Staunton, VA, December 12, 2016 – Tragically, Andrey Piontkovsky says, Washington does not yet understand that Vladimir Putin is not and will not “struggle against Islamic terrorism together with the West” but rather is “using all available resources and instruments,” including Islamic terrorism, to “conduct total hybrid war against the West.”
In a 2000-word analysis for Svoboda, Radio Liberty’s Russian Service on December 12, the Russian commentator argues that this failure to understand what Putin is about when it comes to dealing with terrorism is found not only among the leaders of the Obama Administration but with those who will head the incoming Trump one.
And Piontkovsky suggests that unless US leaders recognize how Putin is exploiting the Islamist threat not only to build his increasingly totalitarian regime at home but also to disorder and undermine the West, the consequences for the Russia people and the West will far more disastrous than anything either has seen so far.
A few days after he was elected US president, Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal that “’the Islamic State’ is the most dangerous enemy of the West,” that Putin is fighting it, and therefore that the US must stop focusing on minor differences with Moscow and “concentrate on a joint struggle against the common enemy.”
That view, which is widespread not only among Trump supporters but also among many in the Obama camp is the result of a “monstrous” combination of “lies of some and of naivete and stupidity of others,” the Russian analyst says.
“There is a mass of evidence about the strategic cooperation of the Kremlin and ‘the Islamic State,’ about the conscious dispatch by the FSB of Caucasus militants into its ranks, about the use by Moscow of terrorists as an instrument for weakening and destroying the West” and also about Putin’s use of terrorism to build his increasingly vicious state at home.
The Kremlin and its agents ever more boldly and baldly after each terrorist action makes the following argument: “lift sanctions and begin to cooperate with us or [such] actions will continue.” Indeed, “the Kremlin almost openly offers the West protection from further terrorist acts but of course on its own harsh conditions: ‘a new Yalta’ and at a minimum Moscow’s full control over the entire post-Soviet space.”
That has been obvious for some time, Piontkovsky points out, noting that he wrote about this already in August. But now it is important to ask just what tasks it could resolve by “’the unification’ of its forces with those of Putin’s Russia” by considering the situation on the ground and its own successes and failures in the past.
It is essential that the US recognize that “if terrorism is not defeated ideologically in the hearts and minds of the majority of Muslims, then the umma will immediately push forward out of its milieu new militants in still greater quantities” under new names perhaps but with the same goals of defending one branch of Islam against another.
There has been “only one case” where “a fundamental victory” over the Islamists occurred: in 2007-2008 when Al-Qaeda was driven from Iraq as a result of an alliance between the Americans and the Sunni tribes. What made that so impressive, Piontkovsky suggests, is that only a few months earlier Al-Qaeda had appeared to be an the height of its powers.
This case should but has not become the lesson for the West that it might have been and still should be, he argues. “Islamic radicalism or Islamo-fascism can be defeated but only within Islam itself by Muslims who reject the program of a return to the Middle Ages.”
“Jihadists can find a seedbed and recruits for their cause only if the Sunni community finds itself in despair because of attacks by Shiite radicals,” Piontkovsky says. That was true in Iraq and “the very same logic of events has been repeated in Syria where in the very same years arose a second wing of ‘the Islamic State.’”
In 2011, the Sunni majority there, together with supporters of democratic change, appeared to be on the way to displacing the Assad dictatorship which is based on the Shiites who form only ten percent of the population and which has remained in power only by the vicious use of force. Given its base, Piontkovsky suggests, Assad couldn’t hope to stay in power indefinitely.
But then the Kremlin went to work. Employing what he calls “the wily thesis” that support for the Sunni majority and the opposition to Assad would “bring to power the jihadists,” a claim that is exactly opposite to the truth, the Obama administration and the West more generally did not stand up to Asad and his Kremlin backers.
And that has produced exactly what those who believe in the Kremlin’s lies say they fear: the radicalization of opinion among the Sunnis. Under attack by Assad and Putin and betrayed by the West, they not surprisingly feel they now have nowhere to turn but to the radicals who at least promise self-defense.
“For more than a year, Moscow has consistently and physically destroyed in Syria the Sunni opposition which was oriented to the West on behalf of the sect of the ‘legitimate’ dictator Assad.” As a result, today there are only two players in Syria: “the Kremlin agent Assad” and the jihadists which are being used by Moscow as an instrument to pressure the hated West.”
Piontkovsky asks: “How can one explain the surprising servility of the Americans before the Kremlin forces in Syria?” The US has “shown its ability to adequately respond to Putin’s hybrid aggression in Ukraine and the Baltics, but in the Middle East, the US has turned out to be a victim and hostage of its mistakes” and moreover ready to make “new capitulations.”
Obama has put his faith in some kind of “Lavrov-Kerry pact,” refuses to acknowledge that he has made any mistakes in the Middle East, continues to blame all the problems in that region on former President George W. Bush, who left office almost eight years ago.
Unfortunately, however, this tendency is not confined to Obama. Since November 8, Donald Trump has “not once spoken the words ‘Aleppo’ or ‘Syria.’” And during his campaign, he frequently praised the actions in Syria “not only of Putin but of such a battler with terrorism as Assad.”
“Does Trump as before consider that ‘for victory over ‘the Islamic State’ we need the Russians?” Or, the Russian commentator asks rhetorically, “has someone explained to him that not only is this not the case but that such a mantra is “an exceptionally useful instrument for the Kremlin in its hybrid war with the West?”
As in Iraq, so too in Syria, what the US needs for victory over the jihadists are Sunnis “who rose against the hangman Assad and whom Obama promised to defend at least from a chemical attack by the ‘legitimate’ authorities. But both the one and the others were betrayed by the American administration.”
After he takes office next month, Trump “will be forced to end his silence,” but by then Aleppo and its residents are likely to have been destroyed by Assad and the Russians. If the incoming president remains true to his “pre-election conception of a joint struggle together with Putin and Asad against Islamic terrorism, he will be blessing the continued genocide of the Sunni population of Syria.”
“If something like that happens, this will be worse than a crime,” Piontkovsky says; “this will be a colossal political mistake.” It will lead to the metasticization of jihadism, the strengthening of Putin and dictatorships across the region he backs, and the weakening of the United States and the West.
Apparently, Washington officials do not understand what they are going, he continues. “But in Moscow, they understand exactly what they are doing.” Because the outcome of such a configuration of forces will work to the benefit of the Kremlin. Indeed, it will do so even if it leads to terrorist attacks in Russia itself.
As Putin has shown since coming to office, such attacks also work to his benefit, allowing him to tighten the screws on the Russian population and setting the stage for unending hostility to the outside world.
If the US is to be even “relatively successful in the fight with Islamic terrorism,” Piontkovsky concludes, two principles must guide its actions: First, the US must focus on protecting the Sunni majority in Syria and the Sunni minority in Iraq or it will see more jihadism emerge.
And second, he says, Washington must end all talk of “’a joint struggle together with Putin against terrorism’” because such a chimerical idea includes within itself exactly the opposite outcome that the Kremlin and its agents invariably suggest.