“It is not our business what happens in Syria,” some of our commenters have written on these pages and on our Facebook page. “We are not the policeman of the world.” “Let them kill each other.”
Many of our regular readers are libertarians. The big fault in the thinking of American libertarians is their preference for isolationism. As if what happens in the rest of the world has no effect on America.
But not all the commenters who want President Trump to do nothing about the gassing of civilians in Syria are libertarians. A few are conservatives who are well aware of the danger in isolationism, but who do not see Assad himself as a significant threat to any but his own people.
While Barack Obama stood back from interfering in Syria, refused to be the policeman of the world, and let Assad kill half a million of his own people, Russia crept up to become the dominant power in the Middle East. And not only by adopting Assad as its pet dictator on the Mediterranean, but far more dangerously by becoming Iran’s best friend – a position Barack Obama coveted. He begged for it, he groveled for it, he paid for it, but while the reigning mullahs accepted everything he gave them, they continued to treat him with the contempt he all too well deserved.
Under Russia’s protection, Iran has projected its destructive power into Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon – from where it is mounting a growing threat to Israel.
The anti-America axis formed by Russia, Iran, and Iran’s nuclear partner North Korea, needs to be broken up. Sending the Russians home from Syria would be a good start.
We quote from an article at the National Interest by Matthew RJ Brodsky:
Last week the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that when it comes to Syria, “Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.” That expression of U.S. policy came the same day that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson intimated that Assad’s future would “be decided by the Syrian people”.
The Syrian people have tried to do precisely that since March 2011, but they were met by the regime’s snipers, tanks, aircraft, barrel bombs, chemical weapons, torture, mass graves and war crimes. Leaving Assad’s fate to the people matches the language espoused by Damascus, Tehran and Moscow, meaning Assad isn’t going anywhere. …
Secretary Tillerson had said, “Russia and Iran will bear moral responsibility,” but later added that he knew Assad was behind the attack. However, in the words of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, “There is not a fundamental option of regime change.”
Unfortunately, the lesson is that this is what happens when the U.S. telegraphs that vicious dictators who use chemical weapons against their own people can remain in power. It sends a message to North Korea and Iran, one that will not be lost on Hezbollah in any upcoming conflict with Israel.
Despite the wishes of some in the West, Bashar al-Assad is not a solution for Syria, nor should he be a solution for the United States. The overwhelmingly compelling moral reasons for such a decision are manifest at this point. Going beyond humanitarian considerations, the fabric of Syrian society is irreparably torn. [A] social compact provided the modicum of legitimacy necessary for the thirty-year reign of Bashar’s father until his death in 2000. Without it, Bashar lacks the legitimacy to rule anything beyond his own family or the Kalbiyya tribe from which he hails. Indeed, having turned on the Sunni population who represent 75 percent of the country, Bashar now stands as a great magnet to which jihadists of all stripes are attracted, and that pull will continue as long as he is in power.
There’s also the problem of strength — a necessary trait in Middle East leaders. Bashar doesn’t have the military capability to regain, hold and consolidate control over Syria even if such an outcome were desirable. …
Assad, who is currently conscripting old men and underage women to serve in his military, is wholly reliant on outside powers with interests directly opposed to those of the United States. In early 2013, the first critical moment came when Assad risked losing what was left of his power but Iran and Hezbollah intervened, bolstering the regime. The respite they provided proved to be temporary and their resources inadequate to the ultimate resolution of the conflict. Assad was once again on the ropes by September 2015, but was revived by Russia’s entry into the conflict. Even their considerable military assistance wasn’t enough to win decisively.
The fact that Assad and his backers have resorted to the repeated use of chemical weapons and the continuous targeting of hospitals and schools demonstrates the weakness of their combined conventional military strength.
Simply put, to advocate for Bashar to remain in power is to acquiesce in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s role as Syria’s kingmaker. [Putin’s] purpose in Syria is to keep Assad in power, provide security for [Russia’s] Iranian client and increase the Russian threat to NATO’s southern flank by upgrading and expanding its Mediterranean base in Tartus, making its presence a permanent feature in the Middle East.
