Saturday, October 10, 2015

Did Obama miss an important opportunity when he met with Putin in NY?

This article from Salon says yes, indeed:

Thomas Friedman, read your Chomsky: The New York Times gets Putin/Obama all wrong, again
[...] It is now several weeks since Russia let it be known that it would reinforce its long-standing support of Bashar al-Assad with new military commitments. First came the materiƩl. Bombing runs began a week ago. On Monday, a senior military official in Moscow announced that Russian troops are to join the fight against the Islamic State.

We are always encouraged to find anything Putin does devious and the outcome of hidden motives and some obscure agenda having to do with his pouting ambition to be seen as a first-rank world leader. From the government-supervised New York Times on down, this is what you read in the newspapers and hear on the radio and television broadcasts. I urge readers to pay no attention to this stuff. It is all about Washington’s agenda to obscure.

Russia’s favored strategy in Syria has long been very clear. It is a question of distinguishing the primary and secondary contradictions, as the Marxists say. The Assad regime is to be kept in place so as to preserve those political institutions still functioning as the basis of a reconstructed national government. Once the threat of Islamic terror is defeated, a political transition into a post-Assad reconstruction can be negotiated.

For a time it appeared that Washington was prepared to buy into this set of expedients. This impression derived from the very frequent contacts between John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with whom the American secretary of state has often worked closely.

Then came the fateful encounter between Obama and Putin at the U.N. Obama spoke first, Putin afterward. Then the two met privately.

A few days ago a source in Moscow with good lines into Kremlin thinking wrote a long note on the Obama-Putin encounter in New York. Here is some of what this source said:

The meeting with Obama in New York did not go well. It was extremely contentious, and Obama did not engage. Putin made the case that the important first priority had to be to eliminate Daesh [the Islamic State], and that after more than a year of the U.S. campaign there has been no significant success. Indeed, the contrary is the case.

Putin’s point was that air power alone will not succeed, and that now the only real boots on the ground are the Kurds and the armies of Syria and its supporters—Hezbollah and some Iranians, but the Iranians troops involved in the struggle with Daesh are operating mostly in Iraq.

Putin proposed creating a coalition, the equivalent of the anti-Hitler alliance, to focus on Daesh, and then focusing in Round 2 on the transition of Syria into a form of decentralized federation of highly autonomous regions—Kurdish, Sunni, Alawite-Christian and a few others—which all work together now.

Putin had been led to believe through the Lavrov /Kerry channel… that there would be a broader agreement to work together. So he was surprised that Obama did not seize the opportunity to engage the battle in a coordinated way…. In the end they agreed only on coordination between the two militaries to avoid running into each other.

Putin left New York with the view that it is now much more important to support the government in Syria than he had thought before he went, because he came convinced that the U.S., left to its present course, is going to create another Libya, this time in Syria. Israel has a similar view, as does Egypt, Iran, and, increasingly, countries in Europe. With Daesh already so deeply implanted, this would lead to vast crisis—military, political, economic, humanitarian—that would spread across all of the Middle East, into the Caucasus and across North Africa, with millions of refugees….

There are four things to say about this account straight off the top. One, the subtext is that Putin reached the point in New York when he effectively threw up his hands and said, “I’m fed up.” Two, Obama went into that meeting more or less befuddled as to what to say. In a word, he was outclassed.

Three, the strategy Putin presented to Obama is clear, logical, lawful and has a good chance of working. In other words, it is everything the Obama administration’s is not, Kerry’s efforts to work with Lavrov notwithstanding.

Four and most important, the history books may well conclude that the U.N. on Sept. 27 was the very place and the very day the U.S. ceded the initiative to Russia on the Syria crisis. This is my read as of now, although in circumstances this kinetic it is too perilous to anticipate what may come next.

The American press has been slightly berserk subsequent to the U.N. encounter, putting more spin on the new Russian policy than a gyroscope has in space. Putin is weak and desperate, he is making Syria more violent, Russian jets are bombing CIA-backed “moderates” and not ISIS, this is Russia’s second Afghanistan, nothing can work so long as Assad remains in power.

“Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power,” Tom Friedman, a standout in this line, wrote in the Times last week. “Watch him become public enemy No. 1 in the Sunni Muslim world. ‘Yo, Vladimir, how’s that working for you?’”

I read all this with a mirror: It is nothing more than a reflection of how far below its knees the Obama administration’s pants have just fallen. Who went stupidly into Syria, Tom? Yo, Tom, your lump-them-together prejudices are showing: Most of “the Sunni Muslim world” is as appalled by the Islamic State as the non-Sunni Muslim world.


What a weird sensation it is to agree with Charles Krauthammer, one of the Washington’s Post’s too-numerous right-wing opinion-page writers. It is like traveling in a strange, badly run country where something always seems about to go wrong.

“If it had the wit, the Obama administration would be not angered, but appropriately humiliated,” Krauthammer wrote in last Thursday’s paper. “President Obama has, once again, been totally outmaneuvered by Vladimir Putin.”

It is a lot better than Tom Friedman’s driveling defense of the president. Somewhere, at least, a spade is still a spade. But with this observation the common ground with Krauthammer begins and ends. Obama has got it radically wrong in Syria—and indeed across the Middle East—but not in the ways we are encouraged to think. Where lie the errors, then? [...]
The author of the article has a great deal more to say. He clearly isn't on the side of American Foreign Policy regarding Syria (or much else). But many of the questions posited are worth asking. What are we doing in Syria?

IF indeed the above plan was proposed to Obama by Putin, I have to say, it makes more sense to me than supporting small Sunni groups against Assad. The sooner the war there ends, the better. If then Syria transitions "into a form of decentralized federation of highly autonomous regions", that might well stem the flow of refugees, and stabilize the region.

It sounds like a plan. Have we anything better to offer? I'm just askin'.

It sounds more realistic and plausible than what's being said by our Bagdad Bob President. The only thing I can say in defense of Obama is, I wasn't at the meeting with Putin, and I don't know what was said. But if it was as described as above, I would have to wonder if it indeed was a missed opportunity.

Also see: 'This is victory as far as they're concerned': Obama could be wrong about Putin's big moves in Syria

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