Chess or Checkers: Putin and Obama on a Collision Course

McKIllopAndrew McKillop
21st Century Wire

OBAMA HOUNDED BY HIS OWN PRESS


Since September 10th, things have gone downhill fast for Barack Obama. Called everything from doing a Laurel and Hardy Show with slapstick partner John Kerry, to repeating Jimmy Carter’s lame duck presidency, Obama has been pasted by the US press. Conversely, Vladimir Putin is given his own full cover page and story on Time Magazine. The differences couldn’t be bigger.

Another cruel gibe at Obama was that he and France’s President Hollande are playing checkers, while Putin plays chess – to win.

Further down we find the analysts looking for the big picture, but still finding it is under constant change, even outright mutation. The parameters they use for ongoing examination and assessment of the events which started with the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, have changed as the crisis evolves into a confrontation between the United States – and several countries, headed by Russia.

A serious diplomatic crisis, or confrontation is on the horizon. This is a fast-evolving standoff, but the big picture changes do not stop there. The threat of one kind of war – call it diluted regime change war in Syria – has been added to by the threats of military, strategic political, and even economic war involving a swath of different countries.

Both Obama and Kerry appear to out of their depth. They want a war, but can’t work out how to get it on. The US president’s minimalist war claims, made laughable by John Kerry’s talk about “unbelievably small strikes” – are still in place, but they are under serious debate. Simply due to the agonizing time needed to not cobble a Coalition of the Willing together, Syria’s chemical weapons are likely to have been moved around and shuffled about on a daily basis, making it ridiculous to think there is any chance of a decisive attack on stockpiles, over and above the fallout risk. Therefore, if there is an attack, it has to be on command and control centres and so-called political targets. Military advisers to both Obama and Hollande have placed a huge range of options on the table.

DIVIDE AND DENY

What has happened is that all public statements, whatever they meant before, are now meant to obscure real plans and intentions. The “psywar” role of these statements has blossomed as the flower of war on the ground did not even bud. They are intended to shape the environment, and that means tactics, and nothing more than that until we see the new global strategy emerge.

At the first level and already serious, the issue has morphed into a US-Russia political strategic confrontation. Russia’s goal is to be the political equal of the United States. If it wins, Russia will be equal protagonist to the United States in an already two-year-old remake and redraw of frontiers right across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This Alpha Male sparring has already won Putin a pullback of Washington’s intent to attack Syria, because of Russian maneuvers. Moscow’s MENA regional weight has risen dramatically – that is along Russia’s southern periphery, where regional doubts about the USA’s real intentions, and the reality of American power abound.

Putin’s article for ‘Time’ magazine can be seen as including a buy-in proposal to Obama. When or if the United States buys into an undefined Russian framework, it can be trumpeted by Putin as the United States lacking the will to act and being pushed out of the region because it refused to stand up to “djihadis” and extreme Sunni militias flying the flag of al Qaeda. Russia will be defending civilization while the US of Obama worries about Wall Street and the Taper.

Obama isn’t able to let Syria become the focus of his presidency, because he has so many other real and pressing items on the agenda. If he does sink into the political quicksand of Syria, few if any persons will not say it was the result of the Russians laying a trap for him. Maybe the trap isn’t yet too clear, and few know how the giant trap called the MENA is going to evolve, but Obama has a countdown on how long his domestic political borrowed time will last. He bought time using the current American distaste for military action in the MENA. That can change, fast, with dangerous potentials for his hands being forced by false flag atrocities on the ground.

EMPIRE GAMES

The Russians, Gulf State monarchies, Iran, Israel and Turkey are all active. To wide-ranging and different degrees, these players want or don’t want a “military solution’ to the problem called Bashr al Assad. The proxy fighters in theater and on the ground, always growing in number and probably above 50 000 at present, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and al Qaeda groups, may already have reached a “tipping point” or critical mass. Due to simple numbers the fighting has to go on, regardless of what happens to the al Assad regime. Only very large-scale external force is able to and could stop that. Putin himself made a point of mentioning that threat in his ‘Time’ article.

Whether Russia can solve the chemical weapons problem, is in fact unlikely because the weapons are spread far and wide. They can also be purchased, or their precursors can, and deadly weapons can be produced “in situ”. This is unlike the collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya, which unlocked and unleashed his huge arsenals of weapons – but these were infantry arms mostly of smaller caliber, like the “iconic” AK47 assault rifle, anti-tank missiles and anti-building weapons.

Obama’s speech on Sept. 10, constrained by domestic opinion, came across as unwilling to confront the Russians or al Assad. On first analysis it looks like Russia is facing down al Assad’s opponents, to make them use the Russians as their interlocutors, instead of America. This in no way has to succeed – like the USA’s previous attempts at playing interlocutor and peacemaker in the MENA. Both have failed before, due to the region’s own dynamics rejecting “traditional great powers”, accelerating all the time since the 1990s. Likely, the Russians gauge they will have lost nothing, if they fail. They can say they were statesmen, but failed, just like the US.

The weakness of both positions has become stark. The so-called great powers have no real weight. The limit on American military action – fighting “djihadis” or local militias – has been cruelly shown by the Afghan war “experiment”. The US will quit Afghanistan at latest in December 2014, in a lost war that Americans will be happy to no longer pay for, and even happier to forget than Vietnam.

Outside of the US and Russia, as the present Syrian crisis shows, nobody wants to take on “the heavy charge of stewardship”, redesigning the MENA’s 1920s-era colonial frontiers and trying to enforce new ones. Only inside the region are appetites for regime-and-border change white hot, but are only driven by purely domestic politics.

The idea this imbroglio will somehow disappear like a Persian Nights djinn might appear entertaining to Obama, in Laurel and Hardy mode, but events in the MENA will not let Obama off the hook – or Putin. When they do act, and things still go wrong, we will get another snapshot of how the world is changing.

READ MORE MORE PUTIN NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Putin Files


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  • LocalHero

    Nothing that a good, old-fashioned fake shooting can’t fix.