Working to boost Assad also means strengthening Iran in their long pursued and nearly completed task of creating a Shia land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea, running through Iraq and Syria. … [This] will greatly add to [Iran’s] corrosive power before the key provisions of the nuclear deal fall away, greatly enhancing [its] position in the coming years. …
Sending Bashar al-Assad a military message that there are certain levels of barbarity that the world will not tolerate is a beginning. But ultimately, [Assad] needs to pay the price for his actions in a manner that will resonate loudest among the rogue regimes of the world that would consider the use of weapons of mass destruction. That will mean ensuring that the ruling Assad dynasty comes to an end in Syria.
Or America can run down its defenses, spend more on social security, open its borders, abolish its police forces, hide its flag, concentrate on learning new pronouns to cover as many sexual preferences as can be thought up in the safe play-rooms of the universities and the smelly streets of San Francisco and endlessly debate what bathrooms each pronoun can use, cover the land with bird-mincing windmills to provide a little energy now and then, fund the growing movement to humiliate white men, turn the public schools into madrassas, elect some corrupt narcissistic commie, preferably female, to lead the country, appoint judges who will rule according to their feelings, and die.
What does a conservative in the US most want to conserve? We would say: A commitment to liberty, the founding principle of his country. American conservatives may differ from each other on questions of religion, foreign affairs, entitlements and the economic “safety-net”, homosexual marriage and abortion, even on defense, but if they are not loyal to the Constitution and the idea of individual freedom that it enshrines, they are not true conservatives.
In Britain too, conservatives are dedicated to the defense of the traditional and hard-won liberties of the people.
In Russia, being a conservative means something different. The very opposite. What Russian conservatives want to conserve is their long and almost completely unbroken tradition of tyranny. The quarrel within their ranks would now, in post-Soviet times, be chiefly over whether they want a return to the Red Tyranny of Bolshevism, or the older tradition of Tsarist oppression, where cause for national pride may more confidently be found.
Owen Matthews, author of Stalin’s Children, writes in the Spectator (UK) about a conservative Russian military leader:
Strange times throw up strange heroes — and in Russia’s proxy war with Ukraine, none is more enigmatic than the Donetsk rebel leader Igor Girkin, better known by his nom de guerre of Igor Strelkov.
In a few short months, Strelkov has gone from being an obscure military re-enactor to the highest-profile rebel leader in eastern Ukraine. But at the same time Strelkov’s fame and outspoken criticism of Vladimir Putin for failing to sufficiently support the rebels has earned him the enmity of the Kremlin. Moreover, Strelkov’s brand of sentimental ultra-nationalism, extreme Orthodoxy and Russian Imperial nostalgia offer a frightening glimpse into one of Russia’s possible futures.
In the West, we are used to seeing Putin cast as a dangerous adventurer and nationalist. But to Strelkov, and to the millions of Russians who have come to admire him, Putin isn’t nearly nationalist enough.
Within weeks of his arrival in eastern Ukraine in May this year, apparently on his own initiative, Strelkov quickly became the highest-profile rebel leader thanks to his discipline and military bearing. A veteran of wars in Bosnia, Transnistria and Chechnya, Strelkov is a reserve colonel in the Russian army and a former (and possibly current) officer in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. With his clipped moustache, pressed fatigues and careful charm, Strelkov styles himself on a pre–revolutionary Tsarist officer. In May he mustered a 2,000-strong local defence force in Slavyansk, banned his troops from swearing and ordered two of his own men to be summarily executed for looting.
He wrote a manifesto calling his troops “an Orthodox army who are proud that we serve not the golden calf but our Lord Jesus Christ” and declared that “swearing is blasphemy, and a Russian warrior cannot use the language of the enemy. It demeans us spiritually, and will lead the army to defeat”.
Russian state television built Strelkov up as a hero. The nationalist writer Egor Prosvirnin praised him as the “Russian God of War” who “rinks the blood of foreign mercenaries to the last drop, and then asks for more”. …
And then, in mid-August, Strelkov mysteriously resigned his post as “defence minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic — along with two other Russian citizens who had been the civilian heads of the rebel Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. All three rebel leaders were replaced by Ukrainian citizens.
