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Herbert London: Kerry And Putin Talk

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin met recently in what they euphemistically described as a kumbaya moment. Presumably there was a pledge to work together to resolve crises in Syria and the Ukraine, Secretary Kerry said neither side was seeking a “major breakthrough,” but instead they seek to keep “communications open,” this is “diplospeak” for resolution isn’t in the cards.

Before meeting with Kerry, Putin called for a continued buildup of Russian forces. He also contends that Russia should “retool its military industry to replace foreign suppliers…” If there was concession on Putin’s part, it is “continued talks.” Of course, there was consensus on one issue: unity on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Kerry was expected to express opposition to the advanced S-300 air defense system the Russians sold to Iran, but didn’t. Since the sale was completed any objection would be meaningless at this point, albeit this gesture might have assuaged the Israeli government. What Kerry did discuss was the role of the Soviet Union in defeating Nazi Germany seventy years after the war’s end.

Yet this make-nice meeting is disconcerting. The U.S. negotiates from a positon of weakness. It is obvious that the administration is reluctant to arm the Ukrainians or buttress NATO capabilities. Putin knows there isn’t any real opposition to his aggressiveness.  Most European states are in an appeasement paralysis. They want Russian natural gas and investment and are quite willing to avert their gaze over Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Syria is yet another case where the U.S. voluntarily surrendered its leverage. Despite a claim by President Obama that President Assad crossed the “red line” when incontrovertible evidence was released that he used poison gas, the administration asked Putin to manage the problem. Manage it, he has. The Russians converted Syria into a vassal state supplying arms to Assad and supporting his position in the Security Council. Moreover, without the slightest objection from the United States, the Syrian government continues to use sarin gas against its enemies.

If there is a U.S. position vis-à-vis Russia, it is acquiescence.  There is the hope Putin will act responsibly. The idea that Putin is like Russian leaders over the last 300 years with imperial ambition and a sense of Russian empire, hasn’t entered the mind-set of the Obama foreign policy team.

As a consequence, the U.S. is a proverbial weather vane blowing in the winds of history. It is now a casualty of foreign forces whether they are Iranian, Chinese or Russian. As Churchill noted “jaw jaw is better than war war,” but there is a time to recognize the futility of empty talk. When U.S. interests are in jeopardy, when allies can no longer trust the word of our leaders, when the world convulses over the prospect of nuclear proliferation, the talk is not only silly, but dangerous.

Kerry is puppet to Putin’s ventriloquism. It is Putin who pulls the strings. And from this relationship only chaos can emerge. On December 1, 1862 Abraham Lincoln addressing Congress said, “Fellow Citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor to the latest generation.” I ask, as Lincoln did, will this administration be recalled in honor or dishonor? Will the stage of history be enlightened by our action or will it darken as Act Three comes to a close?

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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