The recent dynamics in the Syrian situation remind me of the old days when we used to deal with the Soviets on arms control during the Cold War. And, guess what? Putin, a former Soviet KGB agent, remembers those days fondly, and has discovered what many of us have known for the past five or six years: That we have a crew of real rookies in our politically selected national security jobs, including our president, who is apparently clueless when it comes to being jerked around by Putin and his thugs, Assad's family mafia and Iran's Muslim fanatics.
Our president has poised a (very expensive and complex to maintain) force ready to strike something in Syria. We know not what or where, except that it will not be the source of the problem: Assad and his cabal.
However, we do know that it will be in response to Assad using sarin poison gas on "his own people," who are Syrians but not "Assad's people," and therefore were targeted for killing as a matter of political expediency. If this reminds us of Saddam Hussein gassing the Kurds, it's the same concept. It's what they do in the Middle East – and have for the last couple thousand years.
So Putin, great wit that he is, has now pushed the pause button and has come up with a perfect Soviet-style ruse, involving the declared love of 70's lefties everywhere – multilateral diplomacy – and, even better, the U.N., also the recent home of our newly feted national security advisor. Such a deal – and right out of the Carter administration!
All we have to do is quit threatening to strike Syria, and turn the "degasification" of Syria over to the international community. Meantime, of course, Russia arms the Syrians (and the Iranians) to protect them against further "U.S. aggression." Minor detail: Based on our own experience with chemical weapons disposal, this idea should take – give or take a year or two – about ten years to carry out, especially with international inspectors looking down each other's throats.
Meantime, the Israelis, who know more about the region and the various factions therein than anyone else, must be literally apoplectic at this latest bit of naiveté they see coming from Washington. So, what should we do now?
Recovery from this very, very bad strategic situation will be difficult. However, here is a plan for leaving this dialog with our shorts on – or as the Sov's used to tell me in Geneva during the 80's – "We must leave the water, but entirely dry":
- Talk and meet diplomatically with most any concerned party, but on a separate track from other more prudent actions, because diplomacy is a very small part of national security and it should never be the main focus of dealing with the Russians or the Assad mafia. However, both the Russians and Syrians are hoping that the Obama administration will think that it should be.
- Require Syria to quickly declare its stockpile of chemical weapons – with specificity – as a very first step for any additional discussions. They also must accept intrusive international inspections, because chemical weapons are illegal under international law and Assad should get nothing for declaring and disposing of his. Also, he should pay for their disposal – and it is very, very expensive!
- Establish new national strategic doctrines to target the leaderships of countries or factions that support terrorism against us and our allies anywhere in the world, just as we did against the Soviets during the Cold war.
- Part of the new targeting doctrine should be that a terror attack on the United States, or our facilities or interests overseas, will be responded to strategically, and against leaderships, with weapons appropriate to address the threat – and an appropriately sized nuclear response should not be excluded.
- Arm and train – with regional financial and logistical support, e.g., from Saudi Arabia – selected Syrian groups who are trying to remove the Assad regime.
- Increase our permanent naval presence with both conventional and strategic capabilities available to carry out our national policies, as above.
- Then, watch what happens – our rookie national security gang obviously needs to learn to play the organ like Putin and Assad.
However, the situation we are in now is very, very bad – and, as usual, we entered this fracas from a position of moral courage and strength, with Assad gassing hundreds of little children. Yes, Assad and his thugs are evil incarnate – just like his dad and his thugs, and Saddam and his thugs. History is full of them, particularly in the Middle East.
So, are we now going to let Putin slow roll us with multilateral diplomacy that has as its primary goal to preserve the morally corrupt Assad regime for at least another decade? Looks that way.
Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
- Read Franz-Stephan Gady: What thepanish Civil War Tells Us About Syria and Cyber-Attacks
- Read Heather Hurlburt: 3 Reasons Syria's Chemical Weapons Treaty Move Is a Win for the U.S.
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