This post is titled as if to imagine that Vladimir Putin reads this blog. It is public knowledge that he reads the Internet widely. The F.B.I. reports that American “Russia analysts” are of interest, because Russian intelligence thinks that the group is a good aggregate source of what American decision makers really think. They seem to think that the information gleaned is more useful than the presentations of mass media.
So it’s not out of the question. This post is prompted by two events. Sputnik News carries a warning by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova:
My task is to explain why it is so important to remain in line with agreements. If the US launches a direct aggression against Damascus and the Syrian army, it will lead to terrible, tectonic shifts not only on the territory of this country but also in the region in general,” Zakharova said during a talk show, which is to be broadcast fully later on Saturday by the TV Tsentr channel.
The other event, almost in anticipation of the above, is (Reuters) the suspension of the plutonium cleanup program, which is so urgent it was signed in 2000 and took 10 years to get going. This is pie-in-the-face stuff. Putin just threw a lemon-meringue with whipped cream topping.
I hardly envision myself as a peacemaker, but the U.S. mass media has been villifying Putin so broadly, it might have finally gotten under his K.G.B. hardened skin. I am very much against broad vilification. Putin might not understand that it is just a U.S. electoral tradition, and that he should feel honored by his inclusion. The foreign policy issues that have caused U.S. — Russia relations to plummet are enumerable and substantial. Whatever Putin has done with democracy in Russia is not one of the crucial considerations.
Ukraine is one issue of substance. The other is Syria. This is about Syria.
American policy has thus far exhibited a relative lack of sensitivity about the possibility that Syria could be taken over by a Salafi jihadist regime that, in time, and with inevitable acts of terrorism, could ignite the Russian Caucasus, and even the greater 14% of Russia’s Muslim population. But is hard to gauge the threat of U.S. policy in Syria, because nobody in the U.S. State Department knows what the policy is. There is a difference between “position statements”, paper policies, and actionable judgments. This is why Secretary Kerry lost the argument for use of force against the Syrian regime.
In Syria Policy Review Part 2, I all but called the Syrian opposition a frenemy. While the relationship between Russia and Assad is one of trust, the U.S. relationship with the rebels is not. This is why the Syrian opposition has not received game-changing weapons. The U.S. is unwilling to risk civil aviation deaths to ensure their survival. The Gulf nations may have other ideas about MANPADs, especially if they can be “safed” by technical measures against the threat.
This bears on the now contemplated U.S. use of force against the regime. But Russian thinkers may be curious as to why we are so concerned about the fate of our frenemy. Here the Russian side exhibits an insensitivity reciprocal to the American. It has to do with tradition in war, and how it carries into peace. The Russian tradition of war, which we have seen in Chechnya, is that the civilians caught in the middle may in some instances be considered expendable. This has certainly been the Alawite tradition in crushing Islamist uprisings of both the past and present.
So the American apprehension is that if our frenemies are vanquished, the Sunni population of Syria, who are the majority, will continue to suffer with all the horrors of the past and present. Assad cannot be trusted to do otherwise. If a poll were taken of the State Department, this might be the dominant concern. Who could presently believe in a “free and democratic Syria”? A slaughterhouse can’t be democratized.
The treatment of civilians in Aleppo should have been a showcase of Assad’s future intentions towards the majority Sunnis of Syria. But it has been a horror show. (CNN: Sunday’s airstrike was the latest in a growing list of systematic attacks on hospitals throughout Syria.) With this in mind, what choice has the U.S. but to continue conditional support of our frenemies? If U.S. force is used, it is likely to be used conditionally, to even the odds, not crush the regime.
The U.S. has not been hypocritical with respect to targeting civilians. U.S. mission planning teams, tasked with assisting the Saudi Arabia in Yemen, were withdrawn due to civilian targeting that was not adequately explained.