intelligence agency GRU.

The bottom line, Barr says, is that Mueller has found Russia tried to interfere in the election, but “no American” helped it.

Barr explained the White House’s interaction with the Mueller report, whether Trump used executive privilege to block any of its contents from release, as well as on how the Justice Department chose which bits of the 400-page paper to redact.

On the matter of obstruction of justice, Barr said he and his deputy Rod Rosenstein have reviewed Mueller’s evidence and “legal theories”, and found that there is no evidence to show Trump tried to disrupt the investigation.

He said Trump never used his powers to interfere with Mueller, and thus had no “corrupt intent” in the matter.

Most of the redactions in the report were made to protect ongoing investigations and personal information of “peripheral third parties”.

Barr said that no-one outside the Justice Department took part in the redacting process or saw the unredacted version, except for the intelligence community, which was given access to parts of it to protect sources.

Trump did not ask to make any changes to Mueller’s report, Barr said.

Trump’s personal counsel was given access to the redacted report before its release.

A number of Trump-affiliated people, as well as Russian nationals, have been indicted, charged or put on trial by Mueller over the course of the past two years, but none for election-related conspiracy. Still, Democrats in Congress as well as numerous establishment media personalities have been insisting that Barr, a Trump pick for AG office, is somehow “spinning” its findings in order to protect and exonerate Trump, and are calling to see the full report as soon as possible.

They have equally condemned Barr’s decision to hold a news conference before the report is release, claiming he is trying to shape the public perception in Trump’s favor.

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Moscow’s Strategy: To Win Everywhere, Every Time

The main feature of Moscow’s approach is to find areas of common interest with its interlocutor and to favor the creation of trade or knowledge exchange.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Important events have occurred in the Middle East and North Africa in recent weeks that underline how the overall political reconfiguration of the region is in full swing. The Shia axis continues its diplomatic relations and, following Rouhani’s meeting in Baghdad, it was the turn of Adil Abdul-Mahdi to be received in Tehran by the highest government and religious authorities. Among the many statements released, two in particular reveal the high level of cooperation between the two countries, as well as demonstrating how the Shia axis is in full bloom, carrying significant prospects for the region. Abdul-Mahdi also reiterated that Iraq will not allow itself to be used as a platform from which to attack Iran: “Iraqi soil will not be allowed to be used by foreign troops to launch any attacks against Iran. The plan is to export electricity and gas for other countries in the region.”

Considering that these two countries were mortal enemies during Saddam Hussein’s time, their rapprochement is quite a (geo)political miracle, owing much of its success to Russia’s involvement in the region. The 4+1 coalition (Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria plus Hezbollah) and the anti-terrorism center in Baghdad came about as a result of Russia’s desire to coordinate all the allied parties in a single front. Russia’s military support of Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah (together with China’s economic support) has allowed Iran to begin to transform the region such that the Shia axis can effectively counteract the destabilizing chaos unleashed by the trio of the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

One of the gaps to be filled in the Shia axis lies in Lebanon, which has long experienced an internal conflict between the many religious and political currents in the country. The decision by Washington to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel pushed the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, to make an important symbolic visit to Moscow to meet with President Putin.

Once again, the destabilizing efforts of the Saudis, Israelis and Americans are having the unintended effect of strengthening the Shia axis. It seems that this trio fails to understood how such acts as murdering Khashoggi, using civilian planes to hide behind in order to conduct bombing runs in Syria, recognizing the occupied territories like the Golan Heights – how these produce the opposite effects to the ones desired.

The supply of S-300 systems to Syria after the downing of the Russian reconnaissance plane took place as a result of Tel Aviv failing to think ahead and anticipate how Russia may respond.

What is surprising in Moscow’s actions is the versatility of its diplomacy, from the deployment of the S-300s in Syria, or the bombers in Iran, to the prompt meetings with Netanyahu in Moscow and Mohammad bin Salman at the G20. The ability of the Russian Federation to mediate and be present in almost every conflict on the globe restores to the country the international stature that is indispensable in counterbalancing the belligerence of the United States.

The main feature of Moscow’s approach is to find areas of common interest with its interlocutor and to favor the creation of trade or knowledge exchange. Another military and economic example can be found in a third axis; not the Shia or Saudi-Israeli-US one but the Turkish-Qatari one. In Syria, Erdogan started from positions that were exactly opposite to those of Putin and Assad. But with decisive military action and skilled diplomacy, the creation of the Astana format between Iran, Turkey and Russia made Turkey and Qatar publicly take the defense of Islamist takfiris and criminals in Idlib. Qatar for its part has a two-way connection with Turkey, but it is also in open conflict with the Saudi-Israeli axis, with the prospect of abandoning OPEC within a few weeks. This situation has allowed Moscow to open a series of negotiations with Doha on the topic of LNG, with these two players controlling most of the LNG on the planet. It is evident that also the Turkish-Qatari axis is strongly conditioned by Moscow and by the potential military agreements between Turkey and Russia (sale of S-400) and economic and energy agreements between Moscow and Doha.

