Following up on our recent warning about the situation in Syria, Chris sits down this week for a conversation with The Saker, who writes extensively on geo-political and military matters. The Saker (a nom-de-plume), is a former intelligence expert with professional and personal insights into Russia and the Middle East.
He shares our deep concern for the dangerously misdirected current state of US foreign and military policy, as well as the potentially lethal repercussions these threaten to have in the powderkeg that is Syria.
In this week's podcast, The Saker provides an excellent distillation of the complex forces in play in Syria — as well as in the brewing friction between the US and Russia — and why the risk of nuclear war has now grown higher than it has been in decades:
I'm not convinced there is a US strategy. I think there is a CIA strategy, a Pentagon strategy, a State Department strategy. There used to be a White House strategy. Right now, I am not even sure. We should go deeper into who is doing what inside the Pentagon and the military. I mean, there is chaos. There has been chaos since at least Obama because he was an extremely weak president. When a superpower like the United States is ruled by more or less an absent man in the White House, the agencies themselves start implementing their own policies. This is happening now under Trump, who was elected under specific platform and now is basically giving it up. There has been a coup against him by the neo-cons who basically got him under control. He wanted to drain the swamp, but the swamp basically drowned him.
I'm not sure there's anything I can identify as a US policy. There is, however, an Israeli and a Saudi policy. And those two happen to be very, very closely aligned. Because those two, first of all, are extremely powerful as we know, inside the United States. But not only inside the United States but they are also objectively aligned in the region, which is very counter intuitive. It's natural to wonder: What would the Saudi Wahhabis have in common with the Israelis? What they have in common is an immense fear of Iran, first and foremost. And generally, the Saudis and the Israelis have the same exact interest for the Arab Muslim world, which is to keep it in chaos and weak. That allows them to rule it. It's that simple(…)[Provoking Russia in Syria] is completely nuts. And it is due to that fact that I 'm convinced the neocons are not American patriots. They have their ideology. They have their agenda. They are just like parasites sitting in the United States and using that country for their own petty ideological interests. Which is the same thing the Saudis have been doing, by the way. Our government has been hijacked, and that's the real problem.
By patriot, I simply mean a person who loves his country. Through that lens, Americans should immediately see that Russia and the United States have no conflict. There's nothing to fight over and a great deal to work together with. This is something that the neocons do not want. And that's why they basically crushed Trump. That is why both the Democratic party and the Republican party don't let the people who are for a non-aggressive foreign policy — like someone like Ron Paul — get anywhere near power. If you look at the Republican and Democratic national committees they always take away money from these candidates – even if means losing a Congressional seat. There is a real problem here in the United States. And that problem could end up with international nuclear war.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with The Saker (45m:51s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome everyone to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson and it is Wednesday, July 5th, 2017. It was July 4th yesterday. Well, Syria. It is a complete mess. And there are many competing interests and today we are going to dive in and unravel as much as we can. It is important because the potential exists for a misstep in Syria that leads to a direct conflict militarily between Russia and the United States.
Today, we are going to be talking with a gentleman who is known online as The Saker. His background includes intelligence work and we will let him tell us what he can at this time about his background. I know that his family comes from Russia and he spent many years professionally analyzing Russia and a decade looking into Hezbollah. Given that background his writings on Syria are analytically rooted in a deep understanding and his writings are – they are very widely read. I read them all the time. His website is thesaker.is. As I said, I read it religiously for an alternative view or maybe even a more complete view on events in Ukraine and now Syria. I find it full of information and providing vastly more context that can be found in mainstream sources. Especially in the US and Europe. Welcome, Saker. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Saker: Thank you for having me. It is absolutely a pleasure. I very much look forward to our conversation.
Chris Martenson: Well, as a way of starting, Saker, what should we know about your background and how that relates to the writings on Russia and Syria?
Saker: Well, I think you covered it pretty well. I was born in a family of Russian refugees in Switzerland. So, born in Europe. Got most of my education, actually, in the United States. Studied military topics and strategy in the US and I used to be a Cold Warrior, which means I studied the Soviet Union as The Enemy, which actually gives me, also, somewhat of an insight, of course, as to what is happening today inside of Russia and the Ukraine and right now I am just a blogger and I don’t write any classified stuff anymore. It is actually a joy to write what I want with nobody looking over my shoulder in terms of contents.
Chris Martenson: That is a blessing. Let’s turn now to Syria. How did that conflict get started? How far back to do we have to unravel this to really understand what is happening today?
