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Commentary: Russia back as geopolitical force

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Sept. 13, 2013 at 8:01 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- From the hard right, we hear alternating allegations that U.S. President Barack Obama is both the Manchurian Candidate, the sinister embodiment of evil, a brain-washed puppet of the far left -- or that he is Inspector Clouseau, the bumbling police detective who couldn't find his rear end with both hands.

More seriously, Ann Coulter, from the right, pontificates that "Democrats are gung-ho about deploying the U.S. military provided not only that it will harm the national security interests of the United States but vehemently oppose interventions that serve American interests."

Still feeling his way to world-class statesmanship, Obama redlined himself into a corner and then leapt over the wet paint and landed with both feet on a dry spot. Thank you, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin first dismissed as ridiculous the horrific story about Syrian forces inflicting a slow, excruciating death on 1,420 civilians, including 400 children, with a blast of chemical warfare.

Putin then seized the opportunity to help Obama back off his redline decision to punish Syria's President Bashar Assad with a couple of days of bombing and shelling vital installations.

In an op-ed he wrote for The New York Times, ex-Comrade Putin gave Obama fatuous lessons in the practice of true democracy -- and a timely assist in climbing back from the limb before Congress sawed it off.

Chemical weapons stockpiles are in several secret Syrian locations, many of them suspected but not confirmed by U.S. intelligence. More damaging, however, would be U.S. bombing of Syria's command-and-control targets in the midst of its civil war.

Helping the Syrian insurgency with lethal supplies under current conditions is a painful dilemma for the United States.

Al-Qaida's Iraq-based associated terrorist movement the al-Nusra Front, a subsidiary of AQAM (al-Qaida and its Associated Movements) is gaining ground with a wide variety of foreign volunteers.

For the rest of the world, there is little doubt that Putin won a round in Syria at the expense of Obama's national and global prestige.

For Obama, the Russian ploy catered to a national distaste in the U.S. for military action in the Middle East. The United States is still stuck in the Afghan quagmire where a leading Taliban figure was released from prison in a bid for national reconciliation following the U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2014.

Moscow lost no time in launching a major diplomatic offensive designed to show Persian Gulf Arab states that oppose Assad and those that back him, including Iran, that it holds most of the cards.

Putin is also telling the United States' Persian Gulf friends that Russia holds the keys to a settlement of the Syrian crisis. Widely perceived as having trumped Obama in the current phase of the geopolitical contest, it is by no means a slam dunk for Russia.

But Russia is back in the Middle Eastern geopolitical game -- with credibility.

Russian warships from the Black Sea and northern fleets in the eastern Mediterranean, with a long-held Russian naval base in Syria's Tartus facility, were rapidly followed by five U.S. destroyers. This conveyed to the rest of the world that Russia was back in the global game of power politics.

For Obama the terrain was pockmarked with quicksand. Russia is now the power that stared down the United States and got Obama to back off military action against Syria.

The unfolding crisis gave Russia an opportunity to consolidate control of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. Obama asked that this be done expeditiously.

In Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that he expected to reach an agreement in days, not weeks. But under the best of circumstances, execution will take several months.

Walking back from his demand for quick punitive action against Syria is seen by the rest of the world as a sign of Obama's weakness.

The Syrian civil war -- in its third year with 120,000 killed and some 5 million refugees -- is about to get a lot worse. AQAM is steadily gaining influence in rebel ranks.

Obama is now in geopolitical quicksand. He cannot allow the Syrian crisis to dominate the balance of his second term. It has the potential to backfire with charges of weakness.

Putin's clever op-ed ploy in The New York Times has put Russia back in the high-stakes game of power politics. Syria is an important ally for Russia. The two are separated by Iraq, where al-Qaida's like-minded terrorist ally, is holding sway in western border areas close to Syria.

The stakes are enormous -- nothing less than a continuous belt of anti-U.S. forces from Iran to Lebanon, through Iraq and Syria. And the Russian leadership is convinced Obama will do anything and everything to avoid being dragged in to yet another war.

Russia is back in the global context of power politics. But rather than fight through proxies, it wants to project the image of peacemaker that negotiates solutions -- in sharp contrast to the U.S. superpower that demonstrates its strength.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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