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Real winners?

Winner and loser talk will now come forth over the U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria's chemical weapons. Not to put too much stock in any of it, I nonetheless found Juan Cole's analysis astute, and nothing you'll see in most U.S. media.

"The big losers were the anti-Baath Syria hawks, who were hoping that a US attack on Syria with cruise missiles would draw the Obama administration inexorably into the conflict on the side of the rebels."

"The winners were the Shanghai Cooperation Council and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which overlap somewhat. It is worth noting that Lavrov explicitly thanked this bloc...."

Cole also noted Russian concern and support for Syria's Christian many of whom are Orthodox. Hadn't thought about that. Whole thing here.

And this from a scholar of Russian-U.S. relations sent to me privately.

"I predicted the other night that [the] Syrian crisis will be looked back upon as decisive moment in US foreign policy in [the] 21st century. Because either political dynamic for endless war finally reverses; or because it continues in the face of a manifest opportunity for political solution. If there is a war anyway, no one can pretend that US political system is not addicted to it."

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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About the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) --

Hmmm.  These are all huge old countries whose ordinary citizens are experiencing for the first time in history real opportunities to become well-off. In all of them the ordinary person used to be fated to meager means or in some of them to dire poverty.  They're not about to waste their newly-earned hard capitalist cash on useless wars of no relevance to their own bright futures.  

Unless I'm mistaken, the advocates of war have already begun to say that striking Syria is the only way to eliminate the poison gas threat. The fact5 that getting rid of the gas is a complicated and protracted task will be used to claim that failing to take military action against Syria is irresponsible. I don't agree with that position, but I take it that it will have some political salience. The widespread conviction that we are the exceptional nation always threatens to be impatient with anything that takes a while.

From my point of view, the real winners in this Syria deal are the men and women of the US military.  It has been a long, long decade of war where they have borne the overwhelming load, the overwhelming personal costs to these misadventures in Islamic countries almost in isolation from the great majority of American families.  And sadly, still it continues.

On this exceptionalism debate:  I have travelled enough around the world to understand that America is indeed exceptional - just not as conceived by formerly drug-addled presidents and maniacal vice-presidents - and their minions.  Most people everywhere respect and value America's contribution to peace and prosperity.  It's the bizarre, twisted chauvenism that disgusts them.

[Recently I was in Normandy and was taken back by the almost total lack of condescension from the French for most things American.  I had expected Gallic disdain - totalement!  However, I found that the French I encountered obviously understand and appreciate the enormity and enduring quality of America's sacrifice made so long ago in WW2.]

I guess in a strange, surprising way George W. Bush and Dick Cheney - to their credit - have apparently succeeded in poisoning the well of American public opinion for the neo-Conservative dream of life.  Most Americans now understand that it's not a dream, but a nightmare.  Indeed, the Syrian crisis might be the turning point for President Obama in his political drive to forge a new American agenda.

Hi, Margaret, did you happen to see this piece by George Friedman?  I suspect he comes at this from a different point of view than Juan Cole, but it makes for an interesting complement to Cole's analysis.  Here is an excerpt:

There were undoubtedly other matters discussed, including the future of Syria. The United States and Russia both want the al Assad regime in place to block the Sunnis. They both want the civil war to end, the Americans to reduce the pressure on themselves to aid the Sunnis, the Russians to reduce the chances of the al Assad regime collapsing. Allowing Syria to become another Lebanon (historically, they are one country) with multiple warlords -- or more precisely, acknowledging that this has already happened -- is the logical outcome of all of this.


The most important outcome globally is that the Russians sat with the Americans as equals for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the Russians sat as mentors, positioning themselves as appearing to instruct the immature Americans in crisis management. To that end, Putin's op-ed in The New York Times was brilliant.

This should not be seen merely as imagery: The image of the Russians forcing the Americans to back down resonates all along the Russian periphery. In the former Soviet satellites, the complete disarray in Europe on this and most other issues, the vacillation of the United States, and the symbolism of Kerry and Lavrov negotiating as equals will shape behavior for quite awhile.





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