We can just try to take Obama seriously when he boasts of having avoided war and having forced Assad to admit to having chemical weapons which he is beginning to destroy, to believe him when he promises that things will be implacably otherwise if he takes up the weapons again, and also that in any case Iran remains in the crosshairs, as he said yesterday. We can imagine that he did not deal with Putin when he turned and that he did not see anyone following him. But this will not help the American President appear victorious in the battle over the Middle East. The pleasure in the immediate advantage of peace will only last a few days because the rebels are furious and may seek to rekindle the smoldering embers.
Putin is the winner of the moment, and his victory is of historic proportions. This shakeup changes the cards that were dealt in 1973, at the time of the Yom Kippur war, when Syria and Egypt attacked Israel by surprise to raze it to the ground: it was then that the United States, by decision of Nixon and Kissinger, sent Israel 20 thousand tons of armored tanks, artillery and miscellaneous supplies. Thus, following the victory of Israel, left clinging to the precipice of the Mediterranean Sea by the desperate valor of its soldiers, the Arab world understood that it was best to take into account the American presence in the area, so much so that Egypt left the Soviet sphere of influence for that of the U.S.
After Obama abandoned Mubarak and lost Egypt with unforgivable lightness, Putin threw himself into a substitution game. The latest indecision of the American President opens up new spaces. Putin was already on the hunt: he felt betrayed by NATO’s maneuver against Gaddafi, which he considered a contradiction in a period of economic and strategic reinforcement. Not that his economy became more reliable, with its highwayman and mafia side. But Putin decided at the time of Gaddafi’s defenestration not to leave any more room for unilateral undertakings that would be unfavorable to him on the international level. He reinforced his anti-American propaganda and his personal shows of strength (with authoritarian, machista, anti-feminist, anti-homosexual, anti-press winks) including shrugging his shoulders in response to the massacres of Assad, his Middle East Gauleiter. He has allowed the Iran of the ayatollahs, an admittedly slippery maneuver to calm the relationship with Syria, which also arms and instigates against the West, and the Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that in addition to all of the innocents killed around the world also has the Syrian children on its conscience, to take advantage of the situation.
Putin pushed and pushed, at the very time that Obama understood that he did not have the support of Congress, that he was being abandoned by England and criticized by Europe and the Pope, for all the world like a Roman emperor defending his protectorate, admitting everything he had always denied or rather that Assad has the weapons and they are being handed over. If they are then loaded onto trucks and sent to Iraq or Lebanon, Putin is washing his hands of them.
It is like reading Flavius Josephus on the subject of Hadrian and Titus. Those who are dominated do and say whatever they are ordered to, under penalty of death. That is what Assad has done, proclaiming “victory” yesterday: until yesterday Putin was inciting him to resist and now to yield. The room for Putin to extend his influence is now vast: unlike Obama, Putin supports his own, regardless of what they do. Obama has left Iraq leaving a lot of room for Iran and he is leaving Afghanistan. The Israelis, Saudis, the people from the Emirates, the Jordanians and the Turks are worried by the American absence, and no one has good reasons for steering clear of Putin.
Putin’s greatest conquest up to now has no doubt been the pages of the New York Times, Obama’s home grounds, where Putin burst in violently, spitefully interfering with American politics all the way to its exceptionalist soul. Obama has shown him the way; the NYT has deferentially opened the door. This was unthinkable before Putin Rex’s Syrian era.
This article was originally published in Italian on Il Giornale daily (September 16, 2013); English translation copyrighted by The Gatestone Institute