Putin’s Plan: What Will Russia Bomb in Syria? – By Aron Lund

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Putin’s Plan: What Will Russia Bomb in Syria? – By Aron Lund

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to order his military into Syria may simply have been the gut reaction of a hard-power ruler who, for lack of tools other than a hammer, can imagine no problem other than a nail. But dispatching the Russian Air Force in support of the embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad may also have been a true political masterstroke, in which case its political impact is likely to make a far bigger crater than any of the bombs that Putin is preparing to drop on Syria.

The first indications of a Russian military deployment in Syria leaked out in late August. It gradually became clear that something big was happening at the Basil al-Assad International Airport near Latakia in government-controlled western Syria. Not only was Assad’s army getting new weapons, it was also getting new comrades-in-arms.

According to satellite imagery reviewed by the Washington Post and The Aviationist, a specialist blog, the Russian expeditionary corps has now grown to nearly thirty Sukhoi combat aircraft. Most are SU-24 and SU-25 models that fly “low and slow” in order to take out ground targets, but there are also a few SU-30 jets—a “game changer,” according to a pilot interviewed by the Post, since this multi-role fighter could pose a serious threat to American aircraft in Syria.

Apart from the Sukhoi jets, the airport has also become home to several Mi-24 attack helicopters, transport aircraft, air defense systems, and an unknown number of remotely piloted drones. In addition, there is a small but growing ground force, although it is not clear whether it could be tasked with more than guarding the air base and surrounding areas. Russian forces have been seen embedding with Syrian forces, although it is perhaps as trainers or coordinators.

Today, Wednesday, satellite imagery also revealed two more Russian outposts. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that American intelligence indicates that these bases are not so much the start of an additional deployment as defensive outposts serving to protect the initial air base.
Political Results

The deployment is military, but its first and perhaps most important effects are political. Israel, which occasionally attacks what it says are Hezbollah targets inside Syria, and the United States have already met with the Russians to “deconflict,” a military term for how to avoid accidents and unwanted clashes.

Israel couldn’t care less about public opinion in Syria, but for the United States, this is an embarrassing position to be in. There is already much ill will among Syrian rebels over U.S. strikes on al-Qaeda targets within the anti-Assad guerrillas. The White House may continue to insist that Bashar al-Assad must step down, but the U.S. Air Force will henceforth be sharing Syrian airspace with both Assad’s own air force—which is notorious for its unrelenting bombing of civilian neighborhoods and infrastructure—and with a Russian expeditionary corps sent to aid him. It won’t be popular with American allies.

By introducing Russian jets and air defense systems into the Syrian theatre, Putin has also created facts on the ground (or just above it) that will help forestall further action against Assad by the United States or its allies. American Syria policy is currently under scrutiny and if internal White House debates about Assad were indeed moving in the do-something direction as some claim, then Vladimir Putin has just served up a brand new counter-argument.

Whether by accident or design, the Latakia deployment will also draw attention to Vladimir Putin’s appearance before the United Nations General Assembly in late September, his first in ten years. The Russian leader has been trying to promote an international coalition against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, of which Assad would be a part. Having just thrown his gauntlet down in Latakia, Putin won’t necessarily gain a more sympathetic hearing from the world leaders assembled in New York, but they’re sure to listen very closely.
Military Results

Although the Russian intervention seems partly designed for political effect, those Sukhoi jets aren’t just going sit on a runway in Latakia for the benefit of satellite paparazzi. According to U.S. officials, Russian airstrikes in Syria are likely to begin “soon”—and as this article was being written, as-yet unconfirmed reports alleged that Russian jets were already backing a regime offensive in the Aleppo area.

Will the Russian Air Force be able to make a difference on the ground?

Yes, probably, says David A. Deptula—and he should know. A retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant-general and air warfare theoretician, Deptula planned the American bombing campaign against Saddam Hussein’s army in 1991, when the U.S. and its allies—including, at the time, Syria—liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Ten years later he oversaw the air war that toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

“With competent pilots and with an effective command and control process, the addition of these aircraft could prove very effective depending on the desired objectives for their use,” Deptula told the New York Times. Which begs the question, what are those objectives?