The most obvious explanation for the reshuffle is that Moscow is preparing a negotiated settlement where the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine — or Novo-Rossiya, “New Russia”, in Russian nationalist parlance — will be given some degree of autonomy within Ukraine. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — from young soldiers’ Instagram selfies tagged to locations inside Ukraine to the Russian regular soldiers taken prisoners of war on Monday by Kiev’s troops — Moscow has also continued to insist that it is not a combatant in Ukraine. Clearly, having Russian citizens at the helm of supposedly autonomous rebel republics and their armed forces was a diplomatic inconvenience to the Kremlin which needed to be fixed — and pressure was put on Strelkov and his cronies to quit.
But there’s another, deeper meaning to Strelkov’s fall from favour. Though he’s often portrayed as a stooge of Moscow, Strelkov has in fact been consistently critical of the Kremlin’s failure to act decisively to annex eastern Ukraine as it annexed Crimea in spring. “Having taken Crimea, Putin began a revolution from the top,” Strelkov wrote in June. “But if we do not support [this revolution] now, its failure will sweep aside both him and the country.”
Strelkov’s close associate Igor Ivanov, the head of the rebel army’s political department, has also furiously denounced the “Chekist-oligarchic regime” of Vladimir Putin and has also predicted that Putin will soon fall, leaving only the army and the church to save Russia from chaos.
This mix of militarism, religion and a mystical faith in Holy Russia’s imperial destiny to rule over lesser nations has deep roots. Ivanov was until recently head of the Russian All-Military Union, or ROVS, an organisation originally founded by the White Russian General Baron Pyotr Wrangel in 1924 after the victory of the Bolsheviks in the civil war. Its guiding motive was to preserve the Tsarist ideals of God, Tsar and Fatherland. For much of the 20th century, ROVS was the preserve of elderly emigré fantasists — before a new generation of post-Soviet nationalists like Ivanov breathed new life into the organisation as a home for Russian ultra-nationalists who hate Putin’s brand of crony capitalism.
A similar outfit is the Narodny Sobor, or People’s Assembly, which describes itself as an “Orthodox-Patriotic organisation devoted to fighting ‘liberasts’ and western values, to promoting Orthodoxy, and to preserving the traditional family”, according to a recent study by Professor Paul Robinson of the University of Ottawa. In Russia, the Narodny Sobor has, along with the Russian Orthodox church, successfully campaigned for a tsunami of conservative legislation to be passed by the Duma, from banning swearing on television and in films to prohibiting the spreading of “homosexual propaganda”. The head of the Narodny Sobor’s Ukrainian branch is Igor Druz — a senior political advisor to Strelkov who has denounced the Kiev government as “pederasts and drug addicts”.
On the face of it, Strelkov and his ilk and Putin should be on the same side. They share a nostalgia for a lost Russian greatness — indeed Strelkov has a degree in history and was until recently an enthusiastic military re-enactor, playing White Guard and second world war officers. And this year, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, Putin has abandoned years of hard-edged pragmatism and economic prudence and moved towards the kind of mystical, Orthodox nationalism so beloved of the ROVS and Narodny Sobor crowd.
Yet as Putin prepares to sign off on some kind of compromise peace deal with the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, there will be millions of Russians brainwashed by months of state television’s patriotic propaganda who will agree with Strelkov that Moscow is selling the rebels down the river.
Strelkov himself has little chance of becoming a serious opposition figure to Putin; he is too stiff and too weird for public politics. But Putin’s main challenger, when he comes, will be someone of Strelkov’s stamp.
We tend to think of Vladimir Putin as being most politically vulnerable from the left — from the liberal, western-orientated professionals who came out in their hundreds of thousands on the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg three years ago to protest at Putin’s third term. But in truth Putin’s real vulnerability is from the right — from the racist football fans who rioted unchecked through central Moscow in 2010; from prophets of a Russian-led Eurasian empire such as Alexander Dugin, who was in the radical nationalist opposition to Putin before falling temporarily into step with the Kremlin in the wake of the Crimea campaign; and from militaristic ultra-conservatives on the Russian religious right.
