Perhaps deservedly, Vladimir Putin is getting a lot of international attention these days and one can see in the way he struts, stands and smiles, that he is enjoying his new perch at the top of the global political hierarchy. He is all everybody is talking about. He seems like a winner, having installed (allegedly) Donald Trump to the presidential dais in the United States (the United States!!!) and having brokered an unexpected ceasefire in Syria.
He felt so big that when Obama lost his patience and expelled 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying on the United States, Putin demurred and decided not to act in kind, instead wishing Obama the best and expressing the hope that things will be better (he thinks) under the new incoming Trump administration.
People are giving him a lot of high fives. Trump called him smart on Twitter. The US congress, meanwhile, dug it into Obama by saying “yes, you finally acted but it is a little bit too late and not enough and on top of that your foreign policy with Russia and Syria failed.” (Paul Ryan seems capable of great vindictiveness for such a handsome guy, does he not?)
Obama must have some doubts about things from time to time. Did he take the right course of action in Syria? Could he have tried harder with Russia and Putin? Did Kerry go to far with Israel?
It is natural to feel doubts. Hindsight is always 2020. But this story is not over yet; indeed it is only beginning. And people who are now excoriating Obama and elevating Trump and Putin could do a 180 by the time the dust settles on this.
History will show one thing on Syria: nobody can say the United States imposed its will or committed human rights atrocities against the Syrian people. Nobody can say that Obama caused unnecessary loss of American lives in that quicksand situation in the Middle East by involving the country in a new war.
And his foreign policy worked in the sense that his doctrine is all about “multilateralism.” He believes, rightly so, that American muscle, dollars and capital are not infinite and that America an ill afford to continue these adventures in the Middle East without, at some point, over-extending itself and perhaps even self-destructing. He believes that other countries in the region needed to step up and do their share of the heavy lifting.
Amazingly, with Russia’s intervention, along with its regional allies Turkey and Iran, Obama’s foreign policy vision (and his incredible patience to stay still when every instinct was to institute a no fly zone and “take over Syria) worked!
So what if Russia and Iran are the ones who gets all the reconstruction contracts to put Syria back together? America does not have to have it all. In the short run, it is a loss but in the long run, having preserved capital, lives and resources — that were expended by others — America may very well come out on top.
Moreover, the image of America in the Middle East is definitely tarnished as a peacemaker and broker. Blame all the realpolitik or whatever is the cause. But the thing with that is the push back from terrorist groups who then turn their anger on America after America has gone in to “help.” In the case of Syria, this is not about America. It is Russia’s puppy. It is Iran’s puppy. They take the spoils and their also bear the consequences, if any.
With regard to Russia, how quickly everyone forgets. There are countless photographs over the course of his presidency – both terms – that show Obama and Putin discussing and conferring. Now the media writes all these stories that Obama “refused to talk to Putin.” What a lie. What a barefaced lie. And then they wonder why Trump refuses to engage with the media. Trump will be the match for a dishonest media. It is important that the global media is more honest and quit with spreading propaganda. Trump will be their match there.
Of course, it is convenient for Trump when the media excoriates Obama for his relationship with Putin knowing full well that often, it was Putin who refused to have a mutually respectful relationship with Obama and not the other way around. Trump, from the start, disdained Obama’s presidency and from the beginning, he used Putin’s disrespect for Obama as a reason he (Trump) would make a better president, rather than calling out the Russian president for less than statesmanlike behavior towards the American president.
Putin appreciated that. But Putin does not necessarily appreciate Trump. Trump is a smart guy and he probably knows this but Putin is looking to eclipse Trump not share the stage with him. Putin’s interest is making Russia great again and this time, for a million and one reasons, he wants to make sure that Russia is way greater than the United States, such that there is no return to the post-cold war era. He wants to do to America what America did to Russia. Tit for tat? Maybe. But he is going to skilfully use Trump’s own hate of Obama and Trump’s kissing up to exact the outcome he craves. He has backed Trump into a corner.
In the end, the entire world will see this and will turn its attention again to Obama’s policies and how he viewed the world and his relationship with Russia, etc. The new world order that will come out of Trump’s relationship with Putin will put America in a much worse place than it ever was under Obama. For one thing, the more Russia hacks America and perpetrates cyberwarfare on the country the more in denial Trump will have to go (he is trapped!) and the bigger the damage and harm that will come to the country as a result.
Time will show this. And it is Trump’s own hate that is his achilles heel and that will have dire consequences for himself, his supporters, his country and the world. And really, this is penance. This is how nature is.
As for Israel, both Obama and Kerry are right and it is important that he leaves office having set his own record straight on this issue. Whatever happens after, he has no control. But his doctrine on Israel is morally, legally and strategically correct in the interest of the national security of not just the region and the United States, but also the world.
Time will tell. Time is on President Obama’s side.