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If ever there was proof of Russia’s intentions in the Middle East, it can be seen in a just announced 4 nation pact there:
Iraq joined Russia, Iran and Syria in a new agreement to strengthen cooperation against extremist group Islamic State, extending the Kremlin’s reach in the Middle East as it rivals Washington for influence.
Iraq’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that the country had signed an intelligence and security cooperation pact with Russia, Iran and Syria, pledging to cooperate in collecting information about Islamic State. The deal effectively formalizes years of military collaboration among the four nations, which have intermittently been allies since the 1980s.
Wonderful. And who, pray, is on the outside looking in and surprised by the pact?
U.S. officials appeared to be taken by surprise by the announcement of the four-nation security pact and said they were still struggling to understand Mr. Putin’s long-term strategy for the region. Mr. Kerry, they said, kept open the possibility that the White House and Kremlin could coordinate, if not cooperate, in fighting Islamic State.
“We’re just at the beginning of trying to understand what the Russians’ intentions are in Syria, in Iraq, and to try to see if there are mutually beneficial ways forward here,” said a senior U.S. official who attended the Kerry-Lavrov meeting. “We’ve got a long way to go in that conversation.”
“Just in the beginning of trying to understand”? Translation: “we’ve been caught flat-footed and hadn’t a clue that high-level talks between Russia and Iraq were happening”. While Kerry may feel they have a “long way to go in that conversation,” Russia has obviously moved beyond the talking stage and is in the “taking action” stage. The intent seems to be obvious to everyone but our State Department.
ISIS is the catalyst, or at least the excuse, for this alliance. And most experts agree ISIS is mostly a result of the poor Iraq policy followed by the US after the Obama administration took over. What Iraq is signaling here is no confidence in the US and with the pact, seems satisfied to let the US remain outside, looking in. Why? Well, take for example the fact that Russia sold fighter aircraft to Iraq last year to boost its ability to fight ISIS. Where was the US? It had delayed a promised shipment over political considerations. Iraq is now negotiating with Moscow to buy more advanced weaponry.
Additionally, the Obama administration and the Russians and Iranians are at cross-purposes when it comes to Syria. Both Russia and Iran have been very clear they support the Assad regime and hope to strengthen it. The Obama administration has repeatedly said that Assad has to go.
What basis there are for talks between Russia and the US (at the UN this week) remain a mystery. But what is very clear with the announcement of this pact just prior to those talks is the US enters them with an incredibly weak hand. It has very little to use for leverage to get its way. But one thing that can be determined for sure – this administration’s past actions, or lack thereof, have put the US in this weak and unenviable diplomatic position.
Outfoxed again. How “surprising”.
One of the many lowlights of this administration has been its many foreign policy failures. Many, if not most, are attributable to a lack of leadership and an abdication of the US’s role in world politics. As most observers of international politics have understood for centuries, when one power withdraws or becomes weak, other powers will both test it and fill the vacuum their withdrawal creates.
The NY Post editorial board provides a perfect example of this administration’s poor “policy” concerning Syria:
Secretary of State John Kerry says Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad has got to go. Where have we heard that one before?
Of course, it’s been a regular refrain of President Obama and both of his secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton even more than Kerry — for years now.
Kerry repeated the demand after talks with the British foreign secretary last week — but with one new wrinkle: Assad must step aside, said Kerry — but there’ s no rush. He added: “We’re not being doctrinaire about the specific date or time; we’re open.”
Not only is he not being “doctrinaire” he’s broadcasting weakness like a clear channel radio station. “We’re open” tells the world they haven’t a plan, a demand, or frankly, a clue. He’s telling Syria, and specifically Assad, that there is nothing to fear from the US. Nothing.
Remember those red lines we drew? Disappearing ink. Once they were crossed, it was like they never existed.
Cue the power vacuum. And, who moves in?
And the situation just got infinitely more complicated by Russia’s active military involvement in Syria. As Kerry said, the Russians “are bringing in more equipment to shore up Assad at the same time they say they are going after” ISIS.
That position, he said, has “a lack of logic.”
No: It makes perfect sense when Washington has abdicated leadership. Nature abhors a vacuum — especially on the world stage.
