• Decision to expand Syrian war could help divert attention from scandals
By Richard Walker
President Barack Obama’s decision to wade into the expanding Syrian conflict by arming rebels, who include Islamic extremists hostile to the United States, has the potential to lead to a new cold war with Russia.
In a snub to Vladimir Putin, who had been promoting a peace conference to bring all sides to the negotiating table, Obama made his decision without informing Russia’s president.
To the surprise of many, the White House was even happy for Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) to announce to the world from the Senate floor on June 13 that the president had decided to get more heavily involved on the side of the rebels because the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad had crossed Obama’s so-called red line by using chemical weapons.
For neocons, it confirmed Obama had finally agreed to step up to the plate to fulfill their dream of toppling Assad. They will interpret his move as an incremental step leading to full-blown military involvement with their next project, the destruction of Iran.
Obama justified his decision, which could quickly result in him establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, by claiming U.S. intelligence had evidence the Syrian military used chemical weapons on several occasions.
A European intelligence source in Moscow, who prefers to remain anonymous, told this writer that Russian intelligence was astounded by Obama’s decision to enter the fray, especially now that the rebels were losing.
“The Russians believe Obama showed a cynical disregard for Moscow’s sensitivities, since Putin had given him private assurances Assad would not use his chemical arsenal,” he said. “Worse still, the White House move came as Putin was trying to persuade Assad to broker a deal with the opposition. This could all lead very quickly to a hardening of Russia’s position on Syria and other issues. The Kremlin feels Obama has upped the stakes.”
The source was pressed for his personal analysis of Obama’s strategy. He admitted he saw parallels with Bill Clinton’s bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was argued that Clinton had launched the attacks to deflect attention from his affair with the young intern. Those attacks came three years before 9-11, but some experts later interpreted them as significant in the rise of Islamic revolutionary groups.
Clinton has been arguing for greater American involvement in Syria. However, his calculus may be that aligning the Clinton family with the pro-Israeli lobby seeking Assad’s overthrow will help improve Hillary’s presidential prospects in 2016.
Just like Bill Clinton in 1998, Obama needs to take pressure off his administration and repair his personal political legacy. As someone who ran for the presidency calling for transparency, recent revelations about National Security Agency privacy violations have shown he has pursued with greater vigor the surveillance strategies of his predecessor and has consistently lied about the extent to which ordinary Americans are being watched by Big Brother.
Secondly, the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington, backed ironically by Arab states like Saudi Arabia, has been biting at his heels to go after Assad.
He would not be the first president to attack another country to deflect attention from problems at home. But this policy has the real potential to start a new war.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.