Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sat, Oct 10th, 2015

Russia gets Syrious about ISIS

Much attention is focused these days on the direct entry of Russia into the ongoing civil war in Syria. The reaction in America and Europe has raised the temperature of political rhetoric, not yet to a boiling point but dropping down quickly to the level of frosty dialogue during the Cold War between the superpowers.


The post-Reagan neocon interest in keeping the embers of anti-Communist Cold War rhetoric alive is seen most clearly in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post by Condoleeza Rice, Bush’s former Secretary of State and a Russia expert, and Robert Gates, a former Secretary of Defense. The title of their piece is all you need to know:  “How America Can Counter Putin’s Moves in Syria.” In a kind of Hegelian dialectical sense, they assume the old thesis that Soviet Communism is rotten to the core and their leaders can never be trusted. The antithesis is that many refuse to accept the fact that the Soviet Union folded and its Super Power world domination manifesto is no more. Their perpetually blind synthesis maintains that Putin must be up to no good because he is Russian and we all know they are still a bunch of Communists, even if now confined largely to a Lenin closet.

Their article begins with the following problem, as they see it. “One can hear the disbelief in capitals from Washington to London to Berlin to Ankara and beyond. How can Vladimir Putin, with a sinking economy and a second-rate military, continually dictate the course of geopolitical events?” Not said here, but clearly implied is that Russia should have no role in geopolitics, since the America/Eurozone coalition Post-Superpower Superpower is the only remaining Superpower. Rice and Gates admit that even with a “weak hand” he knows very well how to play his cards, better than the current Democratic administration whose bungling of the “Free Syrian Army” option is quite obvious. Putin, they say, knows exactly what he wants to do (Guess which sitting U.S. President does not). But who is it that gives Russia’s military a “second-rate” grade?

Here is the issue, as they see it: “He is not stabilizing the situation according to our definition of stability. He is defending Russia’s interests by keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. This is not about the Islamic State. Any insurgent group that opposes Russian interests is a terrorist organization to Moscow.” Of course he does not view “stability” the way the U.S. (which is selling billions of dollars of military hardware to countries which want to defeat Assad and spread their own ideologies) does. Of course he is defending Russian interest in Syria, because it is their last major foothold in the entire Middle East. But here is where Putin is no different from American foreign policy. It is obvious to the entire world that the U.S. is not in Syria because of the “Islamic State,” for which they are largely responsible in creating the ability of such a rogue player to exist at all. And guess what? Any insurgent group that opposes American interests is a terrorist organization to Washington. The Huthis, for example.


The neocon platitudes in their commentary come like bullets out of a semi-automatic pistol. “We should not forget that Moscow’s definition of success is not the same as ours.” How can we forget the obvious, but let us also remember that America’s definition of success is not the same as their’s. As long as success means continuing a failed Cold War rhetoric, it will be hard to find common ground. We are told that Russia has no problem helping create a failed state. What do the U.S., Britain and France think they are doing by continuing to support the Saudi-led bombing campaign that is utterly destroying Yemen, while at the same time allowing the Islamic State and al-Qaida to gain more sympathy and control in Yemen’s south? We are also told that “The Russian definition of success contains no element of concern for the dismal situation of the Syrian people.”  And where is this American and European concern? Being so gracious as to accept (at least Germany and a few others) a token amount of refugees fleeing a war conflict that follows the Western “liberation” of Iraq and Afghanistan hardly amounts to “real concern.” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he would send back any Syrian refugees (Muslims at least) along with those illegal Mexican rapists. The American policy of Post-Bellum Interruptus, pulling out boots on the ground and hoping that bombs from the air actually hit the right targets, has only exacerbated the situation in the region.

I think what really galls Rice and Gates is the fact that the Russian military has proven to be far more effective in a few days than the NATO/American/Friendly Nations coalition has been in several years. Saddam was a butcher, but removing him from power has made the amount of killing and instability in both Iraq and Syria far greater. Assad is a butcher, as was his father, but straddling a defenseless fence of non-existent secular or “progressive” militants has been a total failure. As Alastair Cooke, a former MI6 agent, has succinctly put it, Russia’s aim is indeed to destroy both ISIS and al-Qaida in Syria. Unlike the hapless American foreign policy, they are aware of the obvious: “There are no ‘moderate jihadists.’ The term is an oxymoron: there are only jihadists who are more — or less — close to ISIS or al Qaeda.”

Rice and Gates are too interested in stopping Putin to suggest a viable option for a change in American policy in the region. “But Putin as the defender of international stability? Don’t go there.” Yes, we should go there, not because Putin will be a future candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, or for the love of Assad, but because our own policy in the region is largely responsible for creating the current instability. This is not a Republican vs. Democratic issue; Obama has authorized more drone attacks than Bush and outpaced Bush in providing weapons to our “allies” in the region.  Here is their conclusion: “The Russians know their objective very well: Secure their interests in the Middle East by any means necessary. What’s not clear about that?” Well, at least Russia knows its objectives. That is clear, but look in the mirror of geopolitics and politician heal thyself. The United States and its NATO allies are also willing to secure their interests by any means they see as necessary. If you don’t believe that, ask the vast majority of Yemen’s 25 million people who are bombed daily, including by American-made cluster bombs, facing starvation and have no viable health care.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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