Exactly. What, you may ask, is in it for Russia? Well, for one it can put a thumb in the eye of the US (and it is). But it also helps reestablish old “client links” that the former USSR had in the area. And, as Russia works with Iran to defeat ISIS, it establishes links there and it is in a position to have a big say in Iraq. And it certainly makes sense that should Russia help Assad hang on and retake the country, Putin would have a solid client state in the middle east from which to base Russia’s influence operation.
So what has the US done? Well, according to testimony given last week before Congress, we’ve spent half a billion dollars training up 4 or 5 soldiers in an anti-ISIS effort. In fact, the effort has been so poor and haphazard that the chief anti-ISIS coordinator, ex-Gen. John Allen, is leaving out of frustration with the lack of a strategy or results.
Meanwhile our Secretary of State is left weakly complaining:
Meanwhile, Kerry complains that “Assad has refused to have a serious discussion and Russia has refused to help bring him to the table in order to do that. So that’s why we are where we are.”
Why in the world should Assad have a serious discussion with a paper tiger? Or Russia for that matter? What in the world is the downside for either if they don’t cooperate?
More disappearing red lines?
Well it is much easier to list his abject failures than any success, that’s for sure. But what about Syria? Well, in term of incompetence, it is the tragic gift that keeps on giving:
One little boy in a red T-shirt, lying face down, drowned, on a Turkish beach, is a tragedy. More than 200,000 dead in Syria, 4 million fleeing refugees and 7.6 million displaced from their homes are statistics. But they represent a collective failure of massive proportions.
For four years, the Obama administration has engaged in what Frederic Hof, former special adviser for transition in Syria, calls a “pantomime of outrage.” Four years of strongly worded protests, and urgent meetings and calls for negotiation — the whole drama a sickening substitute for useful action. People talking and talking to drown out the voice of their own conscience. And blaming. In 2013, President Obama lectured the U.N. Security Council for having “demonstrated no inclination to act at all.” Psychological projection on a global stage. . . .
This was not some humanitarian problem distant from the center of U.S. interests. It was a crisis at the heart of the Middle East that produced a vacuum of sovereignty that has attracted and empowered some of the worst people in the world. Inaction was a conscious, determined choice on the part of the Obama White House.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus advocated arming favorable proxies. Sunni friends and allies in the region asked, then begged, for U.S. leadership. All were overruled or ignored.
In the process, Syria has become the graveyard of U.S. credibility.
Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Russia, Iran, you name the country, it is pretty probable that the situation is worse there or our relationship with the country is worse.
Foreign policy is one of the exclusive jobs of the executive branch. A crook and a clown have held the Secretary of State’s job now, and the disastrous results are in.
Now one of them wants to be President to carry on this “legacy”?
With the Olympics safely over, Vladimir Putin felt safe to invade the Ukraine and annex the Crimea. Anyone want to take a guess why?
It has to do with “red lines” and words, not action. Those red lines were first drawn in Syria. And when they were crossed … nothing happened. So:
“Putin smelled blood in the water when the airstrikes against the Assad regime were suddenly called off,” Oubai Shahbandar, a senior advisor to the Syrian National Coalition, the U.S.-backed opposition group, said of the Ukraine invasion. “We’ve seen this movie play out before, sadly, as Russian-supplied planes, tanks and even some mercenaries continue to arrive in Syria uninterrupted.”
“Hope won’t stop Russian aggression,” Shahbandar added.
Ah, but we’re talking about “hope and change”. You know, the stuff that will calm the tides, still the wind and, well, fix anything. All the Great One has to do is speak the words and the world trembles in fear. Our first post-modern President is of the ilk that believes talk equals action. And he’s talked about it now, so its time to move on and bash Israel.
Meanwhile, all those red lines drawn and crossed in Syria rightfully have the Syrians leary of any promises from the US:
The Syrian opposition had long held out hope for significant U.S. support for their uprising, from heavy weapons and surface-to-air missiles to a no-fly zone. They argued that Assad’s main allies — Russia and Iran — had been steadfast in boosting his regime with arms and money, and in the latter case, with boots on the ground.