The Kremlin has couched its involvement in Syria in terms of a war against jihadi extremism. It also seeks to bring Assad out of the cold and into an international coalition against the so-called Islamic State. In other words, focusing attacks on the Islamic State seems like a given, at least initially, but there are reasons to look at other targets, too.

But where and how could Russia maximize the impact of its strikes? Let’s look at some possible scenarios for the early stages of a Russian aerial intervention.
Option One: the Islamic State in Aleppo

At the time of writing, unconfirmed reports are coming in about Russian strikes in support of a sudden regime offensive striking out from eastern Aleppo. However, until now no evidence has emerged and it is important to remember that Syrian activist media, on both sides, is full of rumors. The news about a government offensive seems to be true, however, and reports indicate that it might be intended to relieve the Kweiris Airport, a small government-held pocket of land east of Aleppo that has long been under siege by the Islamic State. When other government enclaves in Syria’s north and east have fallen to the Islamic State, the captured soldiers have been summarily murdered in grotesque video-taped massacres that have unsettled pro-Assad constituencies and provoked angry reactions within the ranks.

Saving the Kweiris defenders would therefore provide both a political and a military boost for Assad, and it would help him clean up his frontlines in a crucial area of Syria.

Interestingly, an attack on the Kweiris pocket could also knock the Islamic State off balance in the Aleppo area, just as rebels north of the city are struggling to keep open their supply lines to Turkey against an Islamic State offensive. Coincidence or not, if Russia is involved, it would be an interesting first example of the potential interplay between offensives by Russian-backed army forces and U.S.-backed rebels.

The reports of Russian strikes near Kweiris remain unconfirmed for now. If they turn out to be true, it is possible that this will be a first area of focus. The Assad-Putin alliance could then try to change the balance of power in Aleppo. If they stick to Islamic State targets, instead of straying into battle with other rebels, a main ambition would probably be to push the jihadi group away from the government supply line between Aleppo and Hama in the south. The Assad-held areas of Aleppo are currently supplied by way of a hard-to-guard desert road that runs down through Sfeira, Khanaser, and Ithriya past the Ismaili-populated Salamiyeh area east of Hama. In the Salamiyeh area itself, the Islamic State has been nibbling away at the government’s perimeter defenses, but the desert road up to Aleppo has been a relatively tranquil front. Still, for Assad, the Islamic State’s presence just next to his Aleppo artery is a lethal threat.
Option Two: The Islamic State East of Homs

Directly south of this region, there is another area where Assad is vulnerable to the Islamic State—the eastern Homs region. It is impossible to tell what Russian intentions are, but if we’re looking at likely places for Russian air support to Assad, the area between Homs and Palmyra must be close to the top of the list.

The fall of Palmyra in May this year opened up the desert fringes east of Homs to the Islamic State. This is a target-rich environment, to say the least, and Assad’s overstretched army must be distressed by the sudden emergence of a new and untenably long frontline.

The region also contains the Syrian government’s last remaining oil and gas fields, as well as the pipelines that come with them. The Syrian military air base known as T4, located in the middle of the desert west of Palmyra, has emerged as the anchoring point of government defensive positions shielding these fields against the Islamic State.

As Carnegie’s Yezid Sayigh wrote a few months ago, and as David C. Butter lays out in detail in this excellent Chatham House report, much of Syria’s power grid runs on natural gas. The state-run national electricity infrastructure still powers all Syrian government and some rebel and Islamic State territories, but 80 percent of the gas feeding its power stations comes from the fields east of Homs. If Assad lost these gas fields and installations, it would therefore have a double effect. It would be a devastating blow to the regime, which is already in a state of structural and financial disrepair, and it could seriously aggravate the economic and humanitarian crisis throughout Syria.

All this makes the Homs-Palmyra region a particularly appealing target for Russian intervention:

First, it helps Assad stave off Islamic State attacks and could even enable his forces to recapture Palmyra and shorten the eastern front.
Second, it would publicly align Russia—and by extension Assad—with the United States and Europe in a joint struggle against the Islamic State. That’s exactly where Putin and Assad want to end up.
Third, it would help keep Syrian state institutions running and prevent a deepening of the humanitarian disaster in Syria. That’s a goal widely shared among the opposition’s Western allies, even though many rebels tend to view Assad as a greater evil than the Islamic State. If an air campaign in Palmyra helps drive a wedge into the opposition camp or among its backers, so much the better from the point of view of Putin and Assad.

