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Saturday, October 21, 2017

“By hook or by crook,” Kevin Drum writes “Obama (a) raised the issue of Assad’s chemical weapons to an international level, (b) got Vladimir Putin (!) to take a lead role in reining them in, (c) got Assad to join the chemical weapons ban and agree to give up his stockpiles, and (d) [did] it all while keeping military pressure as an active option, but without ever firing a shot.”

In other words, for all the nonsensical talk of “appeasement,” the very crafty President Putin and the Syrian dictator now own this deal. Meanwhile, U.S. military options remain unchanged. President Obama has bought himself considerable freedom of action.

Mike Tomasky has it right: “If Assad is mad enough to use [chemical weapons] again, Obama won’t mess with Congress or even Russia. He’ll be credited by most observers…for having shown restraint the first time, and more people will agree at that point that Assad must be punished.”

Then there’s Charles Krauthammer, the Post columnist who accuses Obama of “epic incompetence,” complaining that the Russians prefer to keep Bashar al-Assad in power. He worries that “Assad is the key link in the anti-Western Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran through Damascus and Beirut to the Mediterranean.”

Hmm… Isn’t something missing here? Let’s go to the maps. It’s roughly 900 miles from Tehran to Damascus via, oh yeah… Baghdad. See, it’s precisely the U.S. invasion of Iraq championed by Krauthammer and his chums that created this supposedly scary alliance. Sectarian strife among Sunni and Shiite Muslims has erupted there at irregular intervals for almost 1,400 years. Shouldn’t these brilliant thinkers have thought of that before now?

So what do the Russians want? In a word, stability. Unlike the U.S., Russia has a large Muslim minority. Roughly 1 in 6 Russians is Muslim. Like the Tsarnaev bothers of Boston, MA, nearly all are Sunni. What Putin definitely doesn’t want is Chechen separatists getting their hands on nerve gas. Driving overland, Syria’s roughly as close to Chechnya as to Iran.

Can Putin be trusted? To do what’s good for Russia, yes. As President Obama explained to George Stephanopoulos, the Cold War is over. “I don’t think that Mr. Putin has the same values that we do,” he said. “But what I’ve also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos, we both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable.”

And he also quoted Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

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