Were it not a serious issue, the righteous criticism of Russian action in Syria would’ve a comedic attribute.
Last week’s exchange between Fox News host Sean Hannity and Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump, saw Hannity parrot some provincially inaccurate comments about Russian action in Syria and how America has been passive in opposing the Kremlin. (Hannity comes across as showing no interest in assessing things from a mainstream Russian perspective. He’s by no means alone on that particular.) In that discussion, Trump astutely noted the suspect manner among the anti-Syrian government forces that have received a degree of support from the West. Trump’s comparatively reasoned approach on Syria isn’t without dispute.
Along with Trump, US President Barack Obama’s characterization of Russia risking a “quagmire”, ignores the reasonably stated Kremlin intentions. Moscow is essentially providing air support for the Syrian government ground forces and nothing more for the moment. It’s doubtful that Russian ground forces will get involved with combat in Syria. Russian public opinion seems generally non-supportive of that move.
In his recent UN General Assembly address, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointedly spoke of not repeating past foreign policy blunders, with a critical reference to the Soviet habit of having an ideologically motivated foreign policy. Afghanistan saw a large scale Soviet ground presence, unlike what’s anticipated with post-Soviet Russia in Syria. The Kremlin seems to be of the belief that the coordinated combination of Russian airpower and Syrian ground forces can eventually succeed in curtailing the conflict, followed by a better chance for a more peaceful restructuring of the political process in Syria.
With Western support, the not so distant regime changes in Iraq and Libya haven’t gone so well. Pragmatists understand that imperfect leaders in troubled countries can’t always be overthrown with less human suffering and a greater regional/global security afterwards.
Obama incorrectly characterized Russia and Iran as being alone on Syria against an American led alliance of sixty nations. He omitted the Iraqi government’s support for Russian and Iranian attempts to better position the Syrian government’s standing. Furthermore, Syria’s Kurds and the Egyptian government, have given credence to the Russian move in Syria – one that has the support of the UN recognized Syrian government. None of the BRICS (Brazil, India, China and South Africa, in addition to Russia) appear condemnatory towards the Kremlin’s move in Syria. There’re indications that China (if not already so) will involve itself in Syria, in line with Russian activity there.
Around the time of Putin’s UN speech, US mass media reported on the failure to find enough moderately acceptable Syrian anti-government rebels. This particular news item got severely downplayed once Russian airstrikes began. Out came the establishment pundits, articulating the notion that Russia wasn’t striking ISIS positions, but so-called moderate opponents, who were trained by the US government. Added was the charge that Russia isn’t really interested in fighting ISIS.
Omitted was the rationale for having Russian planes attack targets in Syria where the US and its coalition forces haven’t been active. This move decreases the likelihood of accidental mishaps. In coordination with Syrian ground forces, the Kremlin is of the reasoned impression that their airstrikes have a better chance of success than the stated American government led desire to crush ISIS without working with Syrian government ground forces.
Far from jumping into Syria without a carefully thought out plan, the Russian government has covered its angles well. This preparedness has included the meeting between Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Russia, shortly before the Russian airstrikes. Putin has followed with an acknowledgement that as a regional Mideast power, Israel has legitimate concerns which shouldn’t be overlooked.
Netanyahu doesn’t see Russia in the same negative light as the Syrian government and (to a greater extent) its Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah and Iranian allies. Hence, he likely sees the Kremlin as a relatively good influence on an imperfect situation – with an understanding of what might regretfully happen if Syria’s government were to suddenly fall. In contrast to Netanyahu meeting Putin, the pro-Israeli Republican US presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, says that she would avoid Putin altogether in the role of American president. That stance serves to increase the possibility for an unintended conflict between Washington and Moscow.
The Kremlin and Iran have stated the need for the Syrian government to reform itself. Along with other nations, Russia faces a threat of Islamic extremism. The terrorist ISIS and Al Qaeda entities have made clear their displeasure with the Russian government.
The belief that Russian behavior has nurtured an Islamic backlash, is on par with saying that 9/11 served as a comeuppance for US actions. It’s understandable that many Americans and others would be disgusted by the last part of that thought. Conversely, it’s appalling to have that idea directed against Russia. The anti-Russian leaning mindset among some key Western foreign policy politicos is out of touch with reality. Orthodox Christians of any stripe haven’t flown planes into buildings, with the calculated goal to kill on a grand scale.
As is true with any large with any large country of varying ethno-religious groups, Russia isn’t without tensions and room for improvement. Things there aren’t so bad as propagandistically stated in some influential to relatively influential Western circles.
Many people of Muslim background from Central Asia and the Caucasus have migrated to the mostly Slavic inhabited northwestern part of Russia, for a better life. The Russian republic of Tatarstan has gotten good reviews, as an example of multi-ethnic/confessional tolerance. The negatively depicted Putin has condemned the past WW II collective punishment of the Crimean Tatars. In comparison, the pro-Kiev regime Crimean Tatar activist Mustafa Dzhemilev is on record for saying that the Russians should leave Crimea.
Its clear faults aside, the Syrian government has been comparatively tolerant towards different groups. Under the Assads – Christians, Jews and women in Syria have fared much better than they have or (in the case of Jews and Christians) would in Saudi Arabia and some other countries. A typical western foreign establishment comeback to that observation will note the fatalities related to some past and present Syrian government actions. The follow-up notes the violent manner of the forces the Syrian government has opposed and the issue of collateral damage involving civilians caught in the crossfire. Over the decades, neocons have been especially apt to legitimize Israeli military force, which has included the killing of civilians, when striking at an armed target.
The Kremlin’s admission of the over flight of Russian military planes over Turkey was met with pious criticism about respecting the airspace of a sovereign nation. Russia claims this occurrence to be accidental. No one was harmed as a result of it. That over flight is much different than some others.
Yugoslavia didn’t ask to be bombed by NATO in 1999. At present, Russia has been given the okay by the UN recognized Syrian government to fly combat missions over Syria, much unlike Obama and his hyped coalition. Following the incident over Turkey, the Russian government responsibly invited discussion on a coordinated effort with the US, Turkey and others, to oppose the terrorist elements in Syria.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic.
This article appeared at the Strategic Culture Foundation’s website on October 9.