Many Syrians were deeply disappointed when Obama failed to enforce his famous “red line” on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons with air strikes — opting instead for a Moscow-initiated deal for the regime to give up its stockpile of chemical arms. “Do not develop strategies that are based on any assumption that the U.S. or EU will demonstrate assertive leadership to deter Russian aggression,” said Amr al-Azm, a U.S.-based member of the Syrian opposition and a professor at Shawnee State University.
And Ukraine, that treaty you have the the US?
“The last thing anybody wants is a military option,” Kerry said Sunday.
Seems to me Russia has already used in Mr. Kerry.
Do I want our military involved in another war? Not under this leadership, no. When the leaders are both gutless and clueless, our troops need to stay home. But that’s really not the point here. The point is the happenings in the Ukraine are a direct result of some of the worst foreign policy ineptness we’ve had to suffer under in a couple of centuries. It almost makes one pine for Jimmy Carter.
Yes, I called it a surprise facetiously. Does Obama do anything that doesn’t fail (other than campaign)?
Meanwhile, two-faced government continues because, well you know, telling the real truth outloud just isn’t politically smart – especially with this administration’s record:
Two prominent Republican senators say that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told them — along with 13 other members of a bipartisan congressional delegation — that President Barack Obama’s administration is in need of a new, more assertive, Syria policy; that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria pose a direct terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland; that Russia is arming the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and is generally subverting chances for a peaceful settlement; that Assad is violating his promise to expeditiously part with his massive stores of chemical weapons; and that, in Kerry’s view, it may be time to consider more dramatic arming of moderate Syrian rebel factions.
Kerry is said to have made these blunt assertions Sunday morning behind the closed doors of a cramped meeting room in the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, as the 50th annual Munich Security Conference was coming to a close in a ballroom two floors below. A day earlier, Kerry, in a joint appearance with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on the ballroom stage, gave an uncompromising defense of the Obama administration’s level of foreign engagement: saying that,“I can’t think of a place in the world where we’re retreating.”
Really, Mr. Kerry?
Obama/Kerry’s Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria and Russian policies have been failures. Israel has taken to actually ridiculing US efforts. Saudi Arabia is said to be looking for a new patron in the Middle East.
And yet, given all of that, Kerry is still the loyal waterboy making false claims when anyone with an IQ higher than warm spit can see that during the Obama administration we’ve done nothing but retreat.
Being charitable, maybe Kerry meant we’re no longer retreating because, well, we’ve retreated about as far as is possible to retreat.
Oh, and yes, I saw the Obama/O’Reilly interview. It had the same gripping suspense and entertainment content as the Superbowl. In the case of Denver it was safety, interception, fumble, collapse. Obama was deny, deny, deny, blame, deny reality some more and then cast even more blame.
I think Marc Thiessen pens a fairly succinct one in today’s Washington Post:
We’re conducting foreign policy by faux pas. This entire episode has been driven not by deliberate strategy but by slips of the tongue. Obama’s declaration of a “red line” on chemical weapons was a slip of the tongue. So was Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer to have Syria give up its chemical weapons. There is no plan, no coherence to anything this administration is doing on Syria.
More embarrassing still, Obama is actually claiming that the diplomatic “breakthrough” is the result of his administration’s show of strength.
Was it a show of strength when Obama went to the world’s nations and asked them to join him in enforcing “their” red line — finding only one country (France) ready to do so? Or when the British parliament rejected military action for the first time since the 1700s? Or when a U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times that any U.S. strike would be “just muscular enough not to get mocked”? Or when Kerry declared that any strike would be “unbelievably small” and would not really constitute “war”? Or when Obama used his prime-time, nationally televised address to call on Congress to do . . . nothing?
That’s not a show of strength. That’s an embarrassment.
Foreign policy by faux pas. You have to cringe at that one. But it is certainly the truth.
The idea that this sequence of events led Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to cower and agree to hand over his chemical weapons is laughable. Russia and Syria are playing us. And the administration, which was about to lose a vote in Congress, latched on to this diplomatic “solution” to save face.
It’s supposed to be the president of the United States who gives a dictator a face-saving way out, not the other way around. The sad fact is Obama needed this way out more than Assad.
