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Obama 'Leads from Behind', Putin from Up Front (Rzeczpospolita, Poland)


"Of course, Kremlin plans to disarm the Bashar al-Assad regime are just a smokescreen and an attempt to play for time. ... Anyone who has even a cursory understanding of Cold War history and Russian politics since 1991 knows that former KGB officers have mastered the art of blowing smoke into the eyes of their rivals. Western leaders have fallen for their tricks - from Jimmy Carter to Helmut Schmidt to Jacques Chirac - and every time, the lords of the Kremlin have rejoiced at the boundless naivete of their adversaries. This time, however, Putin has landed himself quite a juicy morsel. He is pitted against President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, a comical duo, who on the subject of Syria and relations with Moscow, behave like a pair of blind kittens."


By Marek Magierowski



Translated By Halszka Czarnocka


September 22, 2013


Poland – Rzeczpospolita – Original Article (Polish)

Vladimir Putin: In the game of global chess, he appears to be at the top of his game.

RUSSIA TODAY NEWS VIDEO: World War III, greater Israel and the real axis of evil, Sept. 21, 00:13:05RealVideo

A pacifist who becomes president of a superpower must, sooner or later, fall victim to diplomatic schizophrenia, says Marek Magierowski.


A few days ago, Belgian daily De Morgen published a front page photo of Vladimir Putin: a focused expression, those hypnotic eyes - a combination of majesty and horror. The one-word caption was "Superstrategist."


The conflict in Syria has raised the Russian president to the status of lead player on the global political stage. It is he who makes the key decisions; he whose proposals other heads of state listen to; and he who is the focus of media attention from Beijing to Washington. Putin, however paradoxical as it sounds, has suddenly become guardian of Middle East peace, defender of common sense, and at the same time, the most outstanding negotiator and "superstrategist." And to think that just last month, this same Putin was a sinister persecutor of gays and lesbians - a monster whom all of the West should collectively condemn and boycott for his homophobic crusade!


The Art of Blowing Smoke


Of course, Kremlin plans to disarm the Bashar al-Assad regime are just a smokescreen and an attempt to play for time. Does anyone really believe that the Syrian dictator will surrender his entire chemical arsenal to "the international community" and sit down for peace talks? Is there anyone who thinks that Putin's actions stem from his concern for peace in the region?


Anyone who has even a cursory understanding of Cold War history and Russian politics since 1991 knows that former KGB officers have mastered the art of blowing smoke into the eyes of their rivals. Many Western leaders have fallen for their tricks - from Jimmy Carter to Helmut Schmidt to Jacques Chirac. Some - such as Gerhard Schröder - were keen and cynical participants in the game, and every time, the lords of the Kremlin have rejoiced at the boundless naiveté of their adversaries.


This time, however, Putin has landed himself quite a juicy morsel. He is pitted against President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, a comical duo, who on the subject of Syria and relations with Moscow, behave like a pair of blind kittens. Had De Morgen put a photo of Obama on its front page, the caption would have read "Superloser."


A Time Bomb


Obama's policies toward Russia have come full circle. It all began with the famous "reset" and the reduction of nuclear warheads under the New START program. This was followed by a series of grating missteps and misunderstandings: the never-ending dispute over missile defense, Congressional retaliation for the murder of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and [in retaliation], a ban on the adoption of Russian children by American families. The Russians weren't keen on renewing the reset, seeing the U.S. already quite weakened by the crisis, and its global footprint fast diminishing. The Americans, in turn, increasingly turned their attention from Russia to China and the Pacific basin.


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When Obama cancelled his Moscow meeting with Putin, the American press announced the "reset's" funeral and foresaw the approaching era of cool relations between the two countries. This sudden although anticipated turn was supposed to benefit the U.S. president; it was he who, at the opportune moment, dug in his heels, protesting the persecution of the Russian opposition, the law banning "homosexual propaganda," as well as (less officially), the granting of asylum to Edward Snowden and Russian support for the Assad regime. The American president has again become leader of the free world, a heroic figure, on the one hand fighting for the rights of the oppressed, and on the other, protecting the interests of his own country.


For adopting this attitude, Obama was applauded by a majority of Western public opinion. Soon, however, it became apparent that under that pleasant propaganda window dressing, a time bomb was hidden, waiting for just the right moment to blow American diplomacy to smithereens.


