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Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Putin Actually said

Putin actually makes his case eloquently and much clearer than any of the Pundit interpretations. So I'm going to quote him with a few comments and suggest that people read the New York Times post by him rather than taking my opinion or anybody elses opinion about what he said and meant at face value.

Article is at: I think his opening remarks and everything he says is important to read in context and analyze in context. He starts out:

"MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies."

Both Russia and the US, like China, Britain, Brazil, Argentina, and other large centralized countries, tend to be Insular and think their country is the navel of the world. This leads to an exaggerated sense of our importance, and also to us not really understanding each other. Americans mostly travel either for business or to stations in bases all over the world. We tend to congregate where there are McDonalds and Starbucks. We haven't been interacting with the Russians much lately. Part of that is that both our countries have a complex history together:

"Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again."

Putin is reminding us we didn't establish the UN unilaterally, but we did it when we were cooperating with the Russians in fighting the Nazis during World War II. Our right wing would have segued directly from fighting the Nazis to fighting the Russians. General like Patton openly confessed they believed we were fighting the wrong enemy. Some soldiers were deliberately sent to fight in the Far East because their loyalty to the United States vis a vis the Germans was suspect. Other Americans during the WWII were blindly loyal to Communism and Russia. This is not something to be proud of.

"The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades."

We've had less than consensus. We've had a series of wars since the UN was founded. Most of them have caused incalculable harm to those involved. In the end the UN has rarely held up to it's original promise. Nevertheless:

"No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization. "

We have an opportunity to change the game. The "Great Game" of rival empires has threatened the world peace and human survival again and again. Deconstructions of the Cuban missile crisis show that had the USA attacked Cuba for instance, it would have started World War III with the destruction of a naval fleet as a result of a tactical strike by on the ground Russian tactical nukes. Kennedies own generals were agitating for a unilateral attacks on Cuba, but Kennedy overruled them, despite them (or maybe because he listened to them) making fun of him behind his back. And the crisis was not only averted, but further crisis were avoided for a time. Unlike with the Cuban missile crisis we are dealing with an issue over oil and local strategic interests that doesn't need the "Great Game" overlay, but we risk losing all our remaining support for any action at all:

"The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance."

The only people who stand to gain from this are the military-contractors (war-profiteers) and Al Qaeda, which happens to dominate the Syrian Rebel movement. There are so many risks in attacking Syria unilaterally that Putin is right about them.

"Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world."

And as much as we want a humanitarian response, a humanitarian response won't put more weapons in the hands of either rebels or the Government, but will deal with the hundreds of thousands of refugees and the intense pain and suffering. However our war industries are worried about Profit so Putin tries to remind us that we are supporting Al Qaeda Salafists:

"Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all."

And Putin disavows that he's supporting the Syrian government reflexively:

"From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression."

And unfortunately Putin is right here too. At the very least the issue deserves investigation:

"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored."

And I don't like what he says next, but unfortunately he's right here too:

"It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.” "

And increasingly the pattern is the USA making up pretexts for invasions, from frauds about students endangered in Granada to the WMD propaganda around the Iraq invastion. And while I'd like to believe that our "humanitarian interventions" have helped the people we've stepped on with our boots and bombs, it's also just not so:

"But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes. "

Our military is like a big sledgehammer being used to swat flies with predictable results:

" No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect."

There has to be a better way, but it requires a bit of cooperation from our "frenemies" and maybe a way to make our friends less enemy and more friend, because:

"The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded. "

Countries rightly conclude that the only way to prevent an invasion is to have a "Force Du Frappe" that can assure MADD everywhere, which is insanity everywhere:

"We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement."

So Putin's speech is an opportunity to get some sanity back into our own country. We don't need a cowboy riding a bomb down to blow up anybody. We don't need cowboy diplomacy. We need:

"A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action. "

I don't feel insulted by Putin. I feel we are finally getting ourselves dug out of a mess Bush and Reaagan created with their triumphalist politics. Of course we must "trust but verify" but that means agreeing on concrete actions and boundaries to behavior (guidelines):

"I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations."

I welcome Putin's response:

"If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues."

And I don't need to comment on his conclusion:

"My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal. "

Except "here here!"

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