To claim otherwise is simply laughable. And, added into all of this, it gave Assad room to do whatever it is he thinks he needs to do (not to mention legitimacy as Syria’s leader) and a chance to add his own condition to the mix – that the US stop supplying the rebels with arms. Watch for that to come into play at some point in the “negotiations”.
As the Wall Street Journal says when describing the debacle:
Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.’s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And here we are. The clown car remains full and, unfortunately, will be leading the circus for the next 3 plus years. Hold on to your hats (and wallets).
P.S. and no we won’t be saying anything about the shootings, er “workplace violence”, at the Navy Yard in DC until a whole lot more information comes in.
This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Republican-led House’s decision to fully fund Obamacare, the economy, and the Obama Administration’s Syria-related stupidity.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
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Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, absolutely nails the magnitude of the debacle the Obama administration has suffered and the reason:
Sometimes a president does not have a communications problem. Sometimes a president has a reality problem.
President Obama’s speech to the nation on Syria was premised on the denial of reality. He claimed that the Russian/Syrian initiative resulted from the “credible threat of U.S. military action.” In fact, it filled a vacuum of presidential credibility. Obama had been isolated within the G-20 and abandoned by our closest ally, Britain. Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of a military strike for which the president clearly had no stomach. Obama was on the verge of the most devastating congressional foreign policy repudiation since the Senate voted 49-35 against entering the League of Nations in 1920.
This president’s biggest problem, other than a total lack of leadership ability, has been reality all along. He’s always believed he simply has to speak and others will follow. Yet, in reality he’s done precisely what Gerson claims he’s done – isolate himself and the US. He has no close relationships internationally. Our closest ally in everything we’ve done for centuries has abandoned us. His credibility in the Middle East is hovering close to zero. His “reset” policy with Russia has been a disaster. And he remains reactive and indecisive at place in history that calls for decisiveness and leadership. Consequently another nation is moving to take that lead he’s abandoned.
Vladimir Putin offered Obama an escape, which he gratefully took. But there are implicit costs. A U.S. military strike — something Putin thought inevitable just a few weeks ago — is off. Russia’s Syrian client, Bashar al-Assad, stays in power. The Syrian opposition is effectively hung out to dry. Russia gains a position of influence in the Middle East it has not held since Anwar Sadat threw the Soviets out of Egypt. This allows Moscow to supply proxies such as Syria and Iran with weapons while positioning itself as the defender of international law and peace. Iran sees that the United States is a reluctant power, with a timid and polarized legislature, that can easily be deflected from action by transparent maneuvers.
Other than this, ’twas a famous victory.
Speaking of credibility, to watch the spin-meisters attempt to call this a “famous victory” shreds what little they may still enjoy. No one grounded in reality and at all concerned with their credibility would declare this any sort of a ‘victory’ for the US.
But hey we had a speech …
The resulting message was boldly mixed. Assad is a moral monster — who is now our partner in negotiations. The consequences would be terrible “if we fail to act” — which now seems the most likely course. America “doesn’t do pinpricks” — especially when it does not do anything. “The burdens of leadership are often heavy” — unless they are not assumed.
And here we are. A shrunken giant, leaderless and adrift. “Led” by an incompetent with coming negotiations headed by another incompetent (Kerry), both of whom have been badly played by the Russians and the Syrians. There’s no reason to believe they won’t come out on the short end of this deal either.
As for the planned, then unplanned, then delayed, then put on indefinite hold strike that Kerry claims is the reason Syria came to the table – Charles Krauthammer lays that out for you:
That “strike Syria, maybe” speech begins with a heart-rending account of children consigned to a terrible death by a monster dropping poison gas. It proceeds to explain why such behavior must be punished. It culminates with the argument that the proper response — the most effective way to uphold fundamental norms, indeed human decency — is a flea bite: something “limited,” “targeted” or, as so memorably described by Secretary of State John Kerry, “unbelievably small.”
“Unbelievably small”. Likely had ’em shaking in their boots in Damascus.
