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Syria, chemical weapons and a lecture from Putin
September 13, 2013 - Jordan Travis
Whew! It's Friday, people, and I had quite the blog entry about Syria all written out. It was a fine piece of work, albeit a solid example of armchair geopolitical analysis.
But a lot has happened since then. Secretary of State John Kerry's remark about Syria giving up its chemical weapons (which may or may not have been a reference to ongoing talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov) gets pounced upon by Syria, all the way up to Bashar al-Assad. There seems to be some hemming and hawing about the exact terms of the deal, but this was probably to be expected. Now there's even talk about a full-on peace deal coming from all of this.
My argument, in a nutshell, was that Syria headed off an American military strike while in no way degrading its abilities to crush its civil war. The country has had no trouble crushing domestic rebels, and yes, al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants, by indiscriminately slaughtering fighter and bystander alike using conventional weapons. You can't ignore Syria's own radial militant reinforcements, in the form of Hezbollah fighters streaming in from Lebanon.
Chemical weapons proved to be a major tactical blunder on the Assad loyalists' part, since it finally got America on their goat. I have no doubt it was Syrian forces and not the rebels that used them. A former U.N. weapons inspector pointed out: most chemical munitions aren't so easy to use, and if Syria really stores its sarin in binary form (think two-part epoxy), it would take nothing short of an expert to arm, aim, time and fire a poison gas rocket in an effective manner. If such a man can be found in the ranks of Syria's rebels and radicals, we all have something very major to worry about, on top of all the killing and suffering already going on. Never mind these purported intercepted calls from the Syrian military to its own chemical weapons unit.
But I'm not the first person to point this out. These are all well-worn and easily found arguments. My favorite development in the past week has to be Russian President Vladimir Putin's letter to America, appearing in New York Times then the Guardian.
It was a reeking load of sanctimonious tripe, a smarmy, condescending and hypocritical diatribe that simultaneously made some fairly good points while reminding Americans of how puny, simple and not special they truly are. He obliquely references the fact that some of the militants in Syria are Chechen, while failing to mention the violent campaign by the Russian army to put down a long rebellion by Islamic separatists. He slams America for getting involved in Afghanistan and Iraq, neglecting to mention Russia's participation in Afghanistan as an ISAF member and Russia's own meddling in the Middle East, both during and since the Cold War. Putin gets bonus demerits for referring to a RussiaToday.com article that uses unnamed sources to point the finger at rebels for Syrian chemical weapons attacks. In my admittedly limited experience, I believe Russia Today mostly exists to spew pro-Russian propaganda and make snide remarks about the West, occasionally dabbling with nonsense conspiracy theories.
Are we surprised that a man who routinely has himself photographed shirtless while riding horseback, doing judo or manhandling dangerous animals is, maybe, a bit insecure? I think not. One comment on a response by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank pointed out America is exceptional (that's different, not better) because even a self-appointed dictator like Putin has a voice in our national media.
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