theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Macho talk is Obama’s only weapon against Putin

Pope Francis gave him a boost, Republican Speaker John Boehner is sobbing off into the sunset, and China’s Xi Jinping gave him paper promises on the environment and cybertheft. No wonder President Obama is feeling cocky.
So much so that his press secretary was eager to portray his boss as way, way tougher than Vladimir Putin.
In a ridiculous bid to reduce geopolitical clashes to playground posturing, Josh Earnest told the press corps that the reports that Obama had requested a meeting with Putin were flat-out wrong. The truth, Earnest insisted, was that Putin was “desperate” for a meeting and that Obama, after “repeated requests” from the Russians, had deigned to see him Monday in New York.
The one-upmanship continued, The New York Times reported, when Earnest played body-language analyst to mock Putin. Pointing to a recent picture of the Russian leader with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Earnest noted that “President Putin was striking a now-familiar pose of less-than-perfect posture and unbuttoned jacket and, you know, knees spread far apart to convey a particular image.”
No doubt fear stalks the Kremlin and Putin is quaking. Barack Obama is mad at him and letting the whole world know!
But Putin knows something else, too. Macho talk is the only weapon Obama is ready to use, so he sent his messenger boy out to lay on it thick. That way, maybe the press wouldn’t notice how badly Obama has been tricked by Putin, again, and outmaneuvered on Syria, again.
Recall that during the fight with Congress over the Iran nuke pact, the White House touted Russia’s support and downplayed “secret” side deals between the United Nations and Iran. Now it seems there was another “secret” side deal that even the White House didn’t know about.
It is the one where Iran and Russia agreed to work together to protect Syrian butcher Bashar Assad, creating a new military axis of evil in one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Although Iran and Russia have supported Assad during the long civil war, only in the closing days of the Iranian nuclear negotiations did they apparently agree to join forces. A milestone took place in late July when Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite military Quds Force, met with Putin in Moscow.
The mysterious visit came despite the fact that Soleimani is subject to a travel ban because he has been charged with supporting terrorism. But Putin is not the kind to let little things like terrorism spoil his master plan for spreading Russia’s footprint.
That’s what he’s doing in Syria. Shortly after Soleimani’s visit, Russia began sending tanks, personnel carriers and special-forces soldiers to its naval base there. Then came an expanded airfield and at least 28 warplanes.
Even as the White House said it was “perplexed” by Russia’s moves and Obama said the buildup was “doomed to fail,” Russia kept adding lethal weaponry, and now the purpose is crystal clear: Iran, Russia and Syria have set up three-way military coordination. Some reports suggest Shiite militia from Iraq may also be part of the effort to keep Assad in power.
While some of that effort will fight Islamic State, the axis also will be fighting the same Syrian rebels the United States is supposedly supporting. We already spent tens of millions of dollars on them, with only a handful of trained soldiers and no advances to show for it.
Coming as Russia continues to occupy parts of eastern Ukraine, after it gobbled up Crimea, the move into Syria shows how little Putin fears or respects Obama. And the childish taunting by the White House shows Obama’s weak hand.
If there is any “progress” at Monday’s meeting, it will move in only one direction. The United States will edge closer toward accepting Assad’s hold on power, long after Obama said he had to go, and long after Assad used chemical weapons in a war that has left 250,000 people dead and sent 4 million Syrians into exile. Many are fleeing to Europe, creating chaos and threatening the European bloc’s existence.
There will be one other consequence, too. Assad’s survival will mean Iran has succeeded in getting America to tacitly approve its expanded influence as well as its nuclear program.
Soon to be funded by assets Obama agreed to release, the mullahs will be better able to arm Hezbollah and Hamas and create more problems for Israel and America’s Arab allies.
“Talk softly and carry a big stick,” Teddy Roosevelt famously advised. Obama has reversed the formula — and the world is a much more dangerous place as a result.

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