Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Blaming Putin For Being Putin Is Unjustified


Vladimir Putin has been coming in for a great deal of criticism lately from Americans, especially in light of his op-ed in the New York Times.

The op-ed was obviously hand crafted to present Russia and Putin's case in the best light, but isn't that what op-eds are supposed to do?

Here are the main point Putin makes here. Let's look at them one by one:

  • A strike on Syria poses a huge risk to escalate the conflict in the Middle East and could destabilize the region.

Absolutely true. Aside from any hostilities between Iran, Hezbollah and Israel (I think the odds are perhaps at least 50-50 here). There's also the risk of establishing another Hamasistan on Israel's borders armed with Assad's weaponry, a very likely scenario given whom the insurgents actually are. And there's also a major risk of destabilizing U.S. client state Jordan,where the Muslim Brotherhood is extremely powerful. King Abdullah has obviously considered this, since he's adamant that no attacks on Assad be launched from Jordan's soil.

  • The fight in Syria is not between a democratic opposition and a dictator but a sectarian civil war, with the opposition dominated by Islamist jihadis domestic and foreign with allegiances to al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

He's right again on that one, as I reported here. And just as in Libya, where President Obama's clueless intervention on behalf of the Islamists put weaponry and armaments in the hands of jihadis who then went on to attack neighboring countries, an intervention in Syria risks a similar outcome.

When Putin told British PM David Cameron that the jihadis that beheaded a British soldier in broad daylight in London were no different than the majority of the Syrian insurgents, he was simply stating a fact. Bad as Assad is, these people are infinitely worse.

  • From the outset, Russia has attempted to work with President Obama and the UN on a diplomatic solution to the war in Syria. Putin writes "We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not."

From his perspective, Putin is again correct. He's consistent touted a diplomatic solution, but simply refused to sign off on an attack on an ally and client in order to put the Islamists in power.

  • Poison gas was definitely used in Syria, but it could just as easily been used by the opposition forces to provoke intervention as by the Syrian Army.

He's right again, as far as I'm concerned. As I reported here, there's no conclusive evidence who used the poison gas first, and in reality, the insurgents were in a position to benefit much more than the Assad regime from a gas attack.

  • America has used what Putin terms 'brute force' intervening in a number of countries since 9/11. He cites Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, none of which could be called successes in any sense of the word. Moreover, these sort of interventions send a message to some of the world's bad actors that actually promotes the proliferation of WMDS. As Putin outs it, "The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded."

Putin's has a point here. While not all U.S. interventions have been so poorly thought out or strategically bungled, lately our record has been pretty poor. Putin undoubtedly also has Kosovo on his mind, where we violated international law to bomb our historic ally Serbia's military installations and civilians to intervene in a sectarian civil war during the Clinton years. Then there was Libya's Khaddaffi, who voluntarily gave up his own WMD arsenal and then was attacked by the West and ended up as an extrajudicial execution victim whose corpse was sodomized. This was a major wake up call to a lot of countries, especially in the Middle East. Certainly the Iranians see it that way.

Putin finishes up by throwing President Obama a bone, saying their working relation is improving, but then comments on President Obama's throw away line on on American exceptionalism, where he stated that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.”

Obviously, President Obama tossed that out as a feel good tidbit, because based on almost every action he's taken since he took office President Obama obviously doesn't believe it himself. Putin finishes by saying: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

Fine, the line on G-d is a bit stilted coming from a former KGB leader. But while America is exceptional, what President Putin is reminding Americans here is that other countries feel the same way about themselves. It's called nationalism. We've simply gotten a little unused to thinking that way, because it's been a long time since America had a president who considers America's interests first...the way Putin does Russia's.

That's why he's so popular with the majority of Russians.

Is this the start of a new Cold War? Hardly. Vladimir Putin is not our enemy per se. He's merely seeking to derive maximum advantage for Russia. And if we elect a clueless, narcissistic amateur as our commander-in-chief, can we really blame Putin for using that to his country's advantage?

It's like judo, where you manipulate an opponent's strength against him. Putin's good at judo. Barack Obama never even played the game.


louielouie said...

i didn't understand what all the faux vomit was about putin's comments.
especially the referenced exceptionalism.
he simply reiterated what hussein has been telling us for five years.