Could the Homs-Palmyra area be a place where Russia will focus its air support? Time will tell, but one thing is certain: no one is likely to object too loudly as long as Russian airstrikes are aimed only at the Islamic State and take place in this region. For all we know, the White House might even have quietly ushered the Russians towards Palmyra, fearing that it would otherwise have to fly those bombing runs on its own.
Option Three: al-Qaeda and Others in the Northwest

Eastern Homs isn’t the only place where Assad is in a slow and painful retreat. This spring, the Syrian president was forced out of the city of Idlib and he has been losing ground ever since. By seizing Jisr al-Shughur and other towns in the area, the rebels have now opened up two venues of attack that threaten core regime areas. To the southwest lie the Alawite-populated mountains of the Latakia Governorate, from which much of the military elite hails. Due south of Jisr al-Shughur lie the Ghab Plains, a religiously mixed agricultural flatland that functions as the “soft underbelly” of Hama. So far, the Ghab seems to be where the rebels are concentrating most of their firepower.

The groups digging their way down the Ghab are not aligned with the Islamic State. To the contrary, they are hostile to it. The centerpiece of the anti-Assad insurgency in this region is the Jaish al-Fatah (“Army of Conquest”), a coalition of Islamist groups. Its single biggest member faction is likely to be Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline group backed by Turkey and Qatar. Many of its leaders hail from villages in the Ghab Plains, giving them even more reason to prioritize that battle.

However, the other big group in the Jaish al-Fatah coalition is the Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. That makes the Syrian northwest another very tempting target for the Russians, for both political and military reasons. Unlike the Islamic State, the Nusra Front is well embedded in the wider Sunni Islamist landscape, meaning that Russian strikes would cause rebel outrage and a political stir among opposition backers. Yet, the U.S. has been bombing select Nusra Front targets for a year now and every country on earth considers al-Qaeda to be fair game.

The alliance between the terrorist-listed Nusra Front and other rebels, which are backed by the Gulf States, Turkey, and the West, creates an opportunity for Putin to conduct strikes that would undoubtedly help Assad while also moving the target away from the Islamic State and toward more mainstream sections of the insurgency. If criticized, his enemies will be in the unenviable position of having to explain why the Russian government shouldn’t attack al-Qaeda. It is not the kind of argument that can be won in the West, at least not outside a very narrow circle of Syria wonks.

Blowing Up Your Narrative

If at some point Putin decides to target other groups than the Islamic State, he’s not likely to stop at the Nusra Front. Whether right off the bat or after a while, he could easily widen the circle of attacks from al-Qaeda and start blasting away at every rebel group in Idlib, Hama, and Latakia under the pretext that they are either “terrorists” or “terrorist allies.” On the ground, things are obviously a bit more complex and, just as obviously, Putin knows that—but he has nothing to gain from acknowledging it.

To the contrary, the Kremlin has every reason to continue blurring the already indistinct dividing line between “extremist” and “moderate” rebels upon which Western states insist. Even though this neatly black and white categorization of Syria’s murky insurgency is at least partly fiction, it remains a politically indispensable formula for Western states that wish to arm anti-Assad forces. Which is precisely why erasing this distinction by extending airstrikes against all manners of rebels as part of an ostensibly anti-jihadi intervention, may turn out to be Putin’s long-term plan.

Blanket attacks on Syrian rebels on the pretext that they are all “al-Qaeda” would lead to much outraged commentary in the Western and Arab press. But to the Russian president it doesn’t matter if you think he’s Mad Vlad or Prudent Putin. He isn’t trying to win hearts and minds, least of all those of the Syrian rebels or their backers. Rather, he is trying to change the balance of power on the ground while firing missile after missile into the West’s political narrative.

Whatever one thinks of that, it is a big and bold idea of the sort that sometimes end up working.

