U.S. and Russia Trade Barbs on Syria
The poisonous rhetoric flowing out of Russia against the U.S. and U.K. in recent days leaves no doubt about the utter collapse of the Obama "reset" with the Putin dictatorship. Under the leadership of the man who promised us better relations with Russia, we have entered a new cold war.
On September 4, 2013, the Russian government published a verbatim transcript of a meeting of the Russian Presidential Council for Institutions on Civil Society and Human Rights. During the meeting, Putin was transcribed in part speaking as follows (Russian-language link):
Чтобы время не затягивать, дальше я распространяться не буду. И врут, конечно, некрасиво. Я посмотрел дебаты в Конгрессе. Конгрессмен спрашивает господина Керри: «Там есть Аль-Каида? Говорят, что они усилились?» Он отвечает: «Нет. Говорю вам ответственно, там их нет». Самое основное боевое звено, «Аль-Нусра» так называемая, это подразделение «Аль-Каиды», они знают об этом. Просто мне было даже не очень приятно, это же видно ... Мы же с ними общаемся, исходим из того, что это приличные люди. Ну, врет, и знает, что врет. Это печально.
The bolded section of the text reads as follows: "He's lying, and he knows that he's lying."
Here's my translation of the full text of Putin's statement. Putin explained that he didn't think Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Russia, had any need to use chemical weapons in Syria because he was winning on the battlefield, so it was "absurd, simply ridiculous" to suggest that he might have done so despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Then Putin continued:
I don't want to waste time by going into the military issues in further detail. But the lies that are being told about the situation, of course, are unfortunate. I watched the debate in the U.S. Congress. A congressman asked [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry: "Is al-Qaeda in Syria? We are hearing that their presence is on the rise." He replied:"No. I can represent that there is no significant presence at all." But the most important combat unit on the ground in Syria, the so-called al-Nusra fighters, are a division of al-Qaeda, and they know it. It was just very unpleasant for me to hear this, because the issue is so very clear. Of course we will continue to work with these people, we presume there are decent folks among them. But he is lying, and he knows that he is lying. It's sad.
Here is the verbatim exchange to which Putin was referring: Kerry's response before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to a question from Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
SEN. JOHNSON: What do we know about the opposition? I mean, what is -- have we been tracking them for the last two years? I mean, it seems like -- and this is more of an impression I have as opposed to any exact knowledge, but it seems like initially, the opposition was maybe more Western-leaning, more moderate, more democratic, and as time has gone by, it's degraded, become more infiltrated by al-Qaeda. That -- is that basically true? Or to -- (inaudible) -- has that happened?
SEC. KERRY: No, that is -- no, that is actually basically not true. It's basically incorrect. The opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular with respect to the future of Syria. And that's very critical.
The next day, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki had the following dialogue with reporters about Putin's comment, following Psaki's statement that her boss, Kerry, had just spoken with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, by phone:
QUESTION: Jen, can I just -- when you endeavor to get the more detailed readout of the Lavrov call --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- can you specifically ask if the comments that President Putin made in which he called the Secretary a liar, if that came up or if that something that's just water under the bridge now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say on that, I'm happy to check what is possible to share from that conversation. But let me say on the specific comments, since you gave me the opportunity, that Secretary Kerry is, as you all know, a decorated combat veteran. He's had more words aimed - more than words aimed at him. So he's not losing sleep after such a preposterous comment that was based on an inaccurate quote and was completely mischaracterized.
The restatement by Putin of Kerry's comment was not inaccurate or mischaracterizing. Kerry was asked whether al-Qaeda was on the rise in the Syrian opposition, and he said that it was not, but to the contrary was on the decline, and that moderation was on the rise. Kerry may not have been lying as Putin claimed, but Psaki certainly was.
Now, let's be perfectly clear: chemical weapons were used in Syria, and many civilians were killed and maimed as a result. The weapons were used either by Assad or by the rebels. Putin has offered absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the rebels were responsible, even as he demands Obama prove that it was Assad. Assad's army was not victimized by the weapons; civilians were. Putin is strongly allied with Assad, provides him with vast military support, and finds in him Russia's last reliable friend in the Middle East. It's absurd and ridiculous to suggest that Putin is impartial where Assad is concerned. Assad is facing not just rebels, but mounting international pressure, with Obama openly calling for regime change prior to the use of chemical weapons. It's entirely credible that Assad would feel desperate and look for a quick victory. Assad is certainly providing massive support to the Hezb'allah terrorists, and so is Putin.
So what we have here is this: our secretary of state has been publicly called a liar by the president of Russia, and our Department of State is telling lies about it rather than telling us how they have confronted Russia and defended our honor, which we should not need to be told because we should be able to see for ourselves. No wonder Putin thinks he can get away with such outrageous public insults!
But Putin was just getting started with his blast at Kerry. Then he turned to Obama himself, comparing him to George Bush and openly implying that Obama was lying about chemical weapons in Syria the same way Bush allegedly lied about such weapons in Iraq.
Next, Putin turned to U.S. prosecutors and judges. The Kremlin stated that their work is of "biased character, based on shaky evidence, and clearly tilted toward conviction."
Then Putin turned toward the U.S. intelligence community, mocking them for being unable to apprehend Edward Snowden, and calling Americans "snobs" for seeking Snowden's extradition while failing to hand over anyone Russia wanted.
To round things out, the Kremlin referred to America's closest ally, Britain, as "a small island nobody cares about."
Soon enough, the U.S. was firing back, and the cold war was in full swing.
After Putin gave asylum to wanted American felon Edward Snowden, Obama disclosed that during meetings with Putin, the Russian "slouches" like a "bored kid in the classroom," dissing the very POTUS who was trying to give Russia more of what it wanted. Obama was genuinely shocked that after tossing Putin so many bouquets for so many years, he could be stabbed in the back this way. He shouldn't have been. If he'd just looked up during the past five years, he'd have seen his country being buzzed by Russian bombers.
The U.S. started showing signs of getting tough. House Speaker John Boehner coolly snubbed a group of Russian diplomats who wanted to lobby him on Syria. Obama announced that on his visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the G-20 summit, he'd snub a personal meeting with Putin and instead meet with LGBT activists to discuss Russia's crackdown on homosexuals. He'd also demand that Russia answer for Raul Wallenberg, dredging up Russian misconduct during World War II.
It wasn't long before, just like in the bad old days, Russia was brandishing missiles. It threatened to send powerful S-300 rockets to Syria if the U.S. launched a military strike against chemical weapons stockpiles, and made it clear it would continue funneling military hardware to the Assad dictatorship as well as using its Security Council veto to provide a veil of political protection. And it dispatched warships to the Mediterranean.
Maybe by the time Obama leaves office, he will have fully realized that Russia despises the USA and its values and will be acting like a real American leader instead of the milquetoast Chamberlain wannabe that he has portrayed for the last five years. Maybe by then America will have a foreign policy that doesn't make Ronald Reagan spin in his grave or encourage Putin to build a neo-Soviet state at breakneck speed. Until then, Americans will just have to grin and bear it.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.