President Putin has announced the end of “Pax Americana” at the U.N. He also suggested that since the Americans are not good in the role of world policeman, they must be replaced by the Russians.
Vladimir Putin doesn’t go very often to the annual gatherings of the United Nations General Assembly, probably considering them a waste of time. And he is right, to a certain extent. A series of nearly 200 speeches by delegates almost no one listens to is unbearable, even if it is a noble exercise in global solidarity and repeated every year as an act of faith in those ideals that guided the U.N.’s founders.
Thus, if Putin showed up in New York this week, for the first time in 10 years, it was expected that he had something important to say. And indeed, in the lion’s lair, i.e., in the cultural and financial capital, the Russian leader challenged the U.S.
He accused the Americans of not proving themselves at all in the role of world policeman and firefighter. In the last few years after 9/11, instead of providing stability and peace, they completely destabilized the Middle East — first through the irrational military interventions of George W. Bush, and then by the idealistic demeanor of Barack Obama, who does not want to accept the utility of cruel dictators like Syrian President Bashar Assad, and unlike his predecessor in the White House, avoids using military force at all cost.
In his speech, Putin gave two examples from recent history and, frankly, it is hard to argue with him. Although ruled by a dictator, Iraq was a stable and harmless country before the U.S. invasion. Under occupation, it became a training camp for terrorists who fled to Syria when they became besieged by the Americans, grew stronger in the local civil war and returned to Iraq in triumph last year. They created a caliphate, which covers roughly half of Syria and one-third of Iraq.
Western intervention in Libya, in which the U.S. took part, was almost equally catastrophic. Although the airstrikes saved the revolutionaries and helped overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, now there is chaos in Libya. The country is divided into spheres of influence of various warlords and has become another haven for Muslim fanatics.
Even Obama agreed with Putin (not in the literal sense, since he gave his speech at the U.N. before him). [Obama spoke of being] “mindful of the lessons of the past.” “We … have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future as an international community … Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition … should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.”
According to Putin, America repeats its old mistakes in Syria. Strong support of President Assad is the only reasonable solution there, said the Russian leader. “We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad's armed forces and Kurdish militias are truly fighting the Islamic State.”
The Americans and their main allies don’t accept Assad. They consider both him and the Muslim fanatics against whom he’s fighting to be enemies. “In Syria, the future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people,” said Obama. “When things happen like that in Syria, it is no longer its own internal problem, but a problem and moral challenge for the world.”
It is difficult not to agree with Obama in moral categories, but we have to admit that Putin is right in saying that the American plan for Syria has failed.
The Obama administration counted on “moderate rebels” who were meant to defeat both the fanatics and the dictatorship. A training camp was built for them in Saudi Arabia for $500 million. But several dozens of those who were trained there were killed, withdrew or have switched their allegiance to the enemy after the first fight against the radicals. Recently, U.S. generals revealed in the U.S. Senate a shocking truth: Only four or five “moderate rebels” trained by them fight in Syria.
For several weeks, Putin has been saying that if the Americans didn’t prove themselves, it is then their turn — the Russians. First he sent planes and tanks to the Syrian military base in Latakia, and last Sunday, the Russians struck a four-way agreement with Iran, Iraq and Syria on sharing intelligence. Although they have several thousand military advisers in Baghdad, the Americans had no idea that such an agreement was being negotiated and heard of it in the official statement. Russian drones are already flying over Syria.
Obama’s idealism and Putin’s realpolitik were directly confronted on Monday evening when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the U.N. Details were not disclosed. Putin only said that the conversation was “very constructive … and very frank.” Nobody knows what will result from it. Even before they met face to face, Obama announced from the U.N. podium that he is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to end the war in Syria. But there could be no return to the pre-war status quo when Assad held sway, he warned.