Putin: Russia ready to cooperate with moderate rebels in Syria — if they can be found

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Today the official presidential website of Russia reports the statements Putin made following a working meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in which “the head of the defense department informed the President on the course of the operation of air and space forces of Russia in Syria”:

[…] Vladimir Putin: “We realize that conflicts of this kind must end in a political settlement. I discussed this matter just this morning with the Russian Foreign Minister. During my recent visit to Paris, the President of France, Mr Hollande, voiced an interesting idea that he thought is worth a try, namely, to have President Assad’s government troops join forces with the Free Syrian Army. True, we do not know yet where this army is and who heads it, but if we take the view that these people are part of the healthy opposition, if it were possible to have them join in the fight against terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and others, this would help pave the way to a future political settlement in Syria. […]”

How Putin will Win in Syria – The Russian People are quite proud of the way their forces have been conducting themselves. Of course, who wouldn’t be?

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The reason Putin will succeed where the US failed in its war on ISIS, is because the Russian air-strikes are going to be accompanied by a formidable mop-up operation that will overpower the jihadi groups on the ground. This is already happening as we speak.

The Russian Air Force has been pounding terrorist targets across the Idlib Governorate for the last few days as well as ISIS strongholds in the East at Raffa. On Sunday, according to a report filed by South Front, roughly 700 militants surrendered to members of the 147th Syrian tank brigade shortly after bombers had attacked nearly cities of Mardeij, Ma’arat Al-Nu’man, Jisr Al-Shughour, Saraqib and Sarmeen. This is the pattern we expect to see in the weeks ahead. Russian bombers will soften targets on the frontlines, ground troops will move into position, and untold numbers of jihadis will either flee, surrender or get cut down where they stand. Bottom line: Syria is not going to be a quagmire as the media has predicted. To the contrary, Putin is going to cut through these guys like crap through a goose.

According to South Front:

“Lieutenant General Andrey Kartapolov, head of the Main Operation Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces, said the strikes have significantly reduced the terrorists’ combat capabilities.” In other words, the Russian offensive is already producing positive results. This is no small matter. By most accounts, the conflict had deteriorated into a stalemate. Now, with Russia in the picture, that’s changed. Now the table is clearly tilted in Syria’s favor.

Also, according to an earlier report: “The positioning of Russian aircraft in Syria gives the Kremlin the ability to shape and control the battle-space in both Syria and Iraq out of all proportion to the size of the Russian force.” (“International Military Review – Syria, Oct 5, 2015“, South Front)

The Russian air-base at Latakia is perfectly situated for providing air cover or bombing terrorist targets across the country. The Russian airforce will also make every effort to cut off supply lines and escape routes so that as many jihadis as possible are liquidated within Syria’s borders. This is why ISIS positions along the main highway to Iraq were destroyed on Sunday. The jihadi thugs will be given every chance to die in battle as they wish, but getting out alive is not going to be so easy.

There was an article in the Guardian on Sunday that caused quiet a stir among people who are following events in Syria. Here’s a clip:

“Regional powers have quietly, but effectively, channeled funds, weapons and other support to rebel groups making the biggest inroads against the forces from Damascus…..In a week when Russia made dozens of bombing raids, those countries have made it clear that they remain at least as committed to removing Assad as Moscow is to preserving him.“There is no future for Assad in Syria,” Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir warned, a few hours before the first Russian bombing sorties began. If that was not blunt enough, he spelled out that if the president did not step down as part of a political transition, his country would embrace a military option, “which also would end with the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power”. With at least 39 civilians reported dead in the first bombing raids, the prospect of an escalation between backers of Assad and his opponents is likely to spell more misery for ordinary Syrians.“The Russian intervention is a massive setback for those states backing the opposition, particularly within the region – Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – and is likely to elicit a strong response in terms of a counter-escalation,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.” (“Gulf states plan military response as Putin raises the stakes in Syria“, Guardian)

Saudi Arabia poses no real threat to Putin’s operation in Syria. The Saudis may talk tough, but they already have their hands full with a crashing economy (due to plunging oil prices) and a war in Yemen they have no chance of winning. They’re certainly not going to get more deeply involved in Syria.