Saker: Well, we could go very far. I think the key thing to – I think to summarize there were truly grievances with the regime in power in Syria. It began with the father of the current President who was a very – he ruled with a very strict rule. Most Syrians, I knew a lot of them during my time of studies – they would honestly tell you they had a secret police the mukhabaraph, one of them, that was very authoritarian. Brutal in many ways, but also prosperous. Well-organized. I mean it was a typical Baathist, secular nationalist regime who had as one of its characteristics of course, a stance against Israel.
I think what happened is similar to what happened in many other countries. The US identified – there was of course a US plan to destabilize all the secular Arab countries, starting with the Northern Africa then it went further. Then, of course, the US overthrew Hussein in Iraq. Something similar happened here. There was a discontent. There was a potential. The new president paradoxically was democratizing and sort of trying to reform his country, which in a way made it weaker and more susceptible to subversion. And western intelligence agencies very skillfully injected into that conflict what I call Daesh but we can call it Al Qaeda, ISIS, Islamic State it doesn’t matter what label you put on it. That Wahhabi or Takhfiri is another term for that – extremist element was injected in there. Gradually, first of all, they brought money, they brought weapons and they brought violence. The government, predictably, reacted with a crackdown, which didn’t go well. And that is basically how the entire region exploded. I shouldn’t say the region. The country. The region already had been affected by the war in Iraq, of course, where a lot of elements from Iraq came into Syria.
But they also came from all over the world. Really, the United States federated – initially, if you look at the origins of Al Qaeda, it wasn’t even a movement. It was a small group of people in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabis basically had extremist Islamic ideology. What the US did is they federated the first time to use them against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Pretty much the same forces were used in Bosnia. They were used in Chechnya. They were used in Kosovo. For the first time they were injected into Arab, Muslim, but secular countries, such as Libya, and it has been going on ever since.
Chris Martenson: In these competing interests, one view says that okay, this is really a proxy Shiite/Sunni war. Another view says that this is Israel looking to create a lot of destabilized, ineffective countries around it as a means of providing security for itself. The United States is doing something. Can you help me understand what the United States’ strategy is here? I have been a little lost as to what the overarching strategy really was, unless it was to break things. What happened in Libya, for instance, with Muammar Gadhafi basically elevating his country from almost dead last on the world ranking list to a very, very high standard of living, with lots of different tribes that he had to balance out. Of course, that is tricky business. He had to use what methods he could. That was a really prosperous country. They had no western banks in there. They had a nationalized oil company. If you got married you had a one-time endowment, I guess, of $49,500.
Chris Martenson: They would pay for people to travel anywhere in the world to get medical care if they couldn’t provide it at home. All mortgages were slated at 10% of your salary for 20 years from the government. On and on. Big, big, big stuff. Now, it is a giant mess. The story was always that we were there to help bring democracy. Obviously, that didn’t happen. What is the US strategy here? Can you help me understand it?
Saker: I can try. First of all, I should say as a preamble – I am not convinced there is a US strategy. I think there is a CIA strategy, a Pentagon strategy, a State Department strategy. There used to be a White House strategy. Right now, I am not even sure. We should go deeper into who is doing what inside the Pentagon and the military. I mean, there is chaos. There has been chaos since at least Obama, because he was an extremely weak president. With a superpower like the United States is ruled by more or less an absent man in the White House, the agencies themselves start implementing their own policies. This is happening now under Trump, who was elected under specific platform and now is basically giving it up. There has been a coup against him by the neo-cons, who basically got him under control. He wanted to drain the swamp, but the swamp basically drowned him.
I am not sure there is anything I can identify as a US policy. There is, however, an Israeli and a Saudi policy. And those two happen to be very, very closely aligned. Because those two, first of all, are extremely powerful as we know, inside the United States. But not only inside the United States, but they are objectively key allies in the region, which is very counter intuitive. You would think what would the Saudi Wahhabis have in common with the Israelis? Well, they do. What they have in common is an immense fear of Iran, first and foremost. And generally, the Saudis and the Israelis have the same exact interest for the Arab Muslim world, which is to keep it in chaos and weak. That allows them to rule it. It is that simple.
What happens in Syria is that Israel is being very backed – keeps a very low profile. The Saudis are obviously much more vocal about it. Essentially, working hand in glove together. THE threats, as you mentioned the Shia/Sunni position I think it is true. I think there is, what I call, an anti-Shiite crusade, which could not be waged by secular Sunni governments. You could not recruit – Saddam Hussein had his try at going against Iran and it didn’t work well. What was needed was to have the Wahabi crazies, because they are willing to go against definitely anything that is Shia, be it Bahrain, Syria, Iraq or, the real prize is Iran, because Iran represents a huge threat for Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia. The threat is not the invented fairytale about the Iranians developing nuclear weapons. That is absolutely ridiculous. There is no basis to that whatsoever. However, Iran is a Shia Muslim traditionalist, yet in many aspects I would say a progressive society. Which in spite of extremely difficult sanctions in spite of subversion, in spite of many problems is actually prospering.
