Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Obama and Putin agree — Everything’s our fault
On your right
Two powerful nations square off in a strategic corner of the world. The area is fractured, riven with rivalries and tensions these powers exacerbate as they form associations with local parties. Finally, there is an attack by a disaffected group on an important asset of one of the major powers. Stung, it demands recompense from one of the region’s states. Braced by the other power that is its ally, it refuses. Threats are exchanged, and, finally, shooting begins. The major powers and their associates muster, and the resulting maelstrom of conflict engulfs the world.
This scenario has played out many times in human history, so there’s no reason to assume it won’t in Syria — or across the Middle East. This is why the appearance of weakness and accommodation is dangerous in the real world: It invites conflict through miscalculation. At some point, there’s no going back.
This is more likely in the witches’ cauldron that is the modern Middle East because the leaders of the two major powers most involved couldn’t be more different, as we saw at the opening of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly. One knows both what he wants and how to get it; the other has difficulty distinguishing between dreams and reality.
President Obama spoke of a world in which words count more than deeds, in which lofty aspirations, fine-sounding principles and collective action move us all toward better things by the power of their justice and equitability. To quote: “It is these international principles that helped constrain bigger countries from imposing our will on smaller ones and advanced the emergence of democracy and development and individual liberty on every continent.”
He lectured on the benefits of democracy and openness. He sounded the death-knell of repressive governments, calling their collapse “inevitable.” One could almost see the finger-wagging — and hear the snickers from Russia, China, North Korea and others.
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Then there was Vladimir Putin, a hard-eyed realist with plans that include nothing good for us. Forget democracy, he said. The Arab Spring and its hopes came because “aggressive foreign interference resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster.” The West pushed democracy and got ISIS. So about one thing the two men agree: Everything’s our fault.
Ukraine seemed to befuddle the president. He blustered that “we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated” but promised nothing to stop it, instead urging Russia toward a diplomatic solution. It would be better for Ukraine, he said. Better for Russia and the world. He should have checked with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, who would have told him bluntly that Vladimir is not interested in benefitting Ukraine, the world or anything other than Russia, which he will strengthen through any means necessary.
According to Vlad the Terrible, Ukraine’s crisis occurred when “discontent of the population with the current authorities was used and the military coup was orchestrated from outside — that triggered a civil war.” This is why “Ukraine’s territorial integrity cannot be ensured by threat of force and force of arms.” But its dismemberment by a resurgent Russia will be.
On Syria, the president said we could work with Iran and Russia to combat terrorism, but: “we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.” Bashar Assad must go.
Putin’s riposte “We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face.” Bashar will stay and his Russian and Iranian friends have the military power to make it so — regardless of how many Syrian Christian and Sunni “terrorists” they have to butcher.
He also announced a new Russian-led front against “terrorism,” defined as anyone who opposes Assad. Their destruction, he promised Europe, will stem the flow of refugees as Assad’s authority is restored — under Russian guidance. Front members include Syria, Iraq and Iran; bombing has already begun.
So, on one hand, a man with a relatively weak state but who is a realist with specific goals; long-range plans; a thirst to right what he describes as a “historic tragedy”; and an iron will to act.
On the other, a man leading the world’s most powerful nation who pronounces his visions and cannot grasp why they do not come true, as they often do at home. Who is confused when his opponents are not cowed by his words. Whose irresolution fills his allies with apprehension. There is weakness in the water, thicker than blood; below, sharks circle.
This will not end well. Not for anyone.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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