B.Poster said...

We should hope this is not a new cold war. If it is, we are in deep sh*t. Briefly to compare and contrast our situation now with Cold War 1: 1.)During Cold War we were allied with militarily strong Western European nations who had the same commitment to defeating the Soviet Union we did. At this stage of Cold War 2, these Western European nations, have weakened militaries, a strong current of anti-Americanism runs through them, and many of them are heavily dependent upon Russian oil supplies. As such, we can expect no help from them.

2.)During Cold War 1 we were closely allied with the mujahedeen who were instrumental in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. I think its self explanatory why they cannot be relied upon during Cold War 2.

3.)During Cold War 1 Russia and China had frosty relations. Now the powers are closely allied. Additionally, Russia can rely on help from the other BRICS, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and most Central and South American nations in any conflict with the United States. In contrast, the United States is virtually alone, if not entirely alone.

4.) During Cold War 1 the United States had sufficient numbers of properly trained soldiers and state of the art military equipment to provide a credible military deterrent. Today America's military equipment is worn down and outdated, there is a shortage of properly trained soldiers to be effective on the 21st century battlefield, and America faces a severe shortage of military trainers to address the problem with the soldiers.

5.)During Cold War 1 America had a robust nuclear deterrent. In recent years, the Russians have upgraded and expanded their arsenal. The United States has neglected this area to the point that it is questionable whether or not we even have a credible nuclear deterrent. Even if we began trying catch up now, there is a shortage of facilities, lack of properly trained personnel to address any of this, and major financial challenges brought on by the massive national debt that make addressing any of this problematic.

I could go on but am running out of space. Suffice it to say today America would have to fight Cold War 2 alone with military capabilities currently incapable of the task against a unified enemy with numerous and dedicated allies.

If Sun Tzu were alive today, I think he would have something to say about our predicament. I shall have to read up on his teachings. I know what comes to mind for me. The term is perhaps we should "sue for peace." This certainly seems preferable to pondering futile military actions against Syria. Suffice it to say we best hope this is not a new cold war.

B.Poster said...

There is an opportunity here to deal Russia and Iran a crushing blow by crushing their ally Syria, however, such an action would be very difficult and would be fraught with tremendous risk. Respectfully I think your odds of 50/50 of destabilizing the region are overly optimistic. The odds are actually about 99.9999/.0001 of destabilizing the Middle East. In order to avoid this, their would be virtually zero margin for error.

Given the track record of US military leaders and US political leaders of late, it seems exceedingly unlikely that they have the competence to pull such a thing off. The general incompetence is a consequence of promoting political hacks who fit the proper political mode rather than promoting based upon competence in the military and the government at large. As such, we are left with incompetent nitwits who are leading America's warriors. As such, I see no possible way a military action against Syria or any other military power can possibly end well for us at this juncture.

A "limited strike" is absolutely the wrong way to go. For someone to suggest such a thing, someone is either very, very stupid or blinded by ideology. The problem is likely a combination of the two.

With that said, if military action is taken against Syria, the following factors will need to be considered.

1.)Russia has threatened to intervene if either Iran or Syria is attacked. When Russia intervenes, China will intervene on the side of Russia as well. At present, it seems unlikely that US forces are in any condition to fight and win a conflict with Russia. Defeating the combined forces of Russia and China is an even greater long shot. Can US forces be brought up to the level needed in short order or can we prevail through guile?

2.)Given that the non extremist Syrian rebels are not well trained in military combat and the US has a severe shortage of military trainers, there never has been any real possibility of training a non extremist army to confront Assad'd forces. Such thoughts were and are the stuff of ideologues and fantasizers. As such, it has always been clear we would need to coordinate closely with Extremists forces to successfully confront Assad and his allies. This likely means the supplying of weapons to Islamic Extremists who are closely allied with Al Qaeda. In this case, is it possible to prevent those weapons from being used against us, Israel, Christian groups within Syria, and other minorities within Syria?

