Crisis in Syria

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at NYU and Princeton and contributing editor to the Nation and author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War and Paul Danahar, BBC's North America bureau chief and former Middle East bureau chief from 2010-2013, and author of the forthcoming book The New Middle East:The World After the Arab Spring discuss the crisis in Syria, potential international intervention, and the dynamics in the region.



Stephen F. Cohen and Paul Danahar

Comments [30]

Mr. Bad from NYC

READY TO GET EDUCATED 'MURICA? (I will repost this as necessary)

"In 2009 - the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria - Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter's North field, contiguous with Iran's South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets - albeit crucially bypassing Russia. Assad's rationale was "to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe's top supplier of natural gas."

Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 - just as Syria's civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo - and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines."


THEN THIS, two weeks later:


Sep. 12 2013 06:06 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ larry from bayside

"Fantasy"? The "fantasy" or rather "fiction" is that Assad knowingly and willfully walked over Obama's "Red Line" for intervention at the precise moment ole' Bandar Bush's (Saudis) repeated attempts to bribe the Russians failed finally and completely. Why doncha' go volunteer for the SNA since you're so hell fired up to git Assad with 'murican bombs? They love 'muricans like you just don't crack a joke about Mohammed or draw a picture of him or break any sharia laws or basically be an American in any way whatsoever because they WILL chop your frigging' head off and put it on you tube after somebody chews on your hear for awhile. You child. You company man.

Sep. 12 2013 05:49 PM

@jgarbuz from Queens

"The US president has veto power over bills passed by Congress. So what's wrong with the 5 permanent members of the Security Council having veto power over General Assembly resolutions? The veto power is part of checks and balances."

Congress can OVERRIDE a presidential veto with a 2/3 majority. What level of supermajority is needed to override a Security Council veto? That's the problem. They need to amend the UN charter.

Sep. 12 2013 04:33 PM

@Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

"Rather interesting that Cohen revealed that Putin doesn't like Obama and considers him "weak"."

That's great. So you (and BMN commentators) can pat yourself on the backs for agreeing with Putin on Obama's character. Sheesh!

As Mara Liasson put it today, "It's better to stumble into peace than to charge into a war."

Day 21 with no chem attacks in Syria and no US missiles launched. Could Bush have matched that?

Sep. 12 2013 04:28 PM
larry from bayside

Mr. Cohen does seem to be a putin apologist. It is very hard to take putin's plege to help remove the chemical weapons seriously while he continues to foster this fantasy that the insurgents managed to obtain missles with chemical warheads and attacked themselves.

This looks like a perfect play to stop US intervention, unfortunately given our present situation, we will have to invest in the possibility t that this might we possibile with UN involvement.

Sep. 12 2013 04:10 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Jon from NJ

Compelling stuff, "8th grade debate" and the rest. Blew me out of the water. What is AIPAC paying you nowadays? I'm thinking I might switch sides and go full on JIDF. They must be getting really nervous now that they can't even buy a simple congressional war vote ... what's the world coming to !?! Think they'd pay double rates for Mr.Bad?

So many of these posts are utterly pointless and without merit. Is Putin an evil man? Yes! Is Obama? Probably! Assad? Definitely! But in order to reach a level where you have real power in government you have to have both the will and clout to do things that are patentll immoral, sometimes grossly so. Don't pretend like any western leader wouldn't act just as viciously were they facing an internal revolt fomented and propped up by outside forces.

Have we agreed to ICC jurisdiction? NO. There are no American war criminals according to the USA and our military might and economic power guarantee that it is true. Is that moral?

Our entire MAD world security arrangement is built on the real possibility of NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON. Is that moral? Political decisions are not amenable to simple, personal moral calculations. Putin is in the right on this one. Next time he may not be. Only lemmings follow their leaders off a cliff.

Sep. 12 2013 02:49 PM
Jon from NJ

Mr Bad or Assad or whoever you are. Your arguments would not pass an 8th grade debate society. Go live in Russia then. Hear they treat dissidents kindly. Pack some heavy work gloves.

Sep. 12 2013 02:29 PM

I neglected to add that As'ad AbuKhalil also stated unequivocally that the Assad regime is no better. Khalil said that /neither/ side of those fighting in the conflict represent /the Syrian people/. And that any progressives or leftists in Syria who are not in jail, are holed-up in their homes without a voice.

Sep. 12 2013 11:07 AM

Must agree with Girondist; poor Putin is so unfairly demonized! Squeezing Moldova and Georgia, seizing territories in which they were supposed to be "peacemakers"? Talk about rewriting history! Cohen rewrites the present.

It's true Putin dislikes Obama -- it's unclear how much disdain he would feel if Obama were white. But whether Putin stands to lose face for the offer (which wouldn't be the case if he had actually been making this offer for years, as Cohen suggested), if the offer did not hold immense benefit to Putin, (not even Cohen depicts him as a self-sacrificing altruist), he would never have proposed it.

On the other hand, it is not inconceivable that the Syrian rebels (or some faction among them - they are not a united group) could use chemical weapons to point the finger at Assad - such things happen (as Russia knows well); nor is it inconceivable that Assad used them hoping to point the finger at the rebels. But it is also disingenuous for Russia to pretend there could be no benefit to Assad of having an excuse to retaliate against the US or its allies in the region.

Sep. 12 2013 11:04 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Taher from Croton on Hudson

Come on dude, give it a rest. Al Nusra was reported in a Turkish newspaper to have caught trying to sneak a 2KG sarin cannister over the border in June of this year. If the agent is stable (manufactured by a government) it is not affected by environmental variables unless they are extreme.