So for the countries of Eastern Europe emancipated from Russian servitude barely a quarter of a century ago, there is not only the growing threat of re-subjugation, but the probability that it will be applied according to the whims of a madman, a religious fanatic living out fantasies of Tsardom and limitless imperial expansion by military means.
An ideology can, it seems, be simply something that is against something else. Vladimir Putin, this article suggests, sees the West as an ideological construction, and opposition to it as a counter-ideology.
This is from the Washington Post, by Masha Gessen.
“This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,” President Obama said Wednesday in Brussels, presenting the post-Crimeaworld order as he sees it after consultations with other NATO leaders. “After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”
President Vladimir Putin would surely beg to differ. Over the past two years, a new ideology has taken shape at the Kremlin. Insistently pushed out over the airwaves of state-controlled television, it has taken hold as Russia’s national idea — and is the driving force behind its newly aggressive international posture. Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world.
During his annual state-of-the-federation address to parliament in December, Putin articulated this ideology. This in itself was novel: For his preceding 13 years at the helm, Putin had stuck to the pragmatic in his speeches. Now he was putting forth a vision for which many Russians had longed in the nearly quarter-century since the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving a giant hole where its citizens’ identities used to be.
So now they have found their identity in being anti-West? An identity entirely dependent on “the West” because it is defined by not being, and opposing,”the West”. That is the “real self” of the Russian people?
“The West” is largely characterized, Putin preaches, by homosexuality.
In his December speech, Putin said that Russia had no superpower ambitions in the sense of “a claim to global or regional hegemony.” Yet, he said, “We will strive to be leaders.” In explaining Russia’s new identity with relationship to the West and its claim on leadership, he said:
This is absolutely objective and understandable for a state like Russia, with its great history and culture, with many centuries of experience not of so-called tolerance, neutered and barren, but of the real organic life of different peoples existing together within the framework of a single state.
Putin was placing Russia’s very approach to life in opposition to the Western one. The “so-called tolerance” he mentioned as the key feature of Western civilization is, from this perspective, nothing but a slide into immorality. More likely than not, that includes homosexuality, which is why tolerance is described as “barren and neutered.”
“Today many nations are revising their moral values and ethical norms, eroding ethnic traditions and differences between peoples and cultures,” he continued. “Society is now required not only to recognize everyone’s right to the freedom of consciousness, political views and privacy, but also to accept without question the equality of good and evil, strange as it seems, concepts that are opposite in meaning.”
Finally, said Putin, it was time to resist this scourge of tolerance and diversity creeping in from the West. “We know that there are more and more people in the world who support our position on defending traditional values,” he asserted.
The traditional values of the Russia he longs to restore were manifest in the Gulag and the Ukrainian forced famine.
Russia’s role is to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”
In short, Putin intends to save the world from the West. He has started with Crimea. When he says he is protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, he means he is protecting them from the many terrible things that come from the West.
A few days after the December address, Alexei Pushkov, head of the Duma committee on foreign relations, defined that threat on the floor of the chamber: “European Union advisers in practically every ministry of any significance, control over the flow of finances and over national programs, and a broadening of the sphere of gay culture, which has become the European Union’s official policy.”
He apparently did not mention the broadening of the sphere of Islam, which is certainly the European Union’s official policy.
Three months later, this is exactly how Russians see the events in Ukraine:The West is literally taking over, and only Russian troops can stand between the Slavic country’s unsuspecting citizens and the homosexuals marching in from Brussels.
Now, Russia is not leading a bloc of nations in this new anti-Western crusade — at least, not yet. But it is certainly not alone in its longing for “traditional values”. Russia has been assembling an informal “traditional values” bloc in the United Nations, where the Human Rights Council has passed a series of Russian-sponsored resolutions opposing gay rights over the past three years. Russia’s allies in passing these resolutions include not only its post-Soviet neighbors but also China, Ecuador, Malaysia and more than a dozen other states.