It is possible, however, that the Obama administration is planning to use the Saudis as cover for shoring up their support for opposition groups within Syria. There is a high probability that that will happen. Even so, there’s not an endless pool of crackpot mercenaries who want to face a modern airforce with precision-guided munitions for a couple hundred bucks a week. That’s not what you’d call “a job with a future”. Keep in mind, the various Intel agencies have already called in their chits and attracted as many of these dead-enders as they possibly could from far-flung places like Chechnya, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan etc. And while I’m sure Langley keeps a lengthy file of potential candidates for future assignments, I’m also sure that there are a limited number of people who are willing to meet their Maker just so they can belong to some renegade organization and die with a machine gun in their hands. In fact, we may have already reached “peak terrorist” after which there could be a steady falloff following the downward trajectory of US power in the Middle East and around the world. As we shall undoubtedly see in the months ahead, Syria could very well be the straw that broke the Empire’s back. Here’s more from the Guardian:

“The best way to respond to the Russian intervention is to engage the rebels more and step up support so they can face down the escalation and create a balance on the ground,” he said. “The Russians will [then] realise there are limits to what they can achieve in Syria, and modify their approach.” But the wider regional struggle for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran makes it almost impossible for Riyadh to walk away, whatever the cost.” (Guardian)

Is it just me or does the author of this piece sound positively elated at the prospect of a bloodier war?

Also, it would have helpful if he had mentioned that arming, funding and training disparate jihadi organizations to effect regime change in a sovereign nation is a violation of international law and the UN Charter. Of course, maybe the author thought that would have made his article too stuffy or pedantic? In any event, the idea that the enfeebled Saudis are going to derail the Russia-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance in their drive to annihilate ISIS and al-Qaida-linked groups is a pipe-dream. The only country that could make a difference in the outcome, is the United States. And, the fact is, Washington’s neocons don’t have the cojones to take on Moscow mano-a-mano, so Putin’s clean-up operation is going to continue on schedule.

By the way, the pundits were wrong about the way the Russian people would react to Moscow’s involvement in Syria, too. As it happens, they’re quite proud of the way their forces have been conducting themselves. Of course, who wouldn’t be? They’ve been kicking ass and taking names since Day 1. Check out this report from CBS News:

“Whatever effect Russia’s airstrikes are having on the ground in Syria, their impact at home is clear: They prove to Russians that their country is showing up the United States and reclaiming its rightful place as a global power….Channel One’s evening news program on Saturday opened with dramatic cockpit videos of Russian jets making what were described as direct hits on terrorist training camps and weapons stores. The bombs were never off by more than five meters, a military spokesman said, because of the jets’ advanced targeting capabilities.This was followed by a report of the disastrous airstrike in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that destroyed a hospital and killed at least 19 people, including international medical staff. U.S. responsibility for the airstrike had not been proven, but Russian viewers were left with little doubt of who was to blame or of whose military capabilities were superior.” (“Russia’s airstrikes in Syria are playing well at home”, CBS News)

So the Russian people are proud of the way Putin is fighting the war on terror. Is there something wrong with that? Many Americans are old enough to remember a time when they were proud of their own country too, when it actually stood up for the principles it espouses in its founding documents. That was quite a while ago though, sometime back in the “pre-Gitmo” era”.

One last thing: There’s an extraordinary article by author Aron Lund of the Carnegie Endowment titled “Putin’s Plan: What Will Russia Bomb in Syria?” What’s so interesting about the piece is that it was published on September 23, a full week before Russia entered the war, and yet, Lund seems to have anticipated Putin’s actual battle plan. Military geeks are going to love this piece which is well worth reading in full. Here’s a short blurb from the text:

“If at some point Putin decides to target other groups than the Islamic State, he’s not likely to stop at the Nusra Front. Whether right off the bat or after a while, he could easily widen the circle of attacks from al-Qaeda and start blasting away at every rebel group in Idlib, Hama, and Latakia under the pretext that they are either “terrorists” or “terrorist allies.” … the Kremlin has every reason to continue blurring the already indistinct dividing line between “extremist” and “moderate” rebels upon which Western states insist. Even though this neatly black and white categorization of Syria’s murky insurgency is at least partly fiction, it remains a politically indispensable formula for Western states that wish to arm anti-Assad forces. Which is precisely why erasing this distinction by extending airstrikes against all manners of rebels as part of an ostensibly anti-jihadi intervention, may turn out to be Putin’s long-term plan.Blanket attacks on Syrian rebels on the pretext that they are all “al-Qaeda” would lead to much outraged commentary in the Western and Arab press. But to the Russian president it doesn’t matter if you think he’s Mad Vlad or Prudent Putin. He isn’t trying to win hearts and minds, least of all those of the Syrian rebels or their backers. Rather, he is trying to change the balance of power on the ground while firing missile after missile into the West’s political narrative. Whatever one thinks of that, it is a big and bold idea of the sort that sometimes end up working.” (“Putin’s Plan: What Will Russia Bomb in Syria”, Aron Lund, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace“)

