SYRIA & OBAMA (& PUTIN), III – DISPUTIN’ PUTIN: THE THINGS HE DIDN’T SAY, AND THINGS OBAMA HASN’T DONE

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Contents:

 

 

Contents:

A Plea for Caution From Russia: Vladimir V. Putin, New York Times, Sept. 11, 2013—Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

 

What Putin’s Op-Ed Forgot to Mention: Anna Neistat, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 12 2013—It’s not what Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op-ed says that’s so worrisome; it’s what it doesn’t say. As a Russian and as someone who has been to Syria multiple times since the beginning of the conflict to investigate war crimes and other violations, I would like to mention a few things Mr. Putin overlooked.

 

The Laurel and Hardy Presidency: Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 2013—After writing in the London Telegraph that Monday was "the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began," former British ambassador Charles Crawford asked simply: "How has this happened?"

 

Obama’s Syrian Disaster: Father Raymond J. de Souza , National Post, Sept. 12, 2013—This is how a superpower ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Syrians weep. Assad mocks. Putin laughs. And Americans rub their eyes in disbelief. Who would have thunk it? The issue of Syria — yes, Syria — suddenly has unified America, Russia and even Syria itself around a common project: giving U.S. President Barack Obama a face-saving pretext to back away from his misguided, unpopular and potentially disastrous plan to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

 

On Topic Links

 

Our Conflicted Commander in Chief: Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2013

The Putin Doctrine: Ilai Saltzman, LA Times, September 12, 2013

Obama’s Missteps on Syria Lead to Retreat: Michael Gerson, Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2013

US Attacks, Syrian 'Perfidy,' and Future Mega-Terror on Israel: Louis René Beres, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2013

The West’s Cowardice and Inaction on Syria Will Lead to Blowback: Terry Glavin,Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 11, 2013

The Six Steps to Ridding Syria of Chemical Weapons: Cheryl Rofer, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 11 2013

The Complicated Fallout of the Diplomacy Over Syria: David Ignatius, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Sept. 12, 2013        

 

A PLEA FOR CAUTION FROM RUSSIA

Vladimir V. Putin

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2013

 

Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

 

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

 

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

 

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

 

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fuelled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world….

 

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

 

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

 

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

 

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

 

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect. The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen non-proliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

 

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement. A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action….
 

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

 

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

 

Contents
 

 

WHAT PUTIN’S OP-ED FORGOT TO MENTION

Anna Neistat

The Globe and Mail, Sept. 12, 2013

 

It’s not what Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op-ed says that’s so worrisome; it’s what it doesn’t say. As a Russian and as someone who has been to Syria multiple times since the beginning of the conflict to investigate war crimes and other violations, I would like to mention a few things Mr. Putin overlooked.

 

There is not a single mention in Mr. Putin’s article, addressed to the American people, of the egregious crimes committed by the Syrian government and extensively documented by the UN Commission of Inquiry, local and international human rights groups, and numerous journalists: deliberate and indiscriminate killings of tens of thousands of civilians, executions, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. His op-ed also makes no mention of Russia’s ongoing transfer of arms to Bashar al-Assad throughout the past two and a half years.

 

The Russian president strategically emphasizes the role of Islamic extremists in the Syrian conflict. Yes, many rebel groups have committed abuses and atrocities. Yet Mr. Putin fails to mention that it is the Syrian government that is responsible for shooting peaceful protesters (before the conflict even started) and detaining and torturing their leaders – many of whom remain detained – and that the continued failure of the international community to respond to atrocities in Syria allows crimes on all sides to continue unaddressed.

 

Mr. Putin’s plea to use the United Nations Security Council to resolve the conflict sounds great, until you remember that, from the very start of this conflict, Russia has vetoed or blocked any Security Council action that may bring relief to Syria’s civilians or bring perpetrators of abuses in Syria to account.

 

While Russia’s proposal for international monitoring of Syria’s chemical weapons is a welcome step, it will do nothing to bring justice to hundreds of victims of the latest attack, let alone to thousands of others, killed by conventional weapons. And when Mr. Putin squarely blames the opposition for the August 21 chemical attack – against all available evidence and without presenting a shred of his own evidence – one can only wonder why Russia remains so vehemently opposed to referring Syria to the International Criminal Court, an action that would be fully in line with international law, which Mr. Putin seems so keen to uphold in his op-ed, and would enable an investigation into abuses by both sides of the conflict.