There is what I call the gravitational pull of the Iranian example. First it was only for the Shia. We all know Hezbollah was very close with Iran. And then you know, the other Shiite in the Middle East are looking towards Iran as the example. But the real – now we really see the terror. The worst scenario now actually materializing, which is what is happening with Qatar which is not a Shiite country. But it is feeling the pull because they have a gas field in common. And Iran has a lot to offer. Even the fact that the Qataris would generally kind of look at Iran with anything but a bellicose and hostile look is perceived by Saudi Arabia as quasi declarational war. We see how sedative they are about that.
Basically, it is a union of the west. What I call the Anglo Zionist empire, but with a very strong element of Wahhabi secularism and all of them, of course this is a proxy war definitely. For instance if as the United States tried to achieve let’s call them Daish have come to power in Damascus the regime would have fallen. The very next thing that would have happened would have obviously been the infiltration into Lebanon going after Hezbollah. You see how clearly the Israelis tried to beat Hezbollah in 2006. They got very, very humiliated. I mean, they really lost one of the worst defeats that I can think of during what the Lebanese call the Divine Victory, where they defeated the powers of Israel. The Israelis are not willing to repeat that. So, instead what they wanted to do is to use the Takfiris, the Al Qaeda if you want to call them – from Syria the next step would be clearly Lebanon, Hezbollah and then Iraq, which is also threatened by them now.
Because essentially by overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the United States almost I would say, handed over Iraq to Iran, which became the main actor there. Certainly the most powerful one. Now they have second thoughts about that because it is very badly run, grew in power and influence as a result of that war. Now they are trying to chase away the regimes there by supporting Al Qaeda and Iraq. It is all a domino ripple effect. But the real core of it will always be Iran as the main threat to everybody there.
Chris Martenson: Now, let’s turn for a second to some of the details in there. It was probably three years ago I am going to guess at this point when I first started to write about Syria a little bit and I came across a picture of the so-called – I guess what are being called The Syrian Democratic Forces. And I couldn’t find a Syrian in the picture. It was a very prominent Chechen in there. There was a bunch of North Africans. There were clearly a few Pakistanis and some Afghanis. I couldn’t find a Syrian in the picture. Clearly, mercenaries. Something I think people in my country, the United States in particular, don’t appreciate, which is that if all of a sudden if you had people from all sorts of neighboring countries showing up in say New Jersey, creating a lot of trouble, killing a lot of people and doing the things that Daesh did and does – the Jihad is very awful. Very awful. Women, children, prisoners you name it.
When we look at that – my first question is – they are mercenaries unless they are on some Holy War. But if they are not, they are being paid. Who is paying them?
Saker: Oh, the Gulf countries and the United States. There is a mix there. You have a mix of poorly trained and very illiterate basically cannon fodder. Then you have a lot of very skillful and well-trained Sunni officers from Iraq, who provided – who the former Army of Saddam Hussein provide technical expertise. But you also have what are special forces. You have the Israelis sending materials there and regularly providing air cover. You have all sorts of private companies involved. I mean there is a lot of money to be made there. And since a lot of people wanted Syria to be destabilized. I mean, I would say every single neighbor. Turkey certainly is also very guilty. They changed their tune so much. Initially, they played a very important role. Turkey now is trying to say we are anti-terrorist, but they used to support the very same people in Syria. They certainly supported them in Chechnya and Bosnia. So, Turkey as an actor there. Everybody.
The Syrians were absolutely left alone, had it not been for first of all, an immense effort by Hezbollah who knew that they would be next. So they had to move. And they moved out of the exact same rationale as the Russians did. The Russians when they went in Vladimir Putin was very clear. We fight them there so that we do not have to fight them here. I am not sure if Hezbollah said the same words but essentially his message – his speeches were clear. We have to go there not only to help our Syrian brethren but also because Lebanon is going to be next. There have been small groups I would say little – starting fires of Al Qaeda types in Lebanon certain refugee camps, etc. Hezbollah took care of that pretty fast. But the risk is absolutely real for Lebanon. Lebanon and Syria are very similar. It is essentially the same country. They know very well how much in danger they are. Everybody pitched in with money. There was tons of money. There was also gas contracts that were supposed to be passed. Oman is involved in that. Huge amounts of money. Syria is a strategic location. It is, I would say, the cornerstone of the entire Middle East.
