It’s got to be a banner day for the modern-day Cowboys and Indians crowd of Republican blood lusters. Russia has accommodated their deepest desires in unexpectedly dropping bombs on targets in the Homs province, scene of the initial revolt against the Bashar al- Assad regime. Russia claimed to be bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets, though reports from the scene indicate the real targets were rebel strongholds. You’ll often hear the acronym ISIS identified as ISIL. That stands for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The Levant also encompasses Lebanon and Jordan. President Obama prefers to leave out the ‘S’ for Syria.
For the bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran (or fill in the blank) right-wing hawks, the prospect of the U.S. and Russia tangling over Syria could ignite their most fervent wish; a massive military confrontation in the Middle East. Dick Cheney, would stand to gain millions from his Halliburton holdings from such a clash.
And a U.S. and Russian encounter could become a reality. After all, the United States has been firing drones for quite some time into Russian pal, Syria’s land surface and has flown F-16 sorties, while leading bombing runs by selected coalition forces from some 65 countries. Allied forces were bombing at the same time as the Russians.
Senator John McCain, he of the “bomb Iran” 2008 presidential campaign parody, was predictably highly critical of the president during a brief address as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Here’s a sample of his attack on Obama as televised by CNN: “Everybody knows that when the president of the United States said we draw a red line on Syria and didn’t do it, it had a profound effect on the Middle East, including Sunni Arab states as well as Shia. Everybody knows that when the president turned down the recommendations of his secretary of defense, his secretary of state, which happened to be Secretary Clinton at the time—to arm the Free Syrian Army and he turned it down. It was another seminal moment.”
At age 79, the Arizona Republican has no intention of leaving the Senate anytime soon. He is already running for another term this time around.
McCain’s scathing criticisms drew a quick response from Secretary of State John Kerry speaking on CNN from the United Nation’s Security Council meeting. Kerry said he had called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and warned that Russia’s action could escalate the bloody conflict of four years standing while conceding that the actions are not exactly one-sided: “We have conducted a number of strikes against ISIL targets in Syria over the past 24 hours including just an hour ago. These strikes will continue.” Kerry said the U.S.-led coalition had conducted 3,000 airstrikes against ISIS and that efforts would dramatically increase.
For his part, President Obama insists that al-Assad must abandon his post. That is the primary U.S. goal in Syria. That appears to run counter to Russia’s military moves in support of al-Assad. So what we have here is a Russian, Syrian, Iranian, Iraqi, Shia sect members and a loose terrorist alliance headed by ISIS, potentially doing major battle against the U.S. and its 65-member coalition. There are really only a few reliable coalition members, however. France, Australia and Great Britain, plus Qatar, Jordan and three other Middle East allies are taking part in the bombings. France dropped its first bombs on ISIS in Syria, Sunday, the 27th. Other French bombings had been confined to Iraq.
Many coalition members may not be so anxious to take on the task, fearing reprisals, religious skirmishes and proximity to Syria.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the assembled press on the afternoon of the bombings that he hoped that the U.S. and Russia could convene military talks soon. Media sources quote Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook as telling reporters Tuesday that Carter had directed his staff to “open lines of communication with Russia on de-confliction.”
The purpose of discussions would be “to ensure the safety of coalition air crews,” he said. Secretary of State Kerry had expressed the same wish for talks nearly two weeks ago as Russian military aircraft began arriving in Syria. Carter warned that American and Coalition airstrikes would continue absent these talks and a continuance by the Russians of the bombing and troop buildups, though Vladimir Putin insists there will be no Russian “boots on the ground.”
So, we have eggshell diplomacy at the same time the prime participants, America and Russia, are pushing Syrian actions to the very brink of a major war.
Is that butch enough for ancient warrior McCain and most of the fist-clenching Republican presidential aspirants and virtually all Republican house and senate members?