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Dealing with Putin: “Bomb Assad; Arm Ukraine”

Dr. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the Washington, DC, American Enterprise Institute will be one of our guests on the Lisa Benson Show, Sunday, October 4th. He is the author of Dancing with the Devil:  the Perils of Engaging with Rogue RegimesWe published both a review of Dancing with the Devils and an interview with Rubin in the March 2014 New English Review. The introduction to our interview noted:

We met Rubin in 2005 when he returned to Yale to discuss his experience as a former Pentagon official on Iran and Iraq who also served as a political advisor to the Provisional Coalition Authority. He spoke about the emergence of the nuclear Iran threat under the “reformist” regime in Tehran led by Ayatollah Khatami. See Rubin’s background and blog at the AEI website, here and here. Our interview with Rubin ranged across an array of prevailing issues. Among these are the Iranian nuclear and ICBM threat and Putin’s great game of one sided politics in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He also addressed Pakistan’s tolerance of terrorism and the lack of US support for the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria. He criticized the folly of the Administration’s support of Turkey under Premier Erdogan and the folly of its lead in the Final Status negotiations with the Palestinians imperiling Israel’s security.

As regards Putin and his current demarche to the Administration in Syria this exchange with Rubin from our interview illustrates how clear-eyed was his response:

Gordon:  How dangerous to American interests is Russian President Putin’s great game strategy in the Middle East?

Rubin:  Very. The problem is that Americans tend to see diplomacy as a means to compromise, a win-win solution. However, Putin sees international relations as a zero-sum game in which for Russia to win, everyone else must lose. When Neville Chamberlain goes up against Machiavelli, Machiavelli wins.

Rubin published in Commentary Magazine on October 2, 2015 some prescriptions on how to deal with Putin, “Bomb Assad; Arm Ukraine”.  Doubtless President Obama would aver, given his White House press conference yesterday.

Note what Obama said in response to a question from CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett regarding his former Secretary of State and Democrat presidential hopeful, Hillary’s Clinton’s change of heart on Syria in this Breitbart News report:

President Obama found himself in a bit of a conundrum after he denounced critics of his Syria policy as being full of “mumbo jumbo” and “half-baked ideas.”

In response, CBS reporter Major Garrett questioned Obama whether Hillary Clinton’s proposal to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria was a half-baked idea.

“Hillary Clinton is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems,” Obama said carefully, reminding reporters she served in his administration as Secretary of State.

But Obama pointed out that Clinton’s rhetoric on Syria is merely campaign rhetoric.

“I also think that there’s a difference between running for president and being president,” he said carefully, pointing out that he was having specific discussions with his military advisors about the right way forward in Syria.

“If and when she’s president, then she’ll make those judgments and she’s been there enough that she knows that, you know, these are tough calls,” he said.

Clinton broke with the White House on Syria, calling for a “no-fly zone” in Syria to protect Syrian citizens in an interview with a Boston TV station on Thursday.

dr michael rubin

Dr. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute.

Here is what Rubin wrote in his Commentary column, “Bomb”:

Russia’s deployment to Syria — and its decision to bomb almost exclusively — more moderate Syrians and those who have received U.S. assistance has thrown down the gauntlet. It’s not just a matter of Syria, anymore. Vladimir Putin is showing the world President Obama’s impotence, and convincing every U.S. ally across the globe from Egypt to Estonia and from Kenya to Korea that they would have to be crazy to cast their lot with the United States.

Putin has pushed the line repeatedly and received little resistance, beyond a cute plastic button offered by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Russian forces invaded Georgia without consequence. They cheated on the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and faced no consequence. Indeed, Ellen Tauscher, the chief U.S. negotiator of the subsequent “New START” Treaty and a top Hillary Clinton aide, ended up going into partnership with a Kremlin-funded think tank while at the Atlantic Council. No wonder that, with such lack of seriousness emanating from Washington, Putin figured he could get away with murder in the Ukraine. To date, the Kremlin has faced little consequence for its actions beyond a smattering of sanctions. In the process of these outrages, Moscow demonstrated that the Budapest Memorandum in which the United States, among others, gave Kiev security guarantees wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

There’s an irony here, of course, when it comes to the White House conception of credibility: Obama’s team shrugged off commitments to the Ukraine by insisting that the Budapest Memorandum was an agreement and not a treaty and so wasn’t sacrosanct. However, talk about walking away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called Iran deal, which is an agreement and not a treaty, and the White House and State Department insists that its terms must be observed with the entirety of U.S. credibility at stake.

Regardless, what is clear is that the White House has consistently misjudged Putin. There are two possibilities as to why Obama and Kerry fell into Putin’s trap: Either there has been a massive intelligence failure at the Central Intelligence Agency with regard to Putin’s outlook and intentions, or Obama and Kerry simply ignored what they were being told. Either way, in an atmosphere where accountability mattered, there would be resignations, either at the CIA or at the top of the State Department.

So what to do to restore credibility? There really is no option other than the military: Russian planes bomb targets close to those forces aligned with the United States? Then U.S. forces should bomb Syrian targets close to the Assad regime. A U.S. general in Iraq might give the Russian embassy there an hour’s notice to de-conflict. Kerry might be under the delusion that Assad can be worked with, but that simply shows how out-of-touch he is with the situation in Syria: He long ago passed the point of no return. Assad’s presence in Syria has become the chief recruiting tool for the Islamic State.

At the same time, it’s essential to arm the Ukrainians with enough lethal goods to help them roll back Russian proxies and send Russian forces home in body bags. That might not be the style of diplomacy to which Obama and Kerry adhere, but both are naïve if they think diplomacy means simply talking at the table absent any leverage or the threat of worse to come. Putin must realize that there is real cost to his course of action. If he isn’t stopped in Syria, ultimately he will have to be stopped in the Baltics, and that will be a far more tragic outcome for all sides.

The Lisa Benson Show will air Sunday, October 4, 2015 at 4PM EDT, 3PM CDT, 2PM MDT, 1PM PDT and 11PM in IsraelListen live to the Lisa Benson Radio Show for National Security on KKNT 960The Patriot or use SMARTPHONE iHEART App: 960 the Patriot.  Lisa Benson and New English Review Senior Editor Jerry Gordon will co-host this show.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.