We couldn’t agree more. Putin is not going to stop for anything or anyone. He’s going to nail these guys while he has them in his gun-sights, then he’s going to wrap it up and go home. By the time the Obama crew get’s its act together and realizes that they have to stop the bombing pronto or their whole regime change operation is going to go up in smoke, Putin’s going to be blowing kisses from atop a float ambling through Red Square in Moscow’s first tickertape parade since the end of WW2.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

Copyright © Mike Whitney, Counterpunch, 2015

America is not a democracy: Until we fix the core problem, all other political promises are meaningless

BY Lawrence Lessig – NEW YORK DAILY NEWS – Monday, September 28, 2015, 5:00 AM

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There are some who insist that everything’s just fine with American democracy today.

They don’t see SuperPACs spending hundreds of millions of dollars to set candidates’ priorities and influence elections; they see “free speech.”

They don’t believe Congress is broken; they think those who say it is just don’t like what Congress is doing.

The apologists defend our democracy’s dysfunction through professed humility: “What do you expect?” they ask. “It’s just a democracy.”

Partisanship, in other words, just comes with the territory of trying to govern a large, diverse, and complex country. Gridlock is a feature, not a bug.

But here’s the dirty big secret: The government we have is not a democracy. It’s nowhere close. Instead, a corruption in the very idea of a representative democracy has rendered our nation almost ungovernable. We have entered the age of the “vetocracy,” as political theorist Francis Fukuyama puts it, where very small numbers in America can block almost any sensible change.

Gridlock happens not because Americans want it. Gridlock happens because it pays — for that tiny minority.

The reason is obvious once you know where to look. The core idea of a representative democracy is equality — not the equality of wealth, but the equality of citizens. Yet our “democracy” denies that equality in obvious and grotesque ways.

Four hundred families have given half the money to candidates and political committees in this election cycle so far, while members of Congress and candidates for Congress spend 30% to 70% of their time raising money from a tiny fraction of the 1%.

No one can believe that the people at the front of this line — the 400 families, or the 0.02% of Americans who have given the maximum to even one candidate — have a political power equal to the rest of us.

And that’s not the only inequality: Think about the absurd way we gerrymander districts, with politicians picking their voters, rather than voters picking the politicians. They work so hard to keep their seat safe for one political party or the other, they effectively leave 89 million Americans with no effective representation, since they’re political minorities in districts that will never change hands.

Or think about the ridiculous ways we make it hard for people to vote: More than 10 million Americans had to wait more than 30 minutes to vote in the last election. For families with nannies and iPhones, that’s not much of a problem. But for ordinary working parents, that’s a poll tax too many can’t afford.

This inequality is everywhere. But here’s the critical point that too many miss: If we could break this inequality, we could crack the corruption that has destroyed our government. If we could find a way to de-concentrate the incredibly concentrated power that renders America a vetocracy, we could give representative democracy a chance. If we fixed our democracy, we could end this vetocracy.

This isn’t some far-off dream. It’s actually within our power.

We need to mix the hope that the politicians peddle — of renewed economic growth for the middle class, of a health-care system that Americans can afford, of a banking system that keeps America secure, of a social security system that will survive, of college that kids can afford, of climate change legislation that can slow the destruction of this planet — with a recognition of the reality of this democratic pathology, and a plan to fix it.

We need politicians to speak this truth: That if we’re to do any of the things we know must be done, we must fix this democracy first.

Congress could do that with a single statute, tomorrow. Congress could change the way campaigns are funded, tomorrow. The Supreme Court has not blocked this reform, nor will it.

Congress could end gerrymandering, and achieve a representative democracy, tomorrow. And it could end the discriminatory burdens on the freedom to vote tomorrow.

Congress could make a giant leap towards a representative democracy, if we only had politicians willing to take the first critical step — of telling the people the truth, and showing them how reform is possible.

Enough of the fantasies. We need to tell the politicians: Show us the plan that will fix this democracy, and then we’ll listen to the promises about what you’d do with it.

Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School, is a Democratic candidate for President.