This is the second in a two-part essay on my conversion from being a Cold War, Baby Boomer, Russia hater to the free thinker I have become.
My initial epiphany occurred in September 2013 after witnessing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to a confrontation in the Russian Arctic between the pseudo-environmental group Greenpeace and the Russian Coast Guard. After several days of rooting and hooting out loud as I read the news on my laptop, I decided it was time for a real reevaluation of the motorbike loving, strike a shirtless pose Russian president I was bred to so dislike.
This brings me to the second reason I began to stop worrying and love Putin: Syria.
In August 2012, President “girl bike” Obama drew a red line and issued a warning to Syrian officials, saying that President Assad would face consequences if the US started seeing “a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” So what did President Assad do? He started moving around and utilizing his chemical weapons – not once, but 14 times beginning in December 2012.
What was the US response? President Obama backed away from his declaration, saying, “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.” He then went to the world and asked them to join him in enforcing “their” red line. But the world would have none of it. The British Parliament voted a resounding “no” to air strikes and NATO declined to step in.
So President Obama decided to launch a strike to prove his point, but the US Congress would have none of it. So what happened then? When it became clear that President Obama did not have the votes, President Putin swooped in to the rescue and saved President Obama from a humiliating defeat by offering a deal to have Syria disarm. Disaster had been averted.
The failure to enforce his stated “red line” after President Bashar al-Assad used sarin gas in a Damascus suburb in August 2013 is seen by some as the worst stain on Obama’s legacy. So much for that Nobel Peace Prize.
In the ensuing years, it has been Vladimir Putin’s Russia that has led the charge against Islamic terrorists in Syria, while the Obama administration has continued its lukewarm military aid to anti-Assad rebel factions. Putin has carried out this assault while carefully tap dancing around the terrorists’ religious link by saying he would prefer Islam “not be mentioned in vain alongside terrorism.”
Like the consummate KGB man that he is, Putin recognizes that Russia’s allies in the Muslim world are crucial to the country’s national interest and he needs to keep his public rhetoric toned down. And while his pilots are busy bombing ISIS targets in Syria, Putin reassures his Muslim allies by saying, “I would like to confirm that in Russia, the Islamic world will always find a reliable ally, prepared to cooperate in resolving pressing problems.”
It is expected that incoming President Trump will cut off assistance to the anti-Assad rebel groups and partner with Russia as a close ally in the War on Terror. Responding to the December 19th Berlin Christmas market terrorist attack, Trump took a hardline and said, “These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.”
Putin’s presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to Trump’s comments the following day saying, “This is consonant with what President Putin has been saying for years. For the past 16 or 17 years Putin has been urging international cooperation in the struggle against this most dangerous challenge of our century.” He added that no single country, even the strongest one, will be able to effectively fight against terrorism.
Further indication of Trump’s resolve to change the course of the country’s foreign policy can be seen in his nomination of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. While Tillerson is a government outsider, Trump and his circle view this as a positive attribute, not a negative one.
Tillerson, a steely-eyed Texas oil man, could not be more opposite in temperament and character than his two predecessors at State, Hillary Clinton and John “Swift Boat” Kerry. Both Clinton and Kerry engaged in foreign policy decisions that were catastrophic for not only the United States, but for the entire world. It is going to take a tremendous amount of work to un-do the damage they have done over the last eight years.
Clinton, for example, supported Middle Eastern insurgents aimed at overthrowing governments friendly to the United States. The “Arab Spring” uprisings, combined with the precipitous US military withdrawal from Iraq, plain and simply opened the door for the formation of ISIS. And we all know what that has done to the world. But worst of all, her disinterest and negligence in the face of crisis in Benghazi unquestionably led to the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. No matter how she spins it, Clinton has blood on her hands on this one.
Kerry, for his part, has been an unmitigated disaster as Secretary of State. From giving away the store to Iran in a utopian (for Iran) nuclear deal, betraying the only democratic nation in the Middle East and our strongest ally there – Israel, and trumpeting a Syria strategy that runs counter productive to itself, Kerry is the embodiment of the Ivy League lounge chair liberal who has lots of good ideas spawned by the books he’s read but no real-world experience to recognize that these ideas are only good for making up stories. Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival last summer, Kerry unwittingly nailed the reason US policy in Syria has failed, saying, “You can never have peace when Assad is still there.”
Speaking on this exact topic during his US Senate confirmation hearing last week, Rex Tillerson stated clearly that under President Trump the United States will change course on Syria and focus on “first things first.” Tillerson said, “We’ve had two competing policies, Bashar Assad must go and the defeat of ISIS. The clear policy is the defeat ISIS, the next priority which is what is going to be the exit of Bashar Assad, what is going to be the governance structure of Syria and can we have any influence over that. It is going to take many steps.”
It appears as if we are going to see an unprecedented spirit of cooperation between the US and Russia under the Trump administration, as the two countries join forces to defeat the common enemy that is Islamic terrorism.
This spirit of cooperation will be a 180-degree turn for the United States, which under President Obama has maintained the nastiest relations with Russia since the Cold War. This nastiness reached its height in late December when in a mean-spiritedness worthy of the Grinch himself, Obama PNGed 35 Russian diplomats and their families in response to perceived (and unproven) Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Thirty-five diplomats! At the height of the Cold War such expulsions were generally limited to one or two well-placed operatives just to prove a point.
This over-kill makes one question Obama’s respect for the 35 of his own diplomats who, he most assuredly presumed, would have been expelled by Putin in retribution as part of the age-old spy game of tit-for-tat.
But this was not to be. Instead, Putin took the high road and said he would not disrupt anybody’s Christmas and invited all the children of accredited US diplomats in Russia to Christmas and New Year’s parties at the Kremlin. Now that’s class.
Or perhaps it’s just stone-cold KGB realism. For why go to all the trouble of playing this worn out game with a soon-to-be has-been on his way out the door? Come January 20th all this amateurish nonsense will go out the way it came in.
In fact, I’d go so far as to opine that the administrative staff at the Russian Embassy in Washington didn’t even go to the trouble of packing out the household effects of the expelled 35 diplomats. Why bother? They will likely be coming back soon after what will have turned out to be an unexpected R&R back home over the holidays.
So these are the reasons why I learned to stop worrying and love Putin. While recognizing that Russia is still our primary adversary on the world stage and we must remain constantly vigilant – trust but verify, I believe the United States needs a strong partner in the fight against the religious extremist scourge that is threatening the entire world.
Eight years of half-hearted counter-terrorism operations, while simultaneously resisting the one country that has been in full-bore attack mode against them, has not worked. It is time to change course and join forces with the Russians and defeat the real enemy.
On January 20th, let the battle begin!
By: Benjamin Wolinski