Russia is kicking our asses in diplomacy
It didn't get much attention in the American press, but an important event happened in the skies over Syria last month.
After a drone aircraft alleged to be Iranian strayed into what was alleged to be Israeli airspace from a position in Syria, Israeli jets struck across the Syrian border, reportedly knocking out a command-and-control center. The hostilities escalated when Syrian artillery brought down an Israeli F–16—which prompted a new wave of Israeli airstrikes. At that point, it looked as if Prime Minister Netanyahu was prepared to escalate his campaign against the Iranian presence on Syrian soil even further—effectively opening a new front in a war that finally shows promise of ending.
Notable enough. But it is what happened next that interests me most.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation.
No one is saying who placed the call, but, given what was said, it is a good guess the Russian president telephoned the Israeli prime minister. By the official accounts from Moscow, Putin told Netanyahu to cut it out. “The president of Russia spoke out in favor of avoiding any steps that could lead to a new round of confrontation, which would be dangerous for everyone in the region,” the Kremlin’s terse summary stated.
Israel, our closest ally in the middle east, was having a military crisis.
Where was the White House? Where was the Pentagon?
However, there was someone paying attention, and that someone was Putin.
Haaretz published an interesting analysis of these events and the conversation that followed. “Putin put an end to the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria and both sides accepted his decision,” the Israeli daily suggested.
Obviously there was an adult in the room, and that adult was from Moscow. Not Washington.
But don't make the mistake in thinking that Putin's influence is limited to the middle east.
But despite the transatlantic show of anger at Russia during the Munich Security Conference, Western officials and diplomats also acknowledged an uncomfortable truth: that Russia is critical to resolving many of the world’s worst conflicts.
From eastern Ukraine to North Korea, Russia’s status as a nuclear power, its military intervention in Syria and its veto on the United Nations Security Council mean any diplomacy must ultimately involve Moscow, officials said.
“We can’t find a political solution without Russia,” Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke Jensen told Reuters. “We need to reach a point where we can work to find a political solution, and they must be central to that.”
Even today, with Syria killing hundreds of civilians in the rebel-held pocket of eastern Ghouta, who did the UN call on?
“France and Germany call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the implementation of a ceasefire to provide civilian support, humanitarian access and medical evacuation, as called for by the UN,” the two governments said.
“France and Germany call on Russia to shoulder its responsibilities in this regard,” they said in a joint statement as Macron and Merkel met other EU leaders for talks in Brussels.
How did this happen? How did it come to this?
I don't watch much John Oliver anymore since he went full ScaryPutin!, but this episode isn't bad.
If you can't wait, jump 5:30 into the video.
It's accurate to say that Trump has taken our diplomatic standing to a new low, but you must also acknowledge that America hasn't taken diplomacy seriously since President Clinton.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis is one of the officers—in his case, a retired Marine four-star general—who has poured cold water on the notion that we can kill our way to victory. He has said repeatedly that he the reason he needs more military assets and a wider military presence is to give our diplomats the leverage to make peace. But as more troops head into battle, our diplomats are dormant: crucial appointments remain unfilled; veteran foreign service officers are fleeing in droves; and the one time that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opened a back-door negotiation with the North Koreans, President Trump slammed it shut. So we just dig ourselves deeper in conflicts that those in charge don’t know how to fight or win—that may be unwinnable.
For far too long there has been no respect with Republicans for the art of diplomacy, and it just keeps getting worse.
Our approach to the world has all the subtlety of a 3rd grade bully.