Author: Tom Luongo
Peace in the Middle East is coming at us fast and we’re going to have Russian President Vladimir Putin to thank for it.
The howls of agony coming from U.S. and European foreign policy centers are deafening. Pat Buchanan lists them in his latest article which asks if Putin is now the new king of the Middle East.
“Donald Trump Has Handed Putin the Middle East on a Plate” was the title of a Telegraph column. “Putin Seizes on Trump’s Syria Retreat to Cement Middle East Role,” said the Financial Times.
The U.S. press parroted the British: Putin is now the new master of the Mideast. And woe is us.
Remember that the epicenter of virulent anti-Russian, pro-Israeli sentiment doesn’t begin with the Neocons along K-Street. It begins with the remnants of the British imperial class which still holds tremendous sway over British politics.
Think I’m wrong about that. Just look at Brexit.
As I pointed out the minute Trump defended his initial pullout of 50 U.S. troops to allow Turkey to cross into northern Syria, Putin has the situation mostly under control by laying the groundwork to craft win/win/win/win possibilities for everyone in the region.
Buchanan remains skeptical of this, saying that if Putin is the new king of the Middle East, will the crown lie heavy on his head?
It’s a fair question but I think it betrays Pat’s biases as an old Cold Warrior.
Pat makes a series of comparisons between Russia’s military presence in the region and the size of the economies backing them to make his point. I think, frankly, that’s outdated analysis.
It is based on the premise that Russia has imperial aspirations in the region, similar to that of the U.S. At his core, Buchanan is still a ‘great powers theory’ kind of guy.
From the moment Putin began his intervention into Syria the U.S.’s punditocracy said he would get bogged down in a quagmire. That he couldn’t afford the coming war with entrenched ISIS fighters.
This was based on the fact that the U.S. couldn’t defeat ISIS. But that logic only held if you believed the U.S. was actually fighting ISIS which I never did. Once Russia moved into Syria it exposed the lie of ISIS’s strength.
Within days of Russian air operations beginning the Syrian Arab Army began taking large chunks of territory from U.S. and Turkish-backed rebels and from ISIS.
The turnaround was striking. And the U.S. was stunned into fumbling silence, complaining that Putin was bombing the wrong people. The efficiency of the Russian air crews was off the charts and the results on the ground spoke for themselves.
This isn’t revisionist history or Putin shilling here. These are facts. The Russians were turning their planes over three to four times a day at that point.
It’s clear from the way that Putin has built Russia’s military that it is designed around defense of Russia’s borders not invading or maintaining an Empire.
And that’s why Buchanan’s criticisms of Putin’s victories here ring hollow. Pat rightly points out that if Putin does craft a network of deals that bring regional peace he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
But I suspect Pat doesn’t believe that to be happening.
My read, however, is the opposite. Peace is exactly what is happening.
From the beginning of my return to blogging in 2017 I speculated about the Grand Bargain in the Middle East built around Putin guaranteeing the behavior of his allies — Israel, Hezbollah, Syria, Iraqi Shi’ites — and President Trump guaranteeing the good behavior of his — Israel, the Saudis and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
That vision of the Grand Bargain never materialized because the influence of those allies within Trump’s government were too strong for him to resist politically.
Putin was smart to remain skeptical of Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises. And Trump, for his part, was sent down a path which would define his first term as a shambolic mess thanks to his inability to grasp the enormity of the problem confronting him.
He pushed U.S. policy too far in the pro-Israel, pro-Saudi direction to sell his version of Middle East peace, lobbied for intensely by Benjamin Netanyahu, Jared Kushner and their backers who helped install arch neocons around Trump like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Fiona Hill and Gina Haspel.
These folks were put in place to keep Trump ignorant of the dangers of his policy while Secretary of State James Mattis was there to stoke the hard-line militarily on Iran. Add to that General Joseph Dunford’s role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to suppress strategic conclusions about our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now with the passing of the Dunford regime as Joint Chief in September, General Milley steps in, with significant changes to public policy already on display. For example, Milley’s commissioned study of the Iraq war — long awaited and delayed by military pressure to prevent release of a largely negative report — was publicly released by Milley in January of 2019. The report states, “that coalition warfare (in Iraq) was ‘largely unsuccessful’ for several reasons, that failing to account for a lack of understanding of the inner workings of Iraqi politics and group struggles’ in part led to failure there. That’s an account that Dunford was unlikely to approve, and may have caused him to delay. So, with the departure of Dunford and Mattis as we shall see, the way forward for US disengagement from Syria’s northeast was made possible.
I don’t think U.S. disengagement is just possible. I think it’s happening right in front of our eyes.
Any thought that Putin is not up to the task here isn’t reading the tea leaves.
Everyone who has been fronting strength has been bluffing. Hard.
Israel is weak. Saudi Arabia weak. Turkey weak.
The U.S. weaker than anyone wants to admit.
Pat’s right that Russia isn’t strong, but no one here is. Everyone’s been drained by the refusal to give up the dream of atomizing the region in the service of the outdated Brzezinski/Wolfowitz doctrine of sowing discord in Central Asia.
The EU has drained itself in the service of a political union no one except The Davos Crowd wants. The U.K. is drained from decades of the EU vacuuming their wealth from the core economy, hollowing it out to a financial shell centered around City of London.
The Russia/China/Iran axis has simply played the ultimate game of attrition, reading the economic and political tea leaves perfectly while executing a pan-Eurasian strategy of integration through disengagement from U.S. and U.K. financial institutions.
Russia is the only country with the unique mix of resources, geography and financial stability, thanks to its policy of de-dollarization and prudent fiscal management, that can make good on any of the promises it makes to its potential partners on the other side of the negotiating table.
Trump is following Putin’s lead in his dealings with Turkey. By leaving places like Manbij to the Syrians and the Russians it makes it clear to all that this is a bargain that can work for everyone directly involved.
Syria gets its territory back, Turkey gets the Kurdish SDF off its border in an important town and the U.S. alerts the world that the old game is over and a new one is starting.
Both of them made moves to stabilize Saudi Arabia — Trump with troops to keep Iran honest and Putin with major deals to assist the Saudi financial position through investment. Trump has worked with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to act as his proxy in Saudi/Iranian peace talks.
Putin is limiting Turkey’s Erdogan’s adventurism in Syria by fully supporting Assad and the restoration of Syrian territorial integrity through diplomacy with the YPG Kurds.
Putin and Trump are both waiting to see who takes power in Israel. But at this point it’s clear that whoever does will finally be order-takers and no longer order-makers unless Trump is impeached and convicted.
At this point that’s the biggest wild card. And regardless of that outcome, the rest of Putin’s deft use of diplomacy and his efficient military have created a different reality for Israel, that even with a full neocon restoration post-Trump, won’t be favorable to them.
And yes, you can thank Vladimir Putin for that.
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