President Obama, whose popularity has fallen sharply in recent weeks, will be meeting with Russian President Putin on Monday and Tuesday this week at the G8 Summit in Ireland. The world leaders will discuss a wide range of issues, including a critical discussion of America’s consideration of a no-fly zone over Syria. American politicians are joining forces to pressure Obama into going beyond providing weapons to rebel groups and establish a no-fly zone.
Russia vehemently opposes foreign military intervention in this civil war in Syria. Russia adamantly insists that such a tactic would be contrary to international law. Russia, which has supported the Assad regime from the onset, used strong words: Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Monday that Russia, a member of the U.N. Security Council, will not permit no-fly zones to be imposed over Syria. “I think we fundamentally would not allow this scenario,” is the exact phrasing from Lukashevich.
Putin spoke of the accusation by many in the U.S. that Syria’s Assad has used forbidden nerve gas against the rebels. Washington referred to the suspicion last week as it decided to send weapons to the anti-Assad forces, saying it was moved to this action partly because Assad’s government had crossed Obama’s “red line” by using nerve gas. Outspoken on this issue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavroy questioned whether the standards of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have been met. He says that specimens of blood, urine, and clothing must be monitored from the time they are gathered until the point of laboratory examination. He also takes the position that it is unlikely that Assad would authorize the illegal weapons at this time, while Syria is experiencing a growing advantage. “The regime doesn’t have its back to the wall. What would be the sense of the regime using chemical weapons, moreover at such a small quantity?” he said.
Obama may yet consider the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told NBC’s Meet the Press that “We need to create a no fly zone. We cannot take air power out of the equation.” But on the same national news program, Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough made the point that “We’ve rushed to war in this region in the past; we’re not going to do it here.”
The media shapes the viewpoints of the American people. Thankfully, it for the most part tends toward an objective and pragmatic attitude. But recently, we have seen the rebels in Syria tacitly compared to the freedom fighters in the recent rebellion in Egypt. At an earlier time, we were told by our media that these rebels do not represent the Syrian people as a whole – that they are dedicated to one Islamic sect over another, and if they had the opportunity, would repress those Syrians with conflicting beliefs.
Putin, following a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, called for a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian conflict. He doesn’t believe the Assad regime uses nerve gas against the population. Putin calls the rebels cannibals and referred to a news story last month in which a rebel commander cut into the corpse of a dead administration soldier and appeared to bite into an internal organ. Putin said, “One does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras.”
Russia has veto power in the United Nations Security Council. Like the United States, and China, Russia would like to be perceived as the dominant power in the world. We recall the tensions and the nuclear buildups following World War II. America was wary of Soviet Communism and the tyrant Joseph Stalin. Russia had a plan, it was feared, to control the world, and viewed the U.S. as bellicose and interventionist. This antagonism on both sides continued until the world housed a devastating stockpile of hydrogen bombs.
If Russia forbids a no-fly zone over Syria, and the American Congress insists upon it, this could be the worst setback in U.S.-Russian relations in several decades.
Photos: Salon (com), USA Today