Chris Martenson: A lot depends at this point on how the US responds and what it does. Obviously, there is a lot of other competing interests that can move the needle. But I want to turn to something you recently wrote. I loved how these few sentences came together. “First, we should all stop kidding ourselves. Russia and the USA do not have disagreements. The sad and frightening reality is that we are now closer to war than during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not only are Russian and US servicemen now deployed in the same warzone – the Americans totally illegally – but unlike what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we have a US President that terminally lacks the willpower to deal with the crazies on the US Side. I am talking about the neocons, of course.
You know, Saker, I actually had hopes during the election that Trump would be very different towards Russia. He made a lot of very different sounds about Russia than Hillary did. But now, I don’t see any particular difference at all between what I suspect Clinton would have been doing and what Trump is doing. What are your views here?
Saker: Well, just like you – when Trump ran, for the first time in my life I actually had hopes for a US President. I really did. I have no apologies about that. Some people can criticize us for having supported Trump. The thing is, at that time we could judge him only by his words. And his words were very, very good. Let’s be honest, he said the right stuff. I had high hopes. I had hopes that he would not only meet with Putin for a short meeting on the sidelines of a G20 summit, but I was hoping for a Camp David kind of thing. Where they would sit down with their advisors and solve – because all the problems between Russia and the United States objectively are solvable. The solutions are obvious. There is nothing complicated here. The only thing preventing that is ideology, from the neocons specifically.
I had hopes for him. I think he was sincere. I know that some people say he has been a plant all along. You know, I am not a mind reader. I don’t know what happens in his head, but I thought he was sincere. Something just broke him. I think he lacks courage. I think he lacks principles. The way he ditched Flynn showed that he couldn’t even stand up for his own friends. They just absolutely flattened him. And yes we have a Clinton-like, where I would say Hillary was probably even worse. I wouldn’t say it is the same. It is still better than Hillary because we probably would have had some kind of shooting war with Russia over Syria had she been in power. I think I still hope that he can stop that. I think we sort of have an Obama 2.0, where I don’t discern a real policy there. And I see no prospects with him collaborating with Russia in a meaningful way.
The perfect example for me is the missile strikes. We all knew then but now it has been confirmed by Sy Hersh that there was no missile – the chemical attack by the governments. And what does he do? He doesn’t even wait or do anything. He bombs the base first. The International Organization for the Control of Chemical Weapons I think it is called declares that there have been chemicals s used there. They weren’t on this plot. They didn’t take samples – not in the place where it happened, not in the air base where supposedly the aircraft flew from. On the air base obviously, there were no chemicals, because people were walking around normal battle fatigues which you wouldn’t do if there was gas there. All of this is ridiculous. It would be funny if it weren’t tragic, to be honest.
Right now, I don’t see how Trump could do anything. By doing that he alienated the Russians completely. And now he is basically in a position where anything he does even remotely would be looking like he is working with the Russians will be interpreted by the Trump hating media in the United States as a betrayal, as him being Putin’s pup pet, etc. We have seen it already. People demonstrating in front of the Trump Towers handing him a one-way Aeroflot ticket to Moscow. I mean, for him any deal with Russia would mean a major problem internally and he is too weak to do that. I don’t see how he can possibly collaborate, which means that I don’t think the United States can do much in Syria.
Also, on pragmatic grounds – Syria can only be resolved with boots on the ground. You need to control territory. You can’t do that from the air. Well, look who has boots on the ground? The Syrians are one kind of boot on the ground. Hezbollah for sure. Small boot on the ground, but a powerful one would be Russia, and only certain places for specific actions the Turks and the Kurds. That is it. The Kurds are kind of paralyzed because the US can’t decide if they are going with the Kurds or with the Turks. US does not work with the Syrians or God forbid Hezbollah. Which leaves the only boots on the ground the US could possibly use is Al Qaeda, which officially they don’t want to use because officially they are there to fight them. I know, it’s ridiculous. I know. It sounds totally surreal, but it is the sad truth. I don’t think Trump has any options in Syria. The only option for him would have been to work with the Russians and he totally is unable to do that.
Chris Martenson: Now, you were talking earlier of the April 4th so-called gas attack that led to that April 6th Tomahawk missile strike. Not the original, original so-called sarin gas attack, which Sy Hersh also dismantled that one. That was when Russia first got involved. Obama was President and they were looking – and Syria coughed up its chemical weapons stockpiles. It was at least, as far as I understand a reasonably well conducted operation. There were lots of observers there. You had the UN. People were in there. That was one.