Since this is running long the remainder of points to be considered will be in another post. This is a very complex topic that I will try to keep brief.

B.Poster said...

3.)In an attack on Syria, the Russians have threatened to respond by attacking Saudi Arabia, specifically the oil fields. Can these valuable oil fields be protected?

4.)In the event of an attack on Syria, Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. Can this be prevented or if the strait is closed down can it be reopened?

5.)With the massive national debt the US faces, the struggling economy it faces, and the worn down military it has at its disposal is it possible to maintain the type of credible force for the length of time that would be needed to defeat Syria and the Assad forces?

6.)It seems extremely likely that Hezbollah forces, Iranian forces, and other enemy forces who are already in the US will attempt to launch devastating attacks against the American mainland. Can American citizens and American infrastructure be protected from this?

7.)Part of the result of an attack on Syria will likely be an attack by Arab forces on Israel. Can any thing be done to protect Israel from this? Furthermore what is Israel's position on this? Can Israeli interests be advanced from an attack on Syria? Again, most importantly what is their position on this? Given that this action places an important ally in grave danger even more than they are already in, they need to be closely consulted with on this.

These seven points are hardly exhaustive. Many other points will need to be considered. This is the minimum.

The answer to all of the questions is likely "yes" but it will require extraordinary skill and precise execution. Once the answers are determined to be "yes" then one has to determine is it worth the risk. Since other opportunities may never present themselves, if it is determined the risk is worth it then it must be asked do American military and political leaders have the competence to pull it off. Based upon their track records, the answer to this final question is a resounding NO.

As such, we need to find other ways to defend our nation and advance our interests. There are ways to do this but that is for another post.

With regard to question 1, it was primarily through guile that America thwarted Russia during the first cold war. (A credible nuclear deterrent helped greatly!!) Had it come down to a question of brute conventional strength only, we would have lost and lost handily but alas the people who currently run things lack the necessary guile to pull it off.

With regards to point 7 Israel is fully capable of taking care of itself. The best thing for us to do is to stay out of their way. Unfortunately a botched execution would make things infinitely more difficult for our ally. They need to be consulted closely on this. Unfortunately it appears they are not being consulted at the level they should be. Not good, especially when considering they can offer us valuable insight on Syria that we currently do not possess and it shows disrespect for a valuable and trusted ally. Leads me to wonder who will ever trust us again, if our leaders treat allies in this manner.

B.Poster said...

Sorry about the multiple posts here. As stated in the previous posts, the questions I pose regarding any invasion of Syria are far from exhaustive as to the factors that would need to be considered, however, there are two more questions that need to be posed that are so important that they simply must be mentioned.

1.) Is it possible to gain the support of the American people for an attack on Syria? If Syria directly attacked America directly AFTER America withdrew all forces from the regions and even the current limited support for the rebels, the American people MIGHT support military action against Syria. To many Americans are of the opinion that America "has it coming" for its prior foreign policy actions.

It must be understood that America politically is a left of center nation as of this date. As such, America is the least nationalist country on earth and Americans will reflexively oppose virtually any proposed military actions its leaders might propose. Whereas Russia, China, and other adversaries and potential adversaries can count on their citizens to "rally around the flag" and to rally around the leaders in a conflict with America, America's leaders cannot count on this. In fact, quite the opposite is likely to occur at present. I see no possibility of being able to change this dynamic within a generation at best.

2.) Can America count on any allies, such as Western European nations, Japan, Australia, and any other allies to support it in an invasion of Syria. At this time, the answer to this is a resounding no. With the possible exception of Australia strong currents of anti-Americanism run through these nations.

The only conceivable support America might have in the foreseeable future are Sunni Arab nations who are heavily influenced by Al Qaeda. Relying on them is a bit like relying on a rattlesnakes to eliminate the rats infesting your house. They may eat the rats but at some point they are going to attack you. Furthermore as discussed previously it would be VERY difficult, if not impossible to prevent any weapons supplied to these groups from being used against us, our interests, or our ally Israel. The performance of the military and political leaders to date would appear to indicate they do not have the competence to carry this out. These are yet more reasons why a military operation against Syria appears to be an exceedingly bad idea.