Monday, September 9, 2013

What's in it for Putin?

Wow! All of the sudden we're talking about Syria turning all of their chemical weapons over the the UN to have them destroyed rather than a US-led military intervention. How did that happen? Freak flags are surely flying on that one today, but here's the bottom line:

For someone like me who has been following President Obama's style now for over 5 years, this one has his fingerprints all over it. My first thought was to remember Jeffrey Goldberg's interview with him about Iran and Israel last year. He repeats his strategy in regards to Iran and nuclear weapons several times. Here's one example:
I think it's entirely legitimate to say that this is a regime that does not share our worldview or our values. I do think...that as we look at how they operate and the decisions they've made over the past three decades, that they care about the regime's survival. They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing. They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them. They are able to make decisions based on trying to avoid bad outcomes from their perspective. So if they're presented with options that lead to either a lot of pain from their perspective, or potentially a better path, then there's no guarantee that they can't make a better decision.
What we see constantly from the President is that his style of negotiation is to find a way that he and his opponent can agree on an outcome that is in both of their best interests. So last week he spent a few minutes in a pull aside with Putin. You have to ask yourself what Putin's primary interest is when it comes to Syria. I would suggest that it is the survival of the Assad regime - his closest ally in the Middle East.

And what is President Obama's primary interest in Syria? Contrary to much of the hand-wringing that's gone on about all this, I take him at his word...that we uphold the international norms against the use of chemical weapons.

We've all heard talk about the possibility that military intervention in Syria could possibly tip the scales in favor of the rebels and end the Assad regime. I suspect Putin is aware of that. And so one way for both men to reach their ultimate goals is for Assad to voluntarily (?) give up is chemical weapons and take US military intervention off the table.

What we need to be prepared for if all this works is that the civil war in Syria will go on and Putin will continue to do everything he can to keep the Assad regime in power. We'll have to live with that. But one more threat of WMD's will have been taken off the table. As they say...slow and steady wins that race.


  1. good on not letting them move the goalposts regarding what counts as "success". :)

  2. Agree with your assessment.

    Would note that the reason Assad gassed those areas is because he is aware that the 'rebels' are steadily preparing to attack what remains under his control in Damascus. Those 'rebels' are being trained in Jordan and likely elsewhere and reports are out there on the intertubes that groups of them, with significantly more advanced weapons, are now returning to Syria. Assad will either be captured and killed or flea ... merely a matter of time.

    Putin's only long-term hope is that he can convince whomever controls Syria to allow him to continue using the port at Tartus - his primary interest in Syria. If he cooperates with President Obama he may find that President Obama will help him negotiate that issue.


  3. It's also in Putin's interests to remain looking strong as the "strongman" of Russia. If the Russian backed Assad regime falls it makes Russia and Putin look weak and he can't have that either.