Then we had clearly, the evidence of the April 4th attack, such as it is because as you say we didn’t have independent people in taking samples. None of the data fit, but still you had Trump launching off that Tomahawk missile strike. And now, Trump has drawn a red line around any future gas attacks with that posting on the White House press statement that said if there is any new future gas attack in Syria, that is going to lead to heavy military response. What are the chances, do you think, a gas attack will happen and who do you think will gain the most?
Saker: Well, I think – if I am not mistaken what happened yesterday. I don’t think it has been reported much because it doesn’t have much credibility, but I think there was an attempt to make it happen yesterday or the day before. I just saw it with one eye. I didn’t have a chance to look into it in detail. I think that one deflated fast because the Russians immediately said, the spokesman for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, warned and said they are about to do that and they accuses the Americans of basically, almost declaring a false flag in order to justify an intervention. Some people who are optimistic said the White House leaked that deliberately to prevent the Pentagon from doing that. I don’t know. I don’t know what is happening on that level.
All I can tell you is had there been an American response, what would it be? I mean, you can shoot a bunch of cruise missiles and then what? The only people who benefit from that, and even marginally, would be really the good terrorists because first of all, we know they are the ones that have the chemical weapons. The government has been disarmed. The US and Russia both signed off on that. The international organization that disarmed them I think even got a prize for that. So it was very official and controlled and nobody complained. I don’t have any reason to believe that the Syrians kept any and if they have kept any I don’t think they would have ever used them. That would be suicidal. What does the government of Syria gain by using chemical weapons which are not very effective. At least, if that is what they have been doing they have not been effective chemical weapons. Chemical weapons are tricky to use to begin with. That is why we don’t see them in real military engagements. One of the reasons, they are tricky to use.
But secondly, what does the regime just want to be bombed? That makes absolutely no sense. I think what we are hearing – you are asking, what is the rationale? I am not sure there is much of a rationale besides somebody with a hammer everything looks like a nail. The US is doing what it is good at doing which is false flags, condemnations, threats, warnings, red lines and missile strikes. Unfortunately, for the US in a country like Syria that is not enough. I don’t think it would have achieved much. And I don’t see the US starting a meaningful operation on the ground. Because if they started a military operation on the ground, believe me there would be lines in Beirut of Hezbollah fighters actually fighting American soldiers. I mean, they would be fighting each other to get to the front line first. And you don’t want that. Believe me, the Americans don’t want to try out Hezbollah from up close, so I don’t think they are going to do that.
Chris Martenson: Alright. Well, you wrote a really excellent piece on the actual capabilities of Russia as compared to the US in the region of Syria. And so, to sort of square that off maybe ask this question – wouldn’t Russia really face huge difficulties in going up against a vastly larger US and NATO force, if it came to that?
Saker: Yes. Russia would face huge difficulty. I have always said that from the day the rumor started that there would be a massive Russian intervention in Syria, I always said absolutely not this isn’t happening the Russians are not coming. They sent a very small force there. That force is protected. Granted, it is very well protected. Russia has some very advanced air defense systems protecting Russian forces and the Russian task force in Syria. But still, I mean essentially the number of aircraft that Russia has is limited. They are very advanced aircraft, but they are smaller in numbers of a relatively small force on the ground. Yes, of course, the US has – Syria essentially is squeezed like a sandwich between SATCOM and NATO. US has much larger forces. The trick is the US only has larger forces in the air. US does not have boots on the ground. Russia doesn’t have either – very little. I mean very little compared – but the Iranians are present there and play an extremely important role and they have boots on the ground. The Syrians have boots on the ground and so does Hezbollah. The combination of Iran, the Syrian forces and Hezbollah on the ground and Russians in the air is very substantial.
Secondly, if the United States decided to declare a no-fly zone over Syria and got involved in a serious way in sustained air operations, it would try to provide basically air cover and do for Al Qaeda what they did for the Kosovars in Kosovo. The Russian response wouldn’t so much be sending fighters in the air, as it would be shooting with air defense missiles. And most people are focused on the very, very advanced long range so-called S-400s, which are extremely capable indeed. There is another system less known called a Pantsir, which is a shorter range. It is a mixture of guns and missiles. Syrians have them. The Russians have them, too and even the Iranians have them. And nobody knows these are mobile missiles, systems the entire system is actually mobile. Nobody knows exactly where they are, and they can take their targeting data from other sources. Those would present a real danger. Basically, what it means in simple terms is the United States would never know when at which point an advanced missile would be flying towards an American aircraft. And I think that if the decision was taken to shoot back and I think it would be taken. The United States wouldn’t lose control of the air space. It is not like they would be challenged by Russian Migs in the air. There would be a steady and very painful loss of aircraft day after day. Which would require what? Escalation? What is the next thing you do? You don’t have boots on the ground.
