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Wednesday, July 6

Steve Cohen sees a ray of hope for Russia-U.S. rapproachment in Syria. I don't.

Here is the podcast for Russia expert Dr Stephen F. Cohen's latest discussion with John Batchelor (July 5) about the 'new' cold war between Russia and the U.S. John is clearly skeptical about any hope of rapprochement and points out, correctly, that U.S. actions against Russia are consistently heating up.  

Steve is clinging to a hope that a well-placed source he wouldn't name believes that President Obama doesn't want his legacy to be war with Russia and is open to de-escalating the conflict. He also pointed out that there have been backchannel discussions between the two governments regarding possible cooperation in Syria to fight Islamic State. 

I venture that Steve is ignoring the implications of recent U.S.-Russia negotiations about Syria, even though they came under discussion during at least one of his conversations with John months ago. Doesn't he remember observing sardonically that John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov were going to share the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria?  

It turned out that the cooperation with Russia was a feint by the Obama administration to buy time for the U.S.-backed opposition forces, which had taken a beating from the combination of Russian airstrikes and Syrian Army coalition ground forces, to allow them to rearm and regroup. 

As for the cessation of hostilities agreement, it was repeatedly broken by U.S-supported opposition forces that were in league with al Qaeda. Yet when the Russians repeatedly asked that the United States stop arming and funding these groups because they were entangled with the terrorists, the U.S. administration almost openly mocked the requests; spokespersons at the State Department repeatedly claimed at press briefings that it was just so very hard to separate the good guys from the bad guys and was taking a long time.

To further strain credulity the Pentagon began to claim that it was only giving their 'vetted' opposition Syrian forces enough arms and ammunition for just one military operation at a time.  

In short, the U.S. administration bargained with Russia in bad faith. 

To make matters worse Obama's use of the Kurds as a mercenary army backfired horribly when it frightened the Turkish government, which then retaliated against both the Kurdish forces and Kurdish civilians, and punished the Europeans in their negotiations about the migrant/refugee crisis.  

So it's not only bad faith, it's also bad judgment that has been the hallmark of the Obama regime's policies on Syria. I think because of this the Russians know they would be foolish to again cooperate with the United States in Syria, although I think they are being polite about hearing any offers that Kerry brings them from the White House.

Regarding the 'new' cold war I have a very particular view that I have barely addressed on this blog. I believe that the original cold war, the one against the Soviet Union, was driven for many years by the Saudis and that it's the same with the present cold war against Russia. This view isn't so much in dispute as ignored by cold war historians and analysts; to my knowledge it's not even on their radar. So I rarely mention the view and don't attempt to make an issue of it, an endeavor that would require more digging, and more scholarship, than I'm willing or able to muster.

But I think the Saudi angle is also why Obama is very limited in what he can do in Syria. Even with the will, cooperation between Russia and the United States -- and even between Assad's administration and the U.S. one -- cannot change the fundamental situation driving the war in Syria. Until and unless the Saudis and their Gulf allies stop fielding mercenary armies in Syria, all military action against the 'bad guys' there is emptying the ocean with a sieve.  

Obama stood up to the Saudis when he reached out to Iran and cooperated with the Muslim Brotherhood to remove Hosni Mubarak from power.  But Obama is just one man against a deeply entrenched establishment in Washington that at all costs sides with Al Saud.  

That's the way things are in Washington. I see nothing on the horizon to change them.  

As to whether there is anything at all that could stop the Saudis in Syria, I believe they received a grave warning last year to halt in their path. They not only ignored the warning, they pretended that what was very clearly an Act of God was simply a crane accident due to negligence.  So we'll just have to see what happens next.   

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