May 29, 2020

In Russian self interest

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

In Russian self interest

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – From Russia with love, or not, but the eleventh-hour intervention by the Russians saved President Obama from what looked like a major defeat on Capitol Hill with lawmakers refusing to give the president authority for a limited and targeted military strike against Syria.  With the administration pulled back from the brink, the debate turns to the motivations of the Russians, chiefly President Putin and what drove him to enter the fray like he did.

He’s not trying to win the Nobel peace prize, or to butter up Obama after stiffing the U.S. on Syria for two and a half years. What he’s doing is what countries do – he’s acting in Russia’s strategic interest, and on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, the interests of the U.S. and Russia converge.

It’s fair to conclude that Putin doesn’t like Syria possessing this large arsenal of chemical weapons any more than Obama does, and it’s doubtful that Russia supplied Syria with those weapons, although we don’t know that for sure. It is worth noting that there is no record of Russia, or China for that matter, ever having used chemical weapons, and they are the two likely vetoes on the U.N. Security Council against enforcing any U.N. resolution against Syria.

Chemical weapons are abhorrent, so abhorrent that the worst of the worst bad actors, like North Korea, have not used them. Even Hitler during World War II didn’t employ chemical weapons on the battlefield, having memories of his own from being caught in a British gas attack during World War I and temporarily blinded.

Putin does not want the Syrian stockpiles to fall into the hands of extremists and/or al-Qaeda. Beyond that, if the fighting continues by conventional means, Putin has little or no humanitarian interest in stopping the bloodshed – and he has zero interest in seeing Assad toppled. His message to Obama is this: you may not like Assad, but you will like the rebels even less if they take power in Syria. Chaos is Russia’s enemy along with the justifiable fear that it could spread beyond Syria’s borders into the region, and finally into Russia’s already volatile and lawless Northern Caucasus.

That’s why there is reason to believe the Russian proposal to bring Syria’s chemical weapons under international control is a serious effort. The central question is not whether the U.S. can trust Putin – this isn’t about trust, this is about Russian self-interest, and Putin’s next moves should be interpreted in that context.

If we put ourselves in Putin’s shoes, he’s no doubt questioning all the moral righteousness the administration is bringing to bear. After all, previous U.S. administrations did nothing when then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein deployed poison gas against the Iranians, and later against the Kurds, his own people in northern Iraq.

The gas attack against Iran changed the momentum and allowed Iraq to emerge as the victor at a time when Saddam was America’s ally. President Reagan was in office then. When the attack on the Kurds occurred, George H.W. Bush was president, and though he had encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam, his administration did not retaliate for the attack, which ended the uprising.

This week’s ongoing diplomatic developments are heartening. Syrian President Assad until now didn’t even acknowledge that he has chemical weapons, and if they were used, he wants us to believe he knew nothing about it. Now, at Putin’s insistence, he’s coming clean, realizing that by giving up these weapons he can avoid a U.S. military strike, and he can still win the war by the most brutal conventional means. Cluster bombs are his weapon of choice, and reports are that the regime has upped their use in recent days.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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