I think that is the real problem with the United States, is that to pull a no-fly zone you have to suppress the in-air defenses. They can’t do that. I don’t believe they have the resources to do that. If we can’t that means they are going to take losses. If they take losses then you have to double down. How do you double down? You can’t. That is what I think keeps them basically has prevented the attack from happening so far. Absolutely, yes. The United States is a much more powerful – the capabilities of NATO and SACOM are imaginably bigger than anything Russia has in the region.
Chris Martenson: Now I’ve always been taken and we don’t know how any of this would truly play out because we haven’t seen it live tested yet, but I have been really taken by the videos I can get my hands on showing the latest in Russian missile technology. In the United States we are spending hundreds of billions a year camping out in foreign countries numbering hundreds and really spending that way. Russia seemed to have taken a 20-year detail into missile technology with such things as vectored thrust, so you don’t have to use fins meaning you can really take some super high crazy turns at the end if you want to defeat an anti-missile technology that is there on a ship or otherwise. What is your assessment of that idea that the Russians are strong and might be weak in numbers, but strong in missiles and how painful could that be for somebody like the US with really astonishing capabilities militarily?
Saker: American capabilities are all centered on offensive operations. That is why the Americans were never that interested in the defense systems. They have the patriots the other systems but mostly the big thing – the American war that we saw against Iraq missile and air attack’s. The Russians were always very obsessed with defense. Even in the Soviet they developed amazing air defense systems. Russian air defense systems are by far the most sophisticated of any air defense networks on the planet including American ones, which are much simpler. And it is not as much they have some kind of very advanced technologies. You are correct – the way they integrate them together into a weapons system is very impressive. There were leaders and passive and active phase. There are passive radars and thrust vectoring. They have extremely advanced electronic warfare systems. I personally explained that more than half of the missiles never made it to that air base during that missile strike. I think the Russians electronic warfare systems took down these cruise missiles.
The losses would be very real. The US is not really equipped to suppress Russian air defenses. The typical way the Americans would do that is to send in stealth aircraft. The problem is the Russians actually have very good radar systems, such that so-called stealthcraft are just less visible, but they are not invisible depending on the frequency that you start looking for them with. They would use missiles which are designed to destroy radars. But Russian missiles have a longer range than these, so they couldn’t get in range. The missiles are called HARMS. Those missiles wouldn’t get in range. They would try to use electronic suppression by using jammers, etc. but the risk of the Russian system has what is called a home on jam mode. So really, the United States has never put the effort and the money and the technology and the training into fighting the kind of advanced air defense system that - Russia never exported that. They kept – the Soviets kept them for themselves. And even now the Russians are reluctant. There have been some substantial exports, but it is not – the US was just unlikely to see that level of sophistication. Syria is really a qualitative change. The Russians put down basically the best they are going to ever have and they are running that themselves. These are not export models; they are the real thing. I don’t think the United States even if we have very large numbers have enough to suppress that without very painful losses.
Chris Martenson: You know, as a quick aside, I have noted that the cycle of the ratcheting up tension with Iran has gone through a few loops, but it seemed maybe not coincidental. Maybe that last time the United States was really undergoing this big cycle. It was under Obama. It was like centrifuges this bombs almost any moment that. We were really going to town. Then Russia supplied Iran with an S300 system and everything just sort of went quiet. And the way I read that was that all of a sudden if we were going to do anything against Iran, it would be an air campaign. And the S300 system really seemed to take the stuffing out of the turkey in this case, where, at least that is how I interpreted it at the time. I do get the sense from other people I have talked to in the military there is a lot of respect, if not fear about the S300 system, let alone the S400.
Saker: I am just thinking here so don’t take it to the bank, but I thought the deal with Iran was pass first and then the Russians deliver the 300 to the Iranians. But maybe I am wrong here so it might be that I didn’t have enough coffee this morning. Be careful what I say here.
About the Turks – remember the only Turkish aircraft shot down over Syria was by the panther system by the cannons. There was already a deterrent there. But definitely. The 400s were put down almost the day after by Putin as a message to the Turks. And he challenged them. He said, “Try flying now.” The 300 comes in many different variants. The system itself it is pretty old. It has been upgraded many times. It really depends on what kind of 300s you are looking at, or the 400. The kinds of 300 and 400s the Russians have in Syria are of the latest generation. In terms of software, hardware, they are the latest of the latest. They are the most formidable weapons systems, air defense systems that are out there. They have one limitation – sheer numbers. A battery will have that number of missiles. After that you can reload. But really, the big weakness here would be the number of missiles we could allocate to defend. They can’t have them forever, and to resupply them would be difficult and dangerous for the Russians. That is why I tend to personally agree that is the big guy, the most frightening one.