America’s actions in the region risks combining the Qatari-Turkish front with the Shia axis, again thanks to Moscow’s skilful diplomatic work. The recent sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, together with the withdrawal from the JCPOA (the Iranian nuclear agreement), has created concern and bewilderment in the region and among Washington’s allies. The act of recognizing the occupied Golan Heights as belonging to Israel has brought together the Arab world as few events have done in recent times. Added to this, Trump’s open complaints about OPEC’s high pricing of oil has forced Riyadh to start wondering out aloud whether to start selling oil in a currency other than the dollar. This rumination was quickly denied, but it had already been aired. Such a decision would have grave implications for the petrodollar and most of the financial and economic power of the United States.

If the Shia axis, with Russian protection, is strengthened throughout the Middle East, the Saudi-Israel-American triad loses momentum and falls apart, as seen in Libya, with Haftar now one step closer in unifying the country thanks to the support of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia, with Fayez al-Sarraj now abandoned by the Italians and Americans awaiting his final defeat.

While the globe continues its multipolar transformation, the delicate balancing role played by Russia in the Middle East and North Africa is emphasized. The Venezuelan foreign minister’s recent visit to Syria shows how the front opposed to US imperialist bullying is not confined to the Middle East, with countries in direct or indirect conflict with Washington gathering together under the same protective Sino-Russian umbrella.

Trump’s “America First” policy, coupled with the conviction of American exceptionalism, is driving international relations towards two poles rather than multipolar ones, pushing China, Russia and all other countries opposed to the US to unite in order to collectively resist US diktats.

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Nigel Farage stuns political elite, as Brexit Party and UKIP surge in polls (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 144.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party’s stunning rise in the latest UK polls, which show Tory support splintering and collapsing to new lows. Theresa May’s Brexit debacle has all but destroyed the Conservative party, which is now seeing voters turn to UKIP and The Brexit Party.

Corbyn’s Labour Party is not finding much favor from UK voters either, as anger over how Britain’s two main parties conspired to sell out the country to EU globalists, is now being voiced in various polling data ahead of EU Parliament elections.

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Authored by Mike Shedlock via MishTalk:


The Guardian reports Tories Hit by New Defections and Slump in Opinion Polls as Party Divide Widens.

The bitter fallout from Brexit is threatening to break the Tory party apart, as a Europhile former cabinet minister Stephen Dorrell on Sunday announces he is defecting to the independent MPs’ group Change UK, and a new opinion poll shows Conservative support plummeting to a five-year low as anti-EU parties surge.

The latest defections come as a new Opinium poll for the Observer shows a dramatic fall in Tory support in the past two weeks and a surge for anti-EU parties. The Conservatives have fallen by six percentage points to 29% compared to a fortnight ago. It is their worst position since December 2014. Labour is up one point on 36% while Ukip is up two points on 11%.

Even more alarmingly for the Tories, their prospects for the European elections appear dire. Only 17% of those certain to vote said they would choose the Conservatives in the European poll, while 29% would back Labour, and 25% either Ukip (13%) or Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party (12%).

YouGov Poll

A more recent YouGov Poll looks even worse for the Tories

In the YouGov poll, UKIP and BREX total 29%.

Polls Volatile

Eurointellingence has these thoughts on the polls.

We have noted before that classic opinion polls at a time like this are next to useless. But we found an interesting constituency-level poll, by Electoral Calculus, showing for the first time that Labour would get enough constituency MPs to form a minority government with the support of the SNP. This is a shift from previous such exercises, which predicted a continuation of the status quo with the Tories still in command.

This latest poll, too, is subject to our observation of massively intruding volatility. It says that some of the Tory’s most prominent MPs would be at risk, including Amber Rudd and Iain Duncan-Smith. And we agree with the bottom-line analysis of John Curtice, the pollster, who said the abrupt fall in support for Tories is due entirely to their failure to have delivered Brexit on time.

The Tories are facing two electoral tests in May – local elections on May 2 and European elections on May 23. Early polls are show Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party shooting up, taking votes away from the Tories. If European elections were held, we would expect the Brexit party to come ahead of the Tories. Labour is rock-solid in the polls, but Labour unity is at risk as the pro-referendum supporters want Jeremy Corbyn to put the second referendum on the party’s manifesto.

Tory Labour Talks

The Tory/Labour talks on a compromise have stalled, but are set to continue next week with three working groups: on security, on environmental protection, and on workers’ rights. A separate meeting is scheduled between Philip Hammond and John McDonnell, the chancellor and shadow chancellor. The big outstanding issue is the customs union. Theresa May has not yet moved on this one. We noted David Liddington, the effective deputy prime minister, saying that the minimum outcome of the talks would be an agreed and binding decision-making procedure to flush out all options but one in a series of parliamentary votes.

May’s task is to get at least half of her party on board for a compromise. What makes a deal attractive to the Tories is that May would resign soon afterwards, giving enough time for the Tory conference in October to select a successor before possible elections in early 2020.

This relative alignment of interests is why we would not rule out a deal – either on an agreed joint future relationship, or at least on a method to deliver an outcome.

Customs Union

A customs union, depending on how it is structured, would likely be worse than remaining. The UK would have to abide by all the EU rules and regulations without having any say.

Effectively, it will not be delivering Brexit.

Perhaps May’s deal has a resurrection.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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