Liddick: Elephants, donkeys and the dancing Russian bear (column)
August 15, 2016
Who is Anton Vayno, and why should we care?
Where is al-Zibdiye, and why should we care?
Both are important because, while the United States is mesmerized by the tripartite electoral contest among a loutish amateur, a pathological liar and mainstream media masquerading as a Siamese twin of the latter, the world rolls on in its normal, murderous manner. And, if we don't get this election right, it will become much more dangerous and uncomfortable to be America.
Anton Vayno is a 44-year old nonentity, a deputy to Sergei Ivanov, former Chief-of-Staff to Russia's Vlad the Terrible. Ivanov was ousted, and Vayno elevated in a series of moves, which Putin is undertaking to cleanse Russia's inner leadership circle of anyone not personally beholden to him. He is essentially taking Russia private and putting out to pasture those who might contradict his lust for power and expansion.
He is also, according to recent reports, deploying the S-400 "Triumph" anti-air missile system into Crimea. This deployment of this mobile system, with range allowing coverage of a good part of Eastern Ukraine, is accompanied by threats to "respond" to "provocations" by pro-Ukrainian forces in Crimea. Vlad certainly knows his history – in this case, the buildup to Germany's Sept. 1, 1939 invasion of Poland on the pretense of "repelling aggression."
This, and Vlad's sock puppet Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev's announcement last Friday that Russia might break diplomatic relations with Ukraine, add up to a long, turbulent and somewhat scary autumn in Europe. This is not accidental: Putin has decided that, while we are preoccupied, he may as well bite off another chunk of Ukraine — both to bolster his standing with the Greater Russia expansionists at home and to remind a rudderless and divided Europe that catastrophe is just a cruise missile flight away. This is not good for the U.S.
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Al-Zibdiye is a suburb of Aleppo, formerly Syria's largest city but now mostly a ruin controlled by forces opposing the blood-drenched government of Bashar Assad. Together with the rest of the city, it has been subject to intensive bombardment by Syrian and Russian forces throughout the Syrian civil war. Last Friday, things took a turn for the worse when the Syrian Air Force dropped several chlorine-gas barrel bombs on the suburb. This followed similar attacks on Saraqeb in Idlib province and elsewhere. As usual in chemical attacks on unprotected populations, women and children died. As usual in Syria, both the Assad regime and its Russian ally pretended nothing had happened. As usual, the United States dithered. So expect more such horror as this conflict drags on.
Why should we care? Because weakness and irrelevance are dangerous to a world power. Blustering about a "red line" over the use of chemical weapons is worse than useless if one does nothing after a challenge — which is exactly what Barack Obama did: nothing. Let's not forget who his Secretary of State was at the time: Hillary Clinton.
Let's also not forget what inevitably follows indecision, fecklessness and vacillation when faced with a threat to the international order: more threats and, eventually, actions.
When Russia invaded a sovereign European country — whose borders and integrity we and Russia guaranteed in a 1994 agreement — we were obligated to bring the problem to the UN Security Council. We did, once. Unsurprisingly, to no effect. After that, we did nothing as invading troops chewed their way across Crimea and changed the borders of a European state for the second time since the Second World War. Now, we offer the Ukrainian government MREs as they face the missiles and tanks of a Russia intent on re-asserting its dominance in Eastern Europe. Do not doubt that — from Riga on the Baltic to Ankara in Turkey — governments are watching and asking themselves "Are Americans trustworthy allies? Can we rely on them?" And making calculations based upon what they see.
In this turbulent situation, so reminiscent of 1910-14 Europe, clarity about both capability and intent is necessary. We must have leadership that is steadfast in its commitments, not one which throws down a gauntlet only to pick it back up when challenged. And we need clear declarations of vision, not some version of "You have to elect me to find out what I'll do …"
Vladimir Putin is going to start something in the Ukraine. Bashar Assad is going to try to finish something in Syria. Both actions promise instability and danger unlike any the world has seen for many decades. One of our major candidates for president thinks it a good idea to continue policies that helped bring this situation about — not least because she was behind them. Another doesn't. On Nov. 8, we will have our choice between them – and the clock is ticking, everywhere.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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