But the smaller one the intermediate range – the short term to intermediate range the Pantsir S1 they are there in bigger numbers. To resupply them and preposition these missiles, which are smaller in size is easier. And those also represent a very, very sophisticated threat. Maybe not as long range, as scary the numbers as the 3 or 400s but definitely ones the pilot in the cockpit would have to think of very hard or constantly while over Syrian airspace.
Chris Martenson: You mentioned an important word, Saker, earlier which was escalation. Just war gaming this out. Let’s assume some of this starts to happen. The United States is losing a few planes. That causes some kind of grief, at least from a PR standpoint if not actual grief of loss. What could the escalation look like in this case and how much do you trust the current general in charge over there – US general?
Saker: That is a tough question. I have to tell you that if you look at the theory of escalation and deterrence, they all assume what we call the rational actor. They are very sophisticated models of how escalation can happen, and how deterrence works and how to deal with somebody. I am not at all sure they are dealing with rational actors on the US side. It is extremely hard for me to predict what the US might or might not do. I am really – I will give you an example – I don’t think threatening North Korea with aircraft carrier strike groups makes any kind of military sense whatsoever, yet they did it. I really cannot predict. I have to just admit my total incompetence and admit I don’t know what the Americans would do.
I have a clear opinion what the Russians would do. If you want, I can tell you what I think he Russian reply would be to any military escalation killing Russians. That I can look into. Americans, honestly, I don’t have the skill set to predict what they could do.
Chris Martenson: Alright, but clearly there was even just around Syria let alone what you just mentioned which is yes, it is a very odd to use carrier groups against a nation like – is well-armed with things like howitzers and what not as North Korea. Looking at the US we clearly have goals in total conflict with each other and – stated goals. None of them actually really make sense. As we look into that side of things, tell us, what do you think the Russian response would be?
Saker: They would shoot back. That is why I was so afraid of Hillary. That is the thing. I think the US wants to play what I call, a game of nuclear chicken, to see if they can make the Russians blink. And they were successful in doing that. That is the big problem with Russia, is that the Russians did blink over and over and over particularly during the 90s. Then, when Putin can into power it got more complicated and the Russians showed caution, but sometimes they also showed a great deal of determination, like in Georgia where there was a possibility of US intervention and Russia knew that. Same thing with Crimea. Russians knew there could be a possibility.
This time, I think they would absolutely shoot back. The first thing that would happen in the case of a US major escalation of whatever kind, it would be very hard to separate the Russians from the Syrians from Hezbollah. It would become a binary us and them kind of thing. You don’t know who is doing what. Even if the United States decided to declare war not targeting Russians they would be and even if they weren’t the Russians would still take action because the Russians are not going to let the government forces be overrun by a combination of Al Qaeda on the ground and the US in the air. They would fight, as would the Iranians; they would fight very hard. I think what would happen is you would essentially have Americans and Russians shooting at each other with a very serious potential of – next question is do the Americans try to hit Russians elsewhere even prevent them from resupplying? And I think if you read the mood in Congress, it is definitely an option. They might push for that kind of stuff. They have been doing it already with threats to check for ships even on Pacific ports, Russian ports for stuff that violates US imposed embargos.
I would see an action like that would be met by force by Russia, for sure. The problem with Russians is the Russians have retreated pretty much as far as they can. They have no more space to retreat. The only real question left in my mind is do the Americans realize that and do they understand the consequences of trying to push them further. Or they are going to go okay we have pushed them as far as we can possibly do without triggering something truly scary and at which point we have to stop. And stop means negotiate. That is the real issue. And I am not at all. I don’t trust the government in the US, whatsoever. I have a very bad opinion of Madis and I don’t think that – am not at all encouraged. I was encouraged by Flynn. He was pretty bad on Iran. I had hoped this was just empty rhetoric to get himself in the right position at the White House. At least he understood that any rational analysis tells you Russia and the United States should collaborate together against their common enemy.
I don’t think that is the agenda today. Certainly not in Congress. I am frightened. I really am, again.
Chris Martenson: To harken back to something you said earlier – I was not a gigantic Trump supporter, but I was very much a single-issue voter this last time, which was I was saying on to nuclear war.
Saker: Same here. Exact same.
Chris Martenson: I think that would be very bad for business and my life and my future. That is just a view I hold. But it seems to me – and I don’t understand why – I am just as clueless as anybody. I do not understand why there are people in the United States, the neocons, are so desperately seeking perpetual if not larger conflict with Russia when everything that I analyze says that we should be more, way more on the friend side than the enemy side given how the interest stack up. At this particular time in history and maybe counter productively or maybe intentionally it looks to me like Putin and China under President Xi are certainly getting closer and closer around this. For the United States to be poking China on one side over the Spratleys and maybe Taiwan on arms sales. And then Russia on the other side. It feels a little nutty to me. Feels a little nuts. And I don’t understand it.
