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Global View: Not a Pretty Picture

Gershon Burstyn

Two snapshots in a Russian dacha tell a single tale of Putin’s power

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

 Mishpacha image

Russian president Vladmir Putin convening a confab with the leaders of Iran and Turkey. What could go wrong?

I t was a remarkable sight: Russian president Vladimir Putin hugging Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on the veranda of his dacha on the Black Sea.

Embracing a murderer, the killer and torturer of thousands, a man who will surely be charged with war crimes, the man who destroyed his own country to stay in power?

Yes, that’s the same Bashar al-Assad, Putin’s ally in the Middle East, the nominal head of a country propped up by Moscow and Tehran.

The image was pure evil, and pure Putin. I couldn’t care less what you think, the picture screams. I know he destroyed entire cities and used chemical weapons to asphyxiate his own people, but he’s the only guy left standing in Syria — and I’m right there with him. The dictator whom Obama demanded leave office? Ha, wishful thinking. Guess who won the war?

But Putin wasn’t done yet. He ushered the spindly Assad into a conference room full of Russian military men to introduce the Syrian murderer to the generals who had won the war for him. I don’t think Putin was trying to teach Assad about hakaras hatov. Rather, the message was clear. Lest you forget in years to come why exactly you still sit on your throne, engrave this image in your head. Without us, you’d be toast.

A day later, Putin took a call from President Trump to tell him what he was up to in the Middle East. The official White House statement said the world leaders “stressed the importance” of ensuring “the stability of a unified Syria free of malign intervention and terrorist safe havens.” Tellingly, “unified Syria” is code for “under Assad’s control.” “Malign intervention” in this case does not refer to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Putin at his dacha embracing Syria’s Assad

The following day, Putin hosted the leaders of Turkey and Iran at that same Black Sea dacha to discuss the new Middle East. If it’s possible, the photo-op from that occasion was even more nauseating than Putin embracing the butcher of Damascus. There was Putin, front and center, smiling smugly as he joined hand in hand with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They looked as if they had just won the lottery, or some perverse new game show called “Let’s Ruin the World!” As one Twitter pundit ably observed after viewing the photo: “What could possibly go wrong?”

A lot, especially in the absence of American leadership. Guess who wasn’t invited to Sochi? Mr. Personality, the president of the United States. Though Defense Secretary James Mattis has said in recent weeks that the United States has no intention of leaving Syria soon (and in fact American troop levels have increased to more than 1,700 in the last four months), it’s understood that the American sphere of influence is small. Washington has its Kurdish allies in the north, but, along with Saudi Arabia, the Americans will be invited guests at the Syrian peace conference that Moscow will host.

For all his bluster, Donald Trump is a spectator on the Syria scene. Like President Obama before him, he’s watched as Assad has slowly recaptured territory and decapitated his enemies. True, Assad and company will have to account for American troops in the short term, but what’s a few years in a region where recorded history began? (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 687)

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