Krauthammer also sums up the “deal” Obama et. al. are now trying to claim was their idea all along (not that anyone but the most gullible or partisan or both are buying that):
The hinge of the entire Russian strategy is saving the Assad regime. That’s the very purpose of the “Russian proposal.” Imagine that some supposed arms-control protocol is worked out. The inspectors have to be vetted by Assad, protected by Assad, convoyed by Assad, directed by Assad to every destination. Negotiation, inspection, identification, accounting, transport and safety would require constant cooperation with the regime, and thus acknowledgment of its sovereignty and legitimacy.
So much for Obama’s repeated insistence that Assad must go. Indeed, Putin has openly demandedthat any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment to forswear the use of force against Assad. On Thursday, Assad repeated that demand, warning that without an American pledge not to attack and not to arm the rebels, his government would agree to nothing.
This would abolish the very possibility of America tilting the order of battle in a Syrian war that Assad is now winning thanks to Russian arms, Iranian advisers and Lebanese Hezbollah shock troops. Putin thus assures the survival of his Syrian client and the continued ascendancy of the anti-Western Iranian bloc.
And what does America get? Obama saves face.
Indeed … some deal.
All of that said, it may end up being the “best” deal we could hope for given the ineptness and incompetence of this administration. Back to Gerson:
I am relieved that President Obama was given a reprieve from a devastating rejection by Congress, which would have wounded the presidency itself. We should hope (against hope) that a negotiation with Putin, Assad and the U.N. Security Council to establish international control of the world’s third-largest chemical weapons stockpile in the middle of a civil war is successful. And Congress should seek ways to strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations.
But this remains a sad moment for the United States. We have seen a Putin power play, based on a Kerry gaffe, leading to a face-saving presidential retreat — and this was apparently the best of the available options.
Pretty bad when this is the best outcome one could hope for … a degree of face saving for a less that satisfactory president who still doesn’t realize how badly he was bested.
Well you’ve all seen the Putin op-ed in the NY Times so I’m not going to spend too much time on it other than to say it is another indicator of the lack of respect the President of the United States has internationally. I can’t imagine Putin trying this with any other president. This is just “in your face” stuff from the Russian president. On the other side of that, I can’t imagine an op-ed like that ever being given the okay in Pravda or any like publication.
But it is another among many indicators of how outclassed and how outplayed the administration has been in this foreign policy mess of their own making.
That said, it’s time to look at the status and likely progress on the quest to bring Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.
Secretary of State John Kerry headed late Wednesday to Geneva with a team of arms control experts for intensive talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, to try to reach an agreement on how to secure and ultimately destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
Mr. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was taking his own arms control experts to the negotiations, holding out the possibility that there would be depth and detail to the talks. But sharp divisions remained between the two powers less than 24 hours after President Obama said he would hold off on an American military strike on Syria and gave a qualified endorsement to a Russian proposal for international monitors to take over the country’s chemical arsenal.
“Sharp divisions” is diplo-speak for “we’re miles and miles and miles apart – don’t expect any agreement anytime soon.”
Or as we said the other day, “Syria has all the time in the world to do whatever it wishes to do.”
American officials said the Syria debate would now unfold largely in Geneva, where the United States wants the talks to focus not only on Syria’s chemical weapons but also on securing munitions like bombs or warheads that are designed for chemical attacks. The officials acknowledged that securing the delivery systems for attacks goes far beyond what Mr. Lavrov has offered or is likely to agree to in Geneva this week.
Adding to the complexity of the diplomatic task is the reality that even if a deal is reached, it would take a year or more to destroy Syria’s chemical stores. One estimate by Pentagon officials determined that Mr. Assad has 1,400 tons of sarin, VX and mustard agents, and that it would take at least 200 to 300 days to take control of the weapons and, short of destruction, to make them unusable.
A lot can be hidden in “200 to 300” days, can’t they. And, talks can easily stall, be delayed, be postponed, be suspended, etc., all while Russia plays hardball to our T-ball.
With Putin’s op-ed and Russia leading on the Syria debacle, while the administration plays defense, you’re seeing a leadership shift right before your eyes. Barack Obama has all but ceded the superpower role the US has enjoyed … he’s squandered it with is inept handling of foreign affairs, his abject lack of leadership and his inability to attract any support for his policies.
I’m pining for Jimmy Carter for heaven sake.