 

Finally, the sincerity of Mr. Putin’s talk about democratic values and international law is hard to take seriously when back home his own government continues to throw activists in jail, threatens to close NGOs, and rubber-stamps draconian and discriminatory laws. Mr. Putin should give more credit to his audience: Russia will be judged by its actions, both on the international arena and domestically. So far, Russia has been a key obstacle to ending the suffering in Syria. A change towards a more constructive role would be welcome. But a compilation of half-truths and accusations is not the right way to signal such a change.

 

Anna Neistat is associate director for Program and Emergencies division at Human Rights Watch

 

Contents

 

THE LAUREL AND HARDY PRESIDENCY

Daniel Henninger

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2013

 

After writing in the London Telegraph that Monday was "the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began," former British ambassador Charles Crawford asked simply: "How has this happened?" On the answer, opinions might differ. Or maybe not. A consensus assessment of the past week's events could easily form around Oliver Hardy's famous lament to the compulsive bumbler Stan Laurel: "Here's another nice mess you've gotten us into!"

 

The past week was a perfect storm of American malfunction. Colliding at the center of a serious foreign-policy crisis was Barack Obama's manifest skills deficit, conservative animosity toward Mr. Obama, Republican distrust of his leadership, and the reflexive opportunism of politicians from Washington to Moscow.

 

It is Barack Obama's impulse to make himself and whatever is in his head the center of attention. By now, we are used to it. But this week he turned himself, the presidency and the United States into a spectacle. We were alternately shocked and agog at these events. Now the sobering-up has to begin. The world has effectively lost its nominal leader, the U.S. president. Is this going to be the new normal? If so—and it will be so if serious people don't step up—we are looking at a weakened U.S president who has a very, very long three years left on his term.

 

The belief by some that we can ride this out till a Reagan-like rescue comes in the 2016 election is wrong. Jimmy Carter's Iranian hostage crisis began on Nov. 4, 1979. One quick year later, the American people turned to Ronald Reagan. There will be no such chance next year or the year after that—not till November 2016….

 

A congressional vote against that Syria resolution was never going to include a sequester for the Middle East. Iran's 16,600 uranium-enrichment centrifuges are spinning. Iran's overflights of Iraq to resupply Damascus with heavy arms and Quds forces will continue until Assad wins. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies, will start condominium talks with Iran, a U.S. enemy. Israel will do what it must, if it can….

 

The White House, Congress and Beltway pundits are exhaling after the president of Russia took America off the hook of that frightful intervention vote by offering, in the middle of a war, to transfer Syria's chemical weapons inventory to the U.N.—a fairy tale if ever there was one. Ask any chemical-weapons disposal specialist.

 

Syria looks lost. The question now is whether anyone who participated in the fiasco, from left to right, will adjust to avoid a repeat when the next crisis comes. The president himself needs somehow to look beyond his own instinct on foreign policy. It's just not enough. The administration badly needs a formal strategic vision. Notwithstanding her piece of Benghazi, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who gave a surprisingly tough speech Monday on the failure of the U.N. process and America's role now, may be the insider to start shaping a post-Syria strategy. Somebody has to do it. Conservative critics can carp for three years, which will dig the hole deeper, or contribute to a way forward. Allowing this week to become the status quo is unthinkable. A 40-month run of Laurel and Hardy's America will endanger everyone.

 

Contents

 

 

 

OBAMA’S SYRIAN DISASTER

Father Raymond J. de Souza

National Post, Sept. 12, 2013

 

This is how a superpower ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Syrians weep. Assad mocks. Putin laughs. And Americans rub their eyes in disbelief. Who would have thunk it? The issue of Syria — yes, Syria — suddenly has unified America, Russia and even Syria itself around a common project: giving U.S. President Barack Obama a face-saving pretext to back away from his misguided, unpopular and potentially disastrous plan to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

 

Obama dug his hole a year ago, when he declared that Syrian chemical-weapon usage was a “red line” issue. Once evidence emerged suggesting that Assad’s regime had gassed its own citizens, including a large-scale attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, Obama had no choice but to start beating the war drums. Barack Obama had stood by for two years as the carnage in Syria mounted, rejecting the counsel of his cabinet secretaries to intervene. Then, after some 100,000 deaths and millions of refugees, Bashar al-Assad stood accused of using chemical weapon to kill some 1,400 people. President Obama has declared that this method of killing is different in kind, not merely degree, and therefore warrants a military response to preserve American credibility — his “red line” threat from 2012 — and to send a message to other tyrants.

