Noting the obvious, Vladimir Putin pointed out that the US is in a very weak position concerning Syria:
Russian President Vladimir Putin continued a war of words with the U.S. over Syria, calling its policy weak and lacking in objectives as his air force carried out fresh bombing raids in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
“I don’t really understand how the U.S. can criticize Russia’s actions in Syria if they refuse to have direct dialogue,” Putin told reporters Thursday during a visit to Astana, Kazakhstan. “The basic weakness of the American position is that they don’t have an agenda, though we’re keeping the door open” for high-level discussions with Washington, he said.
Of course, the administration had an answer:
“We’ve said that we’re not interested in doing that as long as Russia is not willing to make a constructive contribution to our counter-ISIL effort,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday, using an acronym for Islamic State. “Russia has their own agenda and it’s an agenda right now that they’re pursuing on their own.”
I suppose that’s so … but so does the US and it is apparent there really isn’t any desire for “dialogue” unless the US can have its way. And it is a basic understanding in negotiations that the weaker party doesn’t have as many choices (if any) than the stronger party. The US is certainly in the weaker position having ceded control of the Syrian conflict to Russia. Also, don’t forget that the US withheld military aid to Iraq until Iraq made political changes it wanted to see happen. What did Iraq do? Well, it bought its fighter aircraft from Russia instead (likely with US money).
As for the possibility of talks. Well, it seems that NATO partner Turkey has figured out a way to have them:
Russia and NATO member Turkey are establishing “lines of communication between our militaries in connection with events taking place in Syria” amid tensions over violations of Turkish airspace, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov told a conference in Moscow on Thursday, Interfax reported. Turkey and Russia can find consensus on Syria, Umit Yardim, the Turkish ambassador to Moscow, said at the same meeting.
Interesting and telling.
Foreign affairs, for this administration, is a disaster. And they seem determined to make it worse instead of better.
As if it wasn’t obvious, Gary Kasparov summarizes it very well in today’s WSJ:
Mr. Obama has already decided to continue his policy of disengagement from the Middle East, and his platitudes about cooperation and the rule of law rang hollow in the U.N.’s General Assembly hall. Of the conflict in Syria, he said, “we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.” But every listener was aware that Mr. Obama had no intention of backing his words with action.
Mr. Putin, speaking about an hour later in the same room, included his usual NATO-bashing and obvious lies. “We think it is an enormous mistake,” Mr. Putin said, “to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face.” He spoke of national sovereignty—which is very important to Mr. Putin, unless it’s the sovereignty of Georgia, Ukraine or another place where he wishes to meddle.
In other words, Mr. Obama’s speech was routine because he knows he will not act. Mr. Putin’s speech was routine because he knows he will act anyway.
And that final sentence is the best capsule of the two opposing foreign policies you’re likely to see. Mr. Obama has always been long on words – that is “talking the talk”. But he’s almost never bothered to “walk the walk”. In international politics that’s interpreted as a huge weakness. Consequently, his lack of action (i.e. backing up his words) has been constantly tested for reaction. And the reaction has always been … more words (or more “red lines”).
One of the major reasons for the rise of ISIS is the poorly thought out American withdrawal from Iraq after the Obama administration took over. With the withdrawal came the abandonment of the Sunni minority there that had been key to the Anbar Awakening that had helped make the surge a success and stabilize Iraq. ISIS was a direct result of that abandonment. One of the key questions asked by Sunni leaders to American commanders before they committed to the Awakening was, “are you going to stay”. Obama’s policy put “lie” to their promises. Now, after failing to act when ISIS first rose and trying to blame others for the rise, the administration wants a part in the defeat of ISIS (which, by the way, will have to be much more of an effort that an occasional air strike, if it is to succeed).
But there’s this “words over action” problem that Obama suffers from that certainly erodes any confidence in the viability of any US involvement. In international politics, action speaks louder than words and Mr. Putin is and has taken action. Whether or not you agree with his action or want to see Russia involved in the Middle East isn’t the point. The point we should all understand is the weak and indecisive Middle Eastern policy that this administration has pursued has handed over it’s predominant role in the region with barely a whimper. Putin hasn’t forced his way through the door there. The US has willingly opened it and all but welcomed him in.