Saker: It is completely nuts and it is due to the fact, I am convinced the neo cons are not American patriots. They couldn’t care less. They have their ideology. They have their agenda. They are just like parasites sitting in the United States and using that country for their own petty ideological interests. Which is the same thing the Saudis have been doing, by the way. So it has been hijacked and that is the real problem. Patriotically – by patriot I simply mean a person that loves his country. That is all I mean by that term. Patriotic Americans would immediately see that Russia and the United States have no conflict. There is nothing to fight over and a great deal to work together with. This is something that the neocons do not want. And that is why you know, they basically crushed Trump. That is why they don’t let – both the Democratic party and the Republican party all those people who are for a non-aggressive foreign policy, be it Ron Paul or Kucinich, the party system doesn’t let them get anywhere near power or Congress as a matter of fact. If you look at the Republican and Democratic national committees they always take away money – even if means losing the seat from pro peace candidates. There is a real problem here in the United States and that problem could end up with international nuclear war.
I agree with you. My pro Trump, it wasn’t because I think the guy is good looking or particularly intelligent or I care about his other issues. It was one thing only. I don’t want this country to end in a war with Russia. That is what Hillary was promising us. I didn’t vote. I don’t have US citizenship. But if I had had US citizenship I would have voted for him just on that single issue. And I think that is the tragedy here in the United States is that people are never told that war is a possibility. Every time I mention that, I get a lot of comments saying wow, you are crazy. We are as far away from war as ever. No, we are not. If you look at Russian TV, which I do every day and the Russian media, they discuss that on a weekly basis. Russia has large scale exercises, including in the banking sector how to operate in case of war. Civil defense is being constantly preparing for war. The military districts are preparing for war. I mean, Russia has been preparing for war for the last two years. I have been trying to sound the alarm with other people like Dmitri Orlov, trying to say careful guys. We are following what is happening in Russia and these guys are not doing that just because they feel like doing it. They are doing it because truly they believe war is a possibility. And so do I.
That is why the media here is covering everything except that one topic because they don’t want the people here to realize that takeover of the United States by the neocons is something that can end up costing our entire civilization. That is how bad it is. We are risking that.
Chris Martenson: I only saw one, what I would call mainstream editorial that was in The Week not that long ago, the magazine The Week, where they had an editorial about that idea – which is hey, this can end in nuclear war. That would be bad. We can all agree. Otherwise, you are right. It has been chirping crickets.
As we come into the close here, though. I am really fascinated if you could who do you read? Which sites or news outlets do you regularly visit to gather your information? So, if people are interested in beginning to gather sort of their own source views, where do you go?
Saker: To be truly honest, most of my sources now are people that I have, contacts in the various countries that I follow. And that is directly sending emails. We sort of have this informal going on conversation by video conference or by email with a lot of people. I do not follow the mainstream media whatsoever because it is propaganda and entertainment, so I have no respect or interest for it. Blogs – the Free Media, depending on the topic. I don’t have the one source I would go to to get my news. On the website I list – it is mostly focused on Russia. There is nothing on Syria. I list English language news sources that I think are doing a good job on Russia. They are a bunch of sites that are called Brothers in Arms that are basically trying to do the same thing that I try to do about the Russian reality. Sort of, I pick and choose what I can see. It is all internet based. I have no TV, no radio. I don’t read the newspapers. Mainstream media has no interest for me whatsoever.
Chris Martenson: Well, we are very similar in that way. This has been an absolutely fascinating entertaining and if I can use that word – but also, really informative discussion. Thank you, Saker for your time today. Huge honor to have you on. Please, tell people how they can follow your excellent work more closely again and if there is any other books or publications that you would like to direct them to.
You can go to my website. It is called thesaker – one word -- .is stands for Iceland. We have our servers there. You can get my book on my website. It is called The Essential Saker. I am still working on the second one right now. This one will come out later this year or early next year. If you look at the top of the page, I have something called The Saker Community. There are Saker blogs in French, Russian, Italian, one in Spanish and Latin American. One even for New Zealand and Oceania, Australia and Serbia. In different languages. You can also look at those. They are very good and they are independent. So, you can get more from them than just our website. Thank you so much for having me. It has been a pleasure and an honor.
Chris Martenson: Honor is mine. All the best with your upcoming book. Thank you so much again for your time today.
Saker: You are more than welcome.