by Stephen Bryen
I wanted to write about Putin’s Speech, but since he wrote an Op Ed in the New York Times, I cannot be quite as dramatic as I might like. Even so, I will stick with my headline –Putin’s Speech.
As this is being written, I am sure the politicos in the White House are wringing their hands, because they have been handed the second fait accompli by Putin in the space of a week.
First Putin took up Secretary Kerry’s offer of a deal to remove chemical weapons from the hands of the Syrian regime. Next, Putin has made a powerful statement that will resonate with Americans, which contains the following three elements:
1. that Russia is willing to work out a political deal on Syria which could result in the end of the civil war;
2. that Russia is deeply concerned about radical Islamic terrorists, which Putin admits some are from Russia. He thinks American should be concerned about the same thing;
3. that America has gone too far in inserting itself in wars, “cobbling together” coalitions, which it will not win. Putin talks about the mess in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Libya as examples. Putin points out that America cannot expect other countries to be instantly democratic; that becoming democratic is a struggle, and that people around the world need time to get there. Meanwhile Putin proposes that the United Nations process, with its veto system that was originally proposed and put in place by the United States, is the way to work out disagreements.
In short, Putin is saying that the United States has overreached and instead of demonstrating to the world that it is the bastion of democracy (and, by implication, human rights), we are looking like an interventionist country acting outside of international law. In the end this encourages countries to develop WMD weapons in order to protect themselves.
Putin says, “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”
In his statement, which is extraordinary, unique and powerful Putin still says that it is the rebels and not the Syrian government that used chemical weapons. While all the evidence points the other way, this is the position the Russians have taken even though they have agreed to remove the Syrian regimes chemical weapons. It is on this point that Kerry has traveled to Geneva and where, it seems, the effort will be made to negotiate a deal.
Once the White House recovers from shock, it would be a good idea for the United States to negotiate with the Russians on the future of Syria. To get from here to there, the U.S. government has to stop backing al Qaeda and other radical terrorists which it pretends it is not doing, but in fact is intervening in the Syrian civil war which is dominated by radical Islamic factions opposing the Assad regime. What lies behind the disaster in Libya and Egypt is the American pretension it could somehow embrace radicals and convert them to our side. This fundamental and inexcusable policy error has almost got us into World War III.
Putin’s speech offers a way out.