No, Obama should not join Putin
(A Modest Proposal)
In September 29th’s edition of American Thinker, Michael Curtis writes a very well thought out article examining the complexity of the situation in Southwest Asia. He details the issues, the actors and the current and possible future fallout from U.S. inaction. His solution however, is more tactical than strategic and will foster more harm than good. Here’s the money quote:
The Obama administration must join Putin in pressing for peace negotiations between the parties in the Syrian civil war, in which a solution can be reached, irrespective of any agreement on the future of Assad himself. More important is cooperation between the U.S. and Russia on the elimination of ISIS. On this point Putin is more insightful than Western leaders.
This short term approach may help bring the ISIS problem under some modicum of control, but it will exacerbate the problems caused by the continuing U.S. abandonment of the area, otherwise known as “leading from behind.” It will increase Putin’s/Russia’s prestige and influence and it will diminish ours. Already we are seeing this as Egypt’s government turns towards Russia and as Mr Curtis mentions in his article, Netanyahu turns to Putin for help with Hezbollah.
We need to start thinking strategically when it comes to U.S. prestige, power and worldwide interests. Part of that requires we refrain from reflexively believing that foreign dictatorships are inherently bad for U.S. and client state interests. A big part of our currently untenable situation in Syria, Iraq and parts elsewhere in Southwest Asia was our active support for the overthrow of two U.S. allies, Egypt’s Mubarak and Libya’s Qaddafi, dictators both.
Although a dictator in all but name, Mubarak upheld his treaty obligations with Israel and the U.S. to the letter. The Saudis, knowing Mubarak’s time in power was coming to an end, warned the U.S. not to publicly humiliate him. Let him instead, self exile to avoid what ultimately happened, a Muslim Brotherhood revolution, show trial and chaos.
Qaddafi, also a dictator, came to us and over a short period, renounced terror, paid compensation to Lockerbie victims and turned over his WMD to U.S authorities. He also became a voluntary partner in the War on Terror. Not only did we encourage the revolution in his country, but shortly after he was killed, then Secretary of State Clinton publicly cackled like a crone at the cauldron, “We came. We saw. He died.”
Given how we treated these two allies/dictators, why would the leadership of any current or potential ally trust us? Is it any wonder, that Egypt’s al-Sisi and Israel’s Netanyahu are talking to Putin about their countries’ interests?
ISIS isn’t the real problem here. It is merely a symptom. The real problem is the U.S. propensity to emote instead of think regarding foreign policy, automatically disqualifying dictators as allies and thus acting in a tactical instead of strategic manner
Instead of joining Putin, perhaps we should enlist Assad’s help and get him to join us. Yes, Assad is a ruthless dictator. However, whether or not we support him, he will remain in power–Putin will see to that. The key here is to think strategically, not tactically. By bringing Assad into our orbit we can accomplish a number of things. First, in the near term, we can eliminate ISIS in Syria and deny them Syrian sanctuary for attacks elsewhere in the region. Second, we can take away a client state from both Russia and to a lesser extent, Iran. This will in and of itself decrease regional instability and lessen pressure on Israel, which in turn allows us more flexibility.
Such an agreement with Assad would have to include some Syrian conduct guarantees such as termination of his relationship with Hezbollah, as well as recognition of and full diplomatic relations with Israel. Additionally, Assad would have to demonstrate a real commitment to minimizing civilian casualties while dealing with his insurgency. Also, at a date to be later negotiated, Assad would have step down, while we would assure that he could retire unmolested.
Executing such a pivot will be difficult. Because of President Obama’s weak leadership in the foreign policy arena, allies and potential allies would be wise not to trust promises made by the current administration. However, the transition period between Election Day and Inauguration Day 2016, could possibly provide a unique opportunity for the incoming administration to have such a covert discussion with Assad. Sometimes as the leader of the free world, we have to do some things we regret…are necessary.