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The Hope Behind Putin's Syria Help

By       Message Ray McGovern     Permalink
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Reprinted from Consortium News


Amid the crisis over Syria, President Vladimir Putin of Russia welcomed President Barack Obama to the G20 Summit at Konstantinovsky Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 5, 2013.
(image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza))
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Russia's airstrikes on rebel strongholds in Syria, now in their fifth day, are a game-changer. To borrow an aphorism from philosopher Yogi Berra, "The future ain't what it used to be." Yogi also warned, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

What follows, then, will focus primarily on how and why the violence in Syria has reached this week's crescendo, the magnitude of the tipping point reached with direct Russian military intervention in support of Syria's government, and the self-inflicted dilemma confronting President Barack Obama and his hapless advisers who have been demanding "regime change" in Syria as the panacea to the bloody conflict.

Think of this piece as an attempted antidote to the adolescent analysis by Steven Lee Myers front-paged in Sunday's New York Times, and, for that matter, much else that's been written about Syria in the Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets. Many articles, in accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of bad faith, have willfully misrepresented his vow to strike at all "terrorist groups" as meaning only the Islamic State as if Al Qaeda's Nusra Front and other violent extremists don't qualify as "terrorists."

However, if Washington finally decides to face the real world -- not remain in the land of make-believe that stretches from the White House and State Department through the neocon-dominated think tanks to the editorial pages of the mainstream media -- it will confront a classic "devil-you-know" dilemma.

Does Washington really think that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as demonized as he has been as a key player in a conflict blamed for killing more than 250,000, is worse than the beheaders of the Islamic State or the global-terrorism plotters of Al Qaeda? Does President Obama really think that some surgical "regime change" in Damascus can be executed without collapsing the Syrian government and clearing the way for an Islamic State/Al Qaeda victory? Is that a gamble worth taking?

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President Obama needs to ask those questions to the State Department's neocons and liberal interventionists emplaced by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who -- like Israel's leaders -- positively lust for Assad's demise. "Regime change" in Syria has been on the Israeli/neocon to-do list since at least the mid-1990s and the neocon idea last decade was that Assad's overthrow would immediately follow the Iraq "regime change" in 2003, except the Iraq scheme didn't work out exactly as planned.

But there may be some reason to hope. After all, Obama showed courage in overcoming the strong resistance of the neocons to the recent nuclear deal with Iran. So, he may have the intelligence and stamina to face them down again, although you wouldn't know it from his recent rhetoric, which panders to the war hawks' arguments even as he resists their most dangerous action plans.

At his news conference on Friday, Obama said, "in my discussions with President Putin, I was very clear that the only way to solve the problem in Syria is to have a political transition that is inclusive -- that keeps the state intact, that keeps the military intact, that maintains cohesion, but that is inclusive -- and the only way to accomplish that is for Mr. Assad to transition [out], because you cannot rehabilitate him in the eyes of Syrians. This is not a judgment I'm making; it is a judgment that the overwhelming majority of Syrians make."

But Obama did not explain how he knew what "the overwhelming majority of Syrians" want. Many Syrians -- especially the Christians, Alawites, Shiites and secular Sunnis -- appear to see Assad and his military as their protectors, the last bulwark against the horror of a victory by the Islamic State or Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, which is a major player in the so-called "Army of Conquest," as both groups make major gains across Syria.

Obama's cavalier notion, as expressed at the news conference, that "regime changes" are neat and tidy, easily performed without unintended consequences, suggests a sophomoric understanding of the world that is stunning for a U.S. president in office for more than six years, especially since he adopted a similar approach toward Libya, which now has descended into violent anarchy.

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Obama must realize that the alternative to Assad is both risky and grim -- and some of the suggestions coming from presidential candidate Clinton and other hawks for a U.S. imposition of a "no-fly zone" over parts of Syria would not only be a clear violation of international law but could create a direct military clash with nuclear-armed Russia. This time, the President may have to get down off his high horse and substitute a reality-based foreign policy for his rhetorical flourishes.

Yet, it is an open question whether Obama has become captive to his own propaganda, such as his obsession with Syria's use of "barrel bombs" in attacking rebel strongholds, as if this crude home-made weapon were some uniquely cruel device unlike the hundreds of thousands of tons of high explosives that the United States has dropped on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries in the last dozen years.

Does Obama really think that his "humanitarian" bombs -- and those given to U.S. "allies" such as Saudi Arabia and Israel -- don't kill innocents? In just the past week, a Saudi airstrike inside Yemen reportedly killed some 131 people at a wedding and an apparent U.S. attack in Kunduz, Afghanistan, blasted a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing at least 19 people.

(By contrast, too, The New York Times treated the Kunduz atrocity gingerly, with the cautious headline, "US Is Blamed After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital," noting that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter extended his "thoughts and prayers to everyone afflicted" and added that a full investigation is under way in coordination with Afghanistan's government to "determine exactly what happened." Surely, we can expect the slaughter to be dismissed as some unavoidable "accident" or a justifiable case of "collateral damage.")

With Obama, one cannot exclude the possibility that he has become so infatuated with his soaring words that he actually believes what he told the West Point graduating class on May 28, 2014; but if he does, someone needs to give him a quick reality check. He told the graduates:

"In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise ... are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics. ... So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come."

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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