The anti-gay agenda may seem like a thin basis for forming a militant international alliance of state-actors, but it has great unifying potential when framed in terms of a broader anti-Western effort and, indeed, a civilizational mission.
That mission, rather than the mere desire to bite off a piece of a neighboring country, is the driving force behind Putin’s new war — and the reason the Russian public supports it so strongly. This war, they hope, will make Russia not only bigger but also make it great again.
In just five years, Barack Obama has succeeded in crippling the American economy and shattering the world order under the Pax Americana.
Americans feel the grave economic effects of his domestic policies more immediately and urgently, but it is the shattering of the world order that will ultimately change their lives for the worse.
President Vladimir Putin found that “he could annex Crimea without firing a single bullet”. He has good reason to think that “he will later be able to do the same with the rest of Ukraine”. But he will probably “wait until the situation worsens and the impotence of the United States and Europe becomes even more obvious”.
That is part of the picture of the crumbling world order, described here by Professor Guy Millière (of the University of Paris), at Gatestone.
[Putin] apparently considers that he has in front of him a weak and declining America. And the general demeanor of the present U.S. administration tends to prove him right. The United States seem in full retreat. U.S. military budgets continue to fall. For the last five years, Barack Obama spoke of “ending” the wars in which the U.S. was involved, and he depends on Russia’s cooperation for further negotiations with Iran, for dismantling chemical weapons in Syria, and for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Putin doubtless thinks that Obama will not enter into an open conflict with Russia. Sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States are insignificant, and Putin has every reason to think they will not increase. …
[He] evidently considers Europe even weaker than America. The way European leaders speak and act shows that he is not wrong. For decades, Western European countries relied on the U.S. defense umbrella; none of them today has an army capable of doing more than extremely limited operations. Their foreign policy positions converge with the Obama administration positions. They all have deep economic and financial links with Russia and cannot break these links. The UK needs the Russian capital invested in the City of London. France cannot cancel its Russian warship contract without having to close its shipyards in Saint Nazaire, and without being confronted with major social conflicts. Germany could not survive long without Russian oil and natural gas. Overall, Russia provides thirty percent of the natural gas consumed in Western Europe. Putin apparently thinks that Europe will not enter into an open conflict with Russia. …
Either the West will stand up to Putin, and it will have to do it fast, or Putin will win. Obviously, Europe will not stand up. Polls indicate that Americans are turning sharply toward isolationism.
Showing his view of the situation, Obama recently said that Russia is nothing but a “regional power”, acting “out of weakness”.
What is Russia’s “region”?
Russia covers ten time zones and has borders with Europe, the Muslim Middle East, China, North Korea, and Alaska.
Yes, Russia has a common border with the United States. The US is in its region.
If massing troops on the borders of Ukraine and annexing Crimea are signs of “weakness,” by its evident impotence, America appears even weaker.
Will Putin be content with annexing Crimea, or even the whole of Ukraine?
Several plebiscites have been held since 2006 in Transnistria, a strip of land between Ukraine and Moldova, and each of them has indicated a willingness to join Russia. Estonia includes a large Russian minority, and Russian leaders in Moscow speak of the need to “protect” the Russian population of Estonia.
Estonia is a member of NATO. If Russia were to attack it, NATO, according to Article 5 of its charter, should defend it with prompt military action. But would it? NATO’s military power is America’s military power. Under Obama,what chance is there that America would go to war in Europe?
The world order built after the Second World War was shaped by America. For almost five decades, its goal was to contain Soviet expansion. In the late 1980s, the Soviet empire collapsed, and another phase began: an arrangement in which America would keep the peace and assure the survival of liberty.
America has apparently abrogated that responsibility.
And if Russia is not deterred, other powers will be encouraged to advance their interests abroad by force.
Rogue leaders around the world are watching and drawing their own conclusions.