Staged Anger


Obama made a mistake on the Syria issue so colossal, no head of state should make it, let alone the president of a superpower like the United States. First, he himself declared an ultimatum, saying that Assad's use of chemical weapons would prompt American action. Then when the August 21 Ghouta massacre occurred, Obama had no way out: he had to threaten a military retaliation.


It seemed the Rubicon had been crossed, and American aircraft would at any moment begin bombing Syrian army barracks and ammunition depots. Then Obama did something even Jimmy Carter wouldn't have done: he retreated. He asked Congress permission to launch the operation, even though he didn't have to (and knowing that approval wouldn't come). In all of Obama's public utterances, one could almost hear his desperate plea: "Please, someone take this burden off my shoulders; let the problem resolve itself."


The last act of this tragicomedy was John Kerry's statement that the strike on Syria would be "unbelievably small."


America has aligned herself with countries like Iran and North Korea, which several times a year announce a "massive strike" that will "blow the enemy off the face of earth," and then do nothing. There is, however, a difference between Kim Jong-un and Barack Obama: the former would never say he would strike New York with an "unbelievably small number of missiles."


One need not point out how declarations like this are received in, say, Beijing. The Chinese communists can now be sure that, if one day they feel like invading Taiwan or the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands (the object of their dispute with Japan), Obama's America would not be too quick to respond, if it responds at all.




George W. Bush, the previous occupant of the White House, also erred at times, but during his two terms, enemies of the United States had good reason to fear his wrath, and the world was in awe of American power. Obama is only angry for show, and America's credibility is melting at a terrifying pace.


Helplessness and Chaos


For Washington's foreign policy, last week was a period of helplessness and confusion. William Dobson, renowned commentator on international affairs, wrote in Slate magazine: "Give President Obama credit: He has done such a good job of acting unpredictably in the lead-up to his proposed military strikes on Syria that no one knows what he will do next. He has successfully confused ally and enemy alike. Sun Tzu would be proud."

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Obama looks like a man who is lost and scared; and worse - a person surrounded by people unable to define American interests in a rapidly changing world.


Not surprisingly, that deterioration of U.S. diplomacy accelerated sharply the moment Hillary Clinton ceased being secretary of state. There might be much to criticize about her tenure, but she certainly didn't lack competence and courage (I have a feeling that were she president of the United States today, Tomahawks would be already raining down on Assad's head). From the beginning, John Kerry invested all of his energy in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, walking the path of his many predecessors that invariably leads nowhere. Kerry failed to appreciate the growing importance of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and America's declining influence in the Middle East.


Susan Rice, until recently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and now national security advisor, was in September 2012 the infamous heroine of a scandal that erupted over the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, in which, among others, the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed. Rice assured the public that the event was a "spontaneous" reaction by the crowd, although she had been previously informed that the attack was premeditated and executed by Islamists connected to al-Qaeda. Another important figure is Samantha Power, who in August took over Rice's post at the United Nations. Known for her anti-Israel views, Power is the author of books and essays on how great powers should behave in the face of genocide and is a proponent of "humanitarian" military intervention. It was she who persuaded Obama to join the war against Muammar Qaddafi.


The Empty Driver's Seat


This is a team of people who have different opinions, temperaments, social origins, and are even of different generations (Vice President Joe Biden is 70, Kerry 69, Obama 52 and Power 43). None of them are able to outline a coherent doctrine of American foreign policy: what role the United States must play in the Middle East, Asia or Europe. Is it to be a "hard hegemon," a "soft hegemon," or perhaps America should shut itself off to the rest of the world and immerse itself in isolationist utopia? The Obama Administration is finding it increasingly difficult to articulate what is and is not in America's interest.



The president himself keeps sending mixed signals: as a pacifist at heart, he would like to free the world from nuclear weapons and extend his hand to Muslim countries; but then he also gave the order to kill Osama bin Laden, intensified drone attacks along the Afghan-Pakistan border; and continues to keep terror suspects at Guantanamo (which, let's remember, he promised to shut down).


Obama cultivated his anti-Bush image, foreswore his "imperialist" policies, and walked in glory as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but time and again, circumstances forced him to take measures he would have preferred to avoid. This has led finally to a certain kind of schizophrenia.


Obama would like to influence the fate of the world, but rather, as one of his advisors put it two years ago, "from behind." There would be nothing wrong with that if not for the fact that that the driver's seat is occupied by Vladimir Putin.


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Posted By Worldmeets.US Sept. 22, 2013, 7:19am