Kasparov has a brutal conclusion which I find hard to fault:
Mr. Putin didn’t say anything new at the U.N., because he didn’t need to. He knows that he has concrete assets that are more effective than mere words. He has tanks in Ukraine, jet fighters in Syria, and Barack Obama in the White House.
This week, Michael, and Dale talk about The Malaysian Airlines tragedy, Obama, and aggressive policing.
The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.
One of the foreign policy promises Barack Obama made was that during his presidency, America would have a “light footprint” on world affairs. Our first indicator of what that meant was the action in Libya when the US “led from behind”. The Obama administration belived that pulling back from our strong presence and position in the world would help mollify other powers and usher in a new era of peaceful cooperation with America as a partner and not necessarily the leader.
How has that worked out?
The White House was taken by surprise by Vladimir V. Putin’s decisions to invade Crimea, but also by China’s increasingly assertive declaration of exclusive rights to airspace and barren islands.
Neither the economic pressure nor the cyberattacks that forced Iran to reconsider its approach have prevented North Korea’s stealthy revitalization of its nuclear and missile programs. In short, America’s adversaries are testing the limits of America’s post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan moment.
“We’re seeing the ‘light footprint’ run out of gas,” said one of Mr. Obama’s former senior national security aides, who would not speak on the record about his ex-boss.
What we’re actually seeing is naivete in foreign policy head toward a predictable conclusion. Foreign policy isn’t bean bag and it has been established many times in history that the retreat of a great power from the world’s stage will see other seemingly lesser powers attempt to fill or take advantage of that power vacuum.
The “light footprint” didn’t “run out of gas”, the light footprint was foreign policy destined for failure from its inception. Mr. Obama and his foreign policy team were warned about that constantly and preferred to ignore both the warnings and history.
Mr. Obama acknowledges, at least in private, that he is managing an era of American retrenchment. History suggests that such eras — akin to what the United States went through after the two world wars and Vietnam — often look like weakness to the rest of the world. His former national security adviser Thomas Donilon seemed to acknowledge the critical nature of the moment on Sunday when he said on “Face the Nation” that what Mr. Obama was facing was “a challenge to the post-Cold War order in Europe, an order that we have a lot to do with.”
But while Mr. Donilon expressed confidence that over time the United States holds powerful tools against Russia and other nations, in the short term challengers like Mr. Putin have the advantage on the ground.
Mr. Obama is managing “an era of American retrenchment” he initiated.
It doesn’t look like a period of weakness to the rest of the world, it is a period of weakness that is compounded by our weak leadership. We’re engaged in bringing our military down to pre-WWII levels and we’ve made it clear that we’re not interested in fulfilling treaty obligations with the likes of the Ukraine. How else would one interpret our actions?
And, of course, one of the best ways we could address this particular crisis is to up our shipments of natural gas to Europe so they weren’t dependent of Russian pipeline supplies that flow through the Ukraine. That would give Europe some leverage because they wouldn’t be held hostage by their need for Russian petro supplies. But on the domestic front, the Obama administration has made building the necessary infrastructure to cash in on our growing natural gas boom almost impossible.
Are Russia and others testing the limits? You bet they are and all of those interested in those limits are watching this drama unfold. To this point, it appears Russia sees no downside to its action. Should that continue to be the case, you can be assured other nations will also “test the limits.”
This is Mr. Obama’s 3am phone call. And it appears he has let it go to the answering machine.
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.
You have to wonder how far we’ve slipped when the financial wreck that is Greece is assured that its situation isn’t so unique – look at the US. And the example is made by none other than America’s best friend – Vladimir Putin:
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin played down Greece’s economic woes on Tuesday, telling his visiting Greek counterpart that the United States were no better than Greece in handling its debt and fiscal deficit.
“As we all know, the global economic crisis started neither in Greece, nor in Russia, nor in Europe,” Mr. Putin told a news conference after talks with George Papandreou. “It came to us from across the ocean,” he said in a clear reference to the United States.
“There (in the U.S.) we can see similar problems – massive external debt, budget deficit,” Mr. Putin added, suggesting Russia and Greece should concentrate on the “real economy” to weather the economic crisis.
It’s not clear what the “real economy” means. However it is clear that for Greece and the US, what they are doing isn’t sustainable and at some point the “real economy” or at least the laws of economics are not going to be denied – for both countries.