Flat White

Trumping Putin at his own game

8 April 2017

4:03 PM

8 April 2017

4:03 PM

BOSTON, UNITED STATES — If you want proof that humans evolved from apes, listen to teenaged boys laughing. Even when they’re happy you can still hear the instinctual desire to hump and/or kill the nearest living creature. It becomes less distinct as we get older, but the male of the species is always just a beer and a shot of bourbon away from ripping off our shirts and hurling faeces at each other.

(I promise this is going somewhere. Just hold on.)

Following the US missile strike on the Syrian airbase from which Assad (allegedly) launched a chemical weapons attack on his own people, I posited that Russia quietly gave the White House permission to attack their ally. Assad’s (alleged) atrocity embarrassed Moscow, who’s ultimately held responsible for their puppet’s behaviour by the international community. So they let us punish him for them.

And I still suspect that’s the case. Look: it’s still slightly unbelievable that Assad is responsible for the chemical attack. It doesn’t make sense. Even if he could’ve gotten away with it scot-free, there would have been no strategic advantage to him whatsoever. Yet the Kremlin’s milquetoast response to the US’s retaliation suggests that global intelligence agencies – Russia’s included – have hard evidence that he did. It outweighs any questions of strategic advantage on Assad’s part.

Put it this way. What’s more likely: that Assad is brutal enough to senselessly butcher his own people, or that Putin’s not bellicose enough to retaliate when his closest Middle-Eastern ally is attacked on false pretences? The former, by far.


But let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, I’m wrong. Let’s say, hypothetically, that Trump just suddenly decided to reverse his anti-interventionist stance and embrace the Bush Doctrine. Let’s say David French is correct in writing:

Ultimately, reality transcends ideology, constrains the presidents’ choices, and forces them into the same unpleasant, bloody decisions: There is no getting around the fact that persistent Middle Eastern conflict directly threatens American lives and vital American strategic interests. Presidents with differing ideas and ideologies confront the same intelligence reports and terrorist attacks that make plain our enemy’s capabilities and intentions, and when the immediate choice is between defending America and idealistically disengaging, the former typically prevails.

Are we, then, on the precipice of World War III?

No. Time’s analysis was, surprisingly, quite good. In an article titled ‘Russia Is Angry, But Don’t Expect Putin to Fall Out with Trump Over Syria’, Simon Shuster (seriously) writes:

Within hours of the attack, the Kremlin did offer some harsh rhetoric. Putin’s spokesman called the strikes an illegal act of aggression and a ‘substantial blow’ to US-Russian relations. But he stopped well short of the fury that Putin expressed in 2011 when the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya became the target of U.S. and coalition airstrikes. That intervention, Putin said, was like a ‘medieval crusade’ against a sovereign nation. ‘Where is the logic and the conscience?’ he demanded at the time.

The tone was far milder on Friday in the remarks of Russia’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who talked about the U.S. strike against a Russian ally as though it were a mystery to be solved, not an offence to be repaid. ‘I don’t know,’ said Lavrov, ‘when we will get to know the whole truth about how the decision was made to carry out strikes in Syria in this situation. But I think the truth should be demanded, and that’s what we’re going to do.’

Russia’s already cooling its heels and opening a door to reconciliation with the States. Why? Because they’re impressed by Trump’s primal demonstration of brute strength – particularly in contrast to the chronic thumb-twiddler Obama.

The United States is finally playing Putin’s game by Putin’s rules.

Now, that might not speak so highly for the United States. As I said before, I voted for Trump because I appreciated his diplomacy-first approach to foreign policy. And I liked it because it was totally unlike Putin’s. But, as we know, that approach has never yielded much fruit. Time and again, our offers of rapprochement were met with yet further aggression. Putin’s a master of the Young Liberal handshake: he’d take our hand, wink, and then knee us in the balls as hard as he could. You know, guy stuff.

Now we’re shaking back. And Putin seems impressed. Stunned, sure – but impressed.

So, again, I’m totally with those Trump supporters who are dismayed by this attack. It was a congressionally-unapproved, unilateral strike on the legitimate government of a sovereign nation: exactly the kind of move he promised never to pull. But, if the goal was to smooth over Russo-American relations, maybe this is the best way to go about it. Maybe what we needed to offer Putin wasn’t a Reagan to his Thatcher, but a Damo to his Darren – not an enemy like Bush or a pushover like Obama, but a friendly rival.

If so, this is only more proof that even the Trumpkins should get behind the strike. And seriously, guys: enough of this #SyriaHoax bullshit. Trump’s disappointed me plenty, but don’t assume the only way he could do something you disagree with is that he was conned by Lindsey Graham and his band of gay warmongers. By all means, say he made a bad judgement call. But if you really think he’s that stupid, you owe Bill Kristol, Mitt Romney, and the #NeverTrump crowd a big apology. They tried to warn you, after all.

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