By Dick Krickus | the Lithuania Tribune
Article published in russiaprofile.org on 22 June
To assess the future of the American-Russian “reset”, two events must be taken into account: the civil war in Syria and the American presidential election.
Last week in response to the violence that has caused at least 10,000 deaths, the UN suspended its peacekeeping campaign in Syria. Since peace was the last thing on Basar al-Assad’s mind, no one was surprised by this development.
Meanwhile, the international media focused on images of dead children and others crying as doctors vainly tried to save them after being brutalized by Assad’s troops and Alawite “death squads.” These horrible scenes were not new but what was new was the growing chorus of voices among many in the global community that “the slaughter must be stopped even if that takes military intervention.” More prudent commentators warned that an intervention of this nature would provoke fighting throughout the Arab Middle East with far more deaths and dangerous unanticipated consequences. On this matter Putin and Obama seem to agree. But the anti-Assad fighters are now getting arms and ammunition from Sunni governments and private elements in the region and in spite of the odds against them, they are determined to fight to the bitter end. What is more, while there are few objective observers who doubt that Assad’s days are numbered, Obama and Putin disagree as to his fate.
Obama rightly sees no resolution of the conflict without his removal while Putin resists that notion. As the world’s media reported this week, “their body language” in a Mexican news conference revealed a relationship of enmity. That was hardly surprising since the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, claimed that Russia was arming Assad while Kremlin officials asserted that the American by supporting the rebels were prolonging the killing in Syria.
The second approach to the survivability of the U.S.-Russian reset in relations involves the American presidential election. In the U.S. growing public alarm about a second recession and doubts about Obama’s leadership have begun to resonate, causing the White House grave concern. Obama is well-liked and polls indicate he enjoys a lead but claims on the part of his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, that he is an inept chief-executive are taking a toll on his re-election bid. It is, of course, too early to make any firm predictions about the outcome of the presidential race but the Obama camp is on the defensive.
Romney claims the reset is a blunder and has accused Obama of failing to stand up to Putin. He continues to characterize Russia as America’s premier international enemy. This ridiculous charge has been greeted with appropriate derision by responsible foreign policy commentators in his own party. But Romney persists in making it to court the lunatic fringe in the GOP base. Therefore he has aligned himself with so-called conservative radio voices like Rush Limbaugh who make a plethora of unjustified claims—for example, that Russia along with Iran and China are about to conduct the largest military exercise ever conducted in the Middle East.
In spite of real points of disagreement with Putin, Obama wants to salvage the reset but his Russian counterpart is not likely to receive concessions from him. At best the reset will be put on hold until after the U.S. elections. Should Romney win the election, the reset is history.
One final observation: during the frigid days of the Cold War neither American nor Soviet strategists worried about the other side launching a nuclear strike “from the blue.” What they really feared was a confrontation that was initially sparked by their allies or clients in the Middle East. Of course, today a Russian-U.S. military confrontation of any kind is implausible but a new Cold War could be in the making in the turbulent Middle East.
Dick Krickus is distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Mary Washington and has held the H.L. Oppenheimer Chair for Warfighting Strategy at the U.S. Marine Corps University.