[The Iranian Ayatollah] Khamenei sees no reason to stop saying that America is the “Great Satan” and that Israel has to be wiped off the map. China sees no reason to hide its intention to occupy the Senkaku/Diyaoyu Islands. Last week, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un fired six missiles into the sea of Japan. [President] Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela reaffirmed its alliance with Russia and positioned Russian missiles in Caracas.
Guy Millière predicts that the chaos will increase and speed up. He sees disaster coming fast.
If we do not see the Ukraine as a warning signal, we could quickly discover that life could now easily enter the state of nature in Hobbes’s Leviathan: [solitary, poor,] nasty, brutish and short.
Anne Applebaum, one of a small but distinguished team of conservative columnists at the otherwise heavily left-leaning Washington Post, is also one of the most well-informed writers anywhere on Russia and East Europe.
Today she writes (in part):
Openly or subconsciously, since 1991, Western leaders have acted on the assumption that Russia is a flawed Western country. …
In the 1990s, many people thought Russian progress … simply required new policies: With the right economic reforms, Russians would sooner or later become like us. Others thought that if Russia joined the Council of Europe, and if we turned the G-7 into the G-8, then sooner or later Russia would absorb Western values. …
Still others thought that Russia’s forward progress required a certain kind of Western language, a better dialogue. When the relationship deteriorated, President Bush blamed President Clinton. President Obama blamed President Bush. … Back in 1999, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story titled Who Lost Russia? Much discussed at the time, it argued that we’d lost Russia “because we pursued agendas that were hopelessly wrong for Russia” and given bad economic advice. In The Post last week, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, echoed President Putin and argued that the United States, by “treating Russia as the loser,” is responsible for the current crisis. …
[But] Russian politics have never been all about us. In truth, we’ve had very little influence on Russian internal politics since 1991, even when we’ve understood them. The most important changes — the massive transfer of oil and gas from the state to the oligarchs, the return to power of men formed by the KGB, the elimination of a free press and political opposition — took place against our advice. The most important military decisions — the invasions of Chechnya and Georgia — met with our protests. Though many appear to believe otherwise, the invasion of Crimea was not primarily intended to provoke the West, either.
Putin invaded Crimea because Putin needs a war. In a time of slower growth, and with a more restive middle class, he may need some more wars, too. …
But … the Crimean invasion might have a bigger effect on the West than even he intended. In many European capitals, the Crimean events have been a real jolt. For the first time, many are beginning to understand that … Russia is not a flawed Western power. Russia is an anti-Western power with a different, darker vision of global politics. …
For twenty years, nobody has thought about how to “contain” Russia. Now they will. … Strategic changes … should flow from our new understanding of Russia. We need to re-imagine NATO, to move its forces from Germany to the alliance’s eastern borders. We need to reexamine the presence of Russian money in international financial markets, given that so much “private” Russian money is in fact controlled by the state. We need to look again at our tax shelters and money-laundering laws, given that Russia uses corruption as a tool of foreign policy. Above all we need to examine the West’s energy strategy, given that Russia’s oil and gas assets are also used to manipulate European politics and politicians, and find ways to reduce [Europe’s energy] dependence [on Russia].
Obama is doing everything he can to make sure the Russian nuclear arsenal will be bigger and more technologically efficient than ours. He, and the Left in general, will not call Russia an enemy – but that’s what Russia is: the enemy of the West. Could it possibly be the case that Obama and the Left in general are on Russia’s side? Does the Left see an ally in any country or ideology that is against America?
Is Estonia next on Putin’s list for invasion and annexation? It is a member of NATO. Will Putin risk war with NATO? Or does he calculate that the US under Obama will not permit NATO to obey it’s own charter ( in particular Article 5) and defend any member state that is attacked?
The BBC reports:
Russia signaled concern on Wednesday at Estonia’s treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, comparing language policy in the Baltic state with what it said was a call in Ukraine to prevent the use of Russian. Russia has defended its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula by arguing it has the right to protect Russian speakers outside its borders … “
(We took the quotation from this article – Why Obama Scares Me – by Mona Charen at Townhall.)