The Caucasus and Russia's Syria Policy

The United States and Russia are both running out of options in Syria, and their joint initiative to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control and destroy them is only a potential and unlikely solution to one part of the Syrian crisis. The plan pushed by Russian president Vladimir Putin will probably not solve the chemical weapons problem and could very well exacerbate it and the real challenge of the Syrian crisis—the jihadist threat.

President Barack Obama and his administration missed the moment two years when it was possible to support a moderate opposition in overthrowing the brutal regime of Bashar Assad. The Obama administration then compounded matters. It rushed to judgment about the world’s obligation to punish Assad for allegedly crossing a poorly thought out ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons without providing any concrete evidence to allies and potential partners that Assad had done the attack. According to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in a September 15 interview, the Obama and Putin administrations had been discussing the danger of Assad’s chemical weapons falling into jihadi hands since the June 2012 G-20 summit in Los Cabos, and the Obama administration had even contacted people around Assad on the issue. Thus, Secretary of State John Kerry’s seemingly spontaneous musings about a fictional agreement under which Assad would turn over those weapons that was picked up on by Putin functioned as a ‘dog whistle,’ if unintended.

Until Putin jumped on that signal and intervened with his proposal to bring Assad into talks, the administration was confronted with following through on its pledge to punish the Alawite regime in the face of almost universal, including Russian, resistance to such action. The U.S. administration’s failure to get its ducks in a row before declaring its military strike policy by lobbying properly for international support exposed allies like British prime minister David Cameron and offended competitors and occasional partners like Putin, transforming them into neutral observers or interested opportunists, respectively.

Meanwhile, evidence emerged from German intelligence sources showing that Assad may not have ordered the chemical strike, suggesting that local commanders acted on their own in exceeding previous controlled chemical strikes in recent months. This comes on top of a UN official's remarks that the rebels were behind a similar but more limited attack in March and the still nagging sense that not everything about the August attack is known, a sense reinforced by the Obama administration’s to make its evidence public, past U.S. intelligence failures on issues such as Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, and recent falsehoods issued by President and other administration officials with regard to the NSA’s spying programs. Given the Obama administration's mishandling and ensuing isolation on the issue, the Putin plan has gotten Obama and the world off the hook, but only temporarily.

Why Did Putin Act?

Putin’s motives for intervening in the Syrian crisis and for giving President Obama what amounts to a ‘mulligan’ in his handling of the Syrian chemical weapons crisis have been subjected to all manner of suspicions and attributed to all kinds of ulterior motives, from trying to embarrass the United States, revive Russian influence in the Middle East, support its Syrian ‘ally’, and the like. The fact is that the main reason is that the United States, Russia, and their respective allies in the region have the most to lose in Syria and have a common interest in removing chemical weapons from the Syrian equation.

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Comments

mrajanov (September 26, 2013 - 5:18am)
  • We can't blame the students, we can only blame the teachers.
  • Starting with the humanitarian interventions in the 11th to 15th century, through to the British Rhodesian political and social engineering of the 19th and 20th century, and finally to the American democracy export business in the form of military bases, drones and the toppling of popular movements, the people in the resource rich areas of Africa and the Middle East have been developing in and have been brought up knowing only the most Machiavellian methods of action and organization.
  • If you have learned the lesson, at your own expense and at quite some length, that control over circumstances, over life and death, over resources and economic conditions, is obtained by the most direct and forceful means of action then we at least shouldn't be surprised at what is happening. It is simple conditioning.
  • It's very sad but let's move past other uneducated and doltish theorems that belong in 18th century sociology textbooks and move forward with enabling a solution that gives back control to these people, incorporates education and economic freedom, and, centrally, provides leadership by example.
  • If you've convinced yourself it can't be done, then move over.

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