 

So there is now a case for armed intervention. But the bombing plan proposed by Obama would not aim to change the balance of power in the civil war, would not seek to precipitate the fall of Assad, would not seek to seriously degrade Assad’s military force, and may not even seriously degrade his chemical weapons stockpile. The Syrian campaign would be for only a matter of a few days, and would be “small,” so that everything could return to normal forthwith. Obama ran for president damning the “dumb wars” of George W. Bush. His Syrian strikes are aimed at teaching Assad to be smarter about how he massacres his people. It’s war as pedagogy.

 

Facing a lack of enthusiasm for this weekend seminar by cruise missile, Obama is eager to share the blame with Congress. But it now seems unlikely that Obama will get his authorization. Facing what is in Washington a real calamity — a weakened president unable to gain support for military action, ahead of midterm elections — the debate here has been disgusting in its crass political calculation….

 

In seeking to extricate himself from a confused policy of his own making, Obama has been taken to school by Vladimir Putin. The idea that Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, in the middle of a civil war, would be tranquilly handed over to genteel United Nations inspectors in a deal brokered by Syria’s principal patron, is laughable. So desperate though is Obama not to be mocked for lacking muscularity, he is willing to play along with the joke.

 

The best outcome of the president Syria’s policy is that nothing will change, save that Assad will show better manners in killing his own people. The more likely outcome is that Assad will be strengthened by his ability to face down Western leaders; the dominant Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis will grow stronger; and Russia will return to being a Middle East power, something it has desired since Anwar Sadat turned his back on the Soviet Union 40 years ago.

 

In short: a disaster for the United States, a disaster for Iranian-threatened Israel, a disaster for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States who wish to contain Iran, and a disaster above all for the Syrian people, who now face not Assad alone, but Assad supported by a newly-strengthened Putin.

 

Contents

 

 

Our Conflicted Commander in Chief: Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2013—In his Tuesday afternoon visit with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama said that his evening television address would not cause a 20-point rise in support in the polls for an attack on Syria. The president told GOP senators that while he was good, he was not that good. According to people in the room, the audience chuckled—after which Mr. Obama added, "Although I am pretty good." Actually no, Mr. President, you are not.

 

The Putin Doctrine : Ilai Saltzman, LA Times, September 12, 2013—For more than a decade — after he replaced Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin and even during the time he had to serve as prime minister under his protege, Dmitry Medvedev — Russian President Vladimir Putin has systematically and consistently pursued a policy that can be labeled the Putin Doctrine.

 

Obama’s Missteps on Syria Lead to Retreat: Michael Gerson, Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2013—Sometimes a president does not have a communications problem. Sometimes a president has a reality problem.President Obama’s speech to the nation on Syria was premised on the denial of reality. He claimed that the Russian/Syrian initiative resulted from the “credible threat of U.S. military action.” In fact, it filled a vacuum of presidential credibility.

 

US attacks, Syrian 'perfidy,' and future mega-terror on Israel: Louis René Beres, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2013 —Should American  bombs and missiles actually land in Syria, a more or less substantial number of Syrian noncombatants would be killed. For the most part, these anticipated losses would be the result of a Syrian regime resort to "human shields," that is, to the legally unacceptable practice of moving civilians into designated military areas, or into those places most apt to be targeted. In  jurisprudence, the precise name for this violation of humanitarian international law is "perfidy."

 

The West’s Cowardice and Inaction on Syria Will Lead to Blowback: Terry Glavin,Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 11, 2013—To understand the latest cruel twists in the story of the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century, it is necessary to solve the riddle of how it came to pass that this week U.S.President Barack Obama was all of a sudden publicly and happily contemplating a tripartite collaboration with the brutish Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin and his sociopathic Syrian client-sidekick, the mass murderer Bashar Assad.

 

The Six Steps to Ridding Syria of Chemical Weapons: Cheryl Rofer, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 11 2013—Suddenly this week, both John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov began to pressure Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control. France is putting a resolution before the United Nations Security Council to that effect. Syria seems to have accepted.

 

Putin’s Chemical Weapons Plan Is Already a Success: Kelly McParland, National Post, Sept. 12, 2013—There are lots of reasons to question Russia’s proposal for isolating Syria’s chemical weapons. In a practical sense, none of them matter much. If the aim of the West is to ensure the weapons aren’t used again, the goal has already been achieved.

 

 

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