Sarin itself evaporates rapidly in the open air and small doses are not lethal. It is the perfect agent for a low tech delivery system like a rocket. And the rocket delivery is the most suspicious thing of all because it was apparently an artisan (gaza style) rocket, nothing from Assad's military tech like an artillery shell that you would need a heavy complex piece of artillery to move into enemy territory and fire.

The pictures I've seen of the suspected rockets show them to be the exact sort of handmade junk palestinians have been lobbing into israel for years and mounting on technicals (via rail launchers).

Oh, and nobody supports Assad, or Al Bashir, or Putin we just don't want to fight with terrorists in Syria's Saudi/Qatarti funded civil war for the right to sell nat gas to europe.

Sep. 12 2013 11:03 AM

I heard an excerpt of Putin's Op-Ed read on the BBC this morning. Sounded quite reasonable.
As'ad AbuKhalil ( ) is one of a number of people who say that the Syrian opposition is entirely fraudulent: Predominately Saudi and other shills, in addition to various Jihadists. And that there are simply /no/ "progressives" or leftists among the so-called Syrian rebels.
Nation Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel: Incredible how utterly predictable her lame, forced apologetics for Obama have been -- every time I've heard her on WNYC.

At the beginning of the week, I heard the aforementioned As'ad AbuKhalil on a Pacifica show say of The Nation: Once a truly progressive publication, has now become indistinguishable from the New York Times.

At least The Nation has Jeremy Scahill, who speaks truth-to-power and, to his credit, defied his boss and refused to sign-on to her endorsement of Obama.
I tuned in no later than 10:04 and the segment was already in progress. Isn't that early?
"Vladimir the Gay Basher."- Martin Chuzzlewit

"a Russian Dictator bashing gays"- Mr. Bad

Actually, it is /homosexuals/ (and those who are gender-confused) who are , by far, the greatest victims of the tyrannical, lubricious and insidious lobby that claim to be their greatest benefactors. The two are being completely conflated, yet again.

(This is acknowledged and appreciated by men as emphatically /pro-homoerotic/ as Bill Weintraub ( * ) and Rob McGee ( )

*Graphic content.

As long as "Gay" and "LGBTQ" is inseparable from such things as the whitewashing, glamorization and promotion of a gruesome, inordinately disease-spreading act and the quackery of "transgender" (mutilation, desecration and contamination cannot change an immutable, biological reality such as the sex one was born), then Russia can only be /lauded/ for being one of the last to valiantly refuse to capitulate to such depravity.

Sep. 12 2013 10:58 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Girondistnyc, Kudos.

Sep. 12 2013 10:54 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Mr. Bad from NYC, So since there are some radical Islamist groups in the Syrian civil war the US should support a vicious, monstrous Stalinist, gangster style dictatorship of the Assad family?
You are really a funny person a comedian in fact. Chemical gas, sarin, and mustard gas is not like carrying a tank of propane around to use for barbecuing your stakes on a Sunday afternoon.
You need lots of technical capacity to control the gas’s volatility, heat, cold and so on. So now the rag tag Syrian opposition has that technical capability according to you and Putin?

Sep. 12 2013 10:46 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Rather interesting that Cohen revealed that Putin doesn't like Obama and considers him "weak".

It's what some of us have said for quite awhile. Read the international press and the world opinion of Obama's leadership in office is anything but flattering. They obviously don't watch MSNBC or the blubbering American media.

Sep. 12 2013 10:41 AM

Stephen Cohen has spent his career grandly proclaiming the Russians are misunderstood and American policy towards it is mistaken, from the Soviets through the Yeltsin debacle to the current reign of the siloviki.

In the 80s he did some wonderful work proving that post-Stalinist Soviet society had stabilized and would have no trouble righting itself under Gorbachev as long as the mean old Reagan left them alone.

Now he shills for Putin's worldview. Hilarious that he presents this diplomatic maneuver as somehow a bold gamble in defiance of public opinion. Does he really think Putin was worried that his Syria stance would throw the Moscow election to Navalny?

The revisionist who moves seamlessly from qualified defenses of collectivization and Brezhnev era social control to qualified defense of the Chechen wars and Russia Today's editorial line is a recognizable intellectual type, just as its opposite, the unrepentant cold warrior for whom the merest Russian gesture recalls the 3rd shock army striking through Fulda, is.

A better guest could surely be found.

Sep. 12 2013 10:39 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

I wouldn't put it past "the rebels" with using poison gas on civilians.

A few weeks ago we read that the Assad family dictatorship had the upper hand over "the rebels", who consist of jihadis/al qada/salafists/wahabbists from all over the Islamist Middle East.

What better way for "the rebels" to gain the support of the world by blaming Assad for a poison gas attack on civilians?

The world has seen actual cannibalism amongst "the rebels", who cut out the heart of a Syrian soldier and eat it.

A Pox on both their houses.

Sep. 12 2013 10:33 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Jon from NJ

Why is it "ludicrous" to think the Al Nusra terrorist/cannibals we are allied with in Syria (part of the SNA)would not launch an attack on civillians? Even the "youtube" evidence shows the victims were primarily civillians, in fact, they were entirely civillian. The reason is obvious (to spark the US into military action) and the moral misgivings of a terroristic group like Al Nusra nonexistent. So ludicrous.... I think it't the opposite. It's almost certain some Syrian rebel group did launch the attack on a civillian population.

We may have a somewhat more polite society and less political corruption than Russia but we more then make up for that with our international war crimes and invasions of soverign nations for fictional "reasons". Our principled "exceptionalism" is just a thin, fraying veneer of prosperity, when that goes we'll be lucky to have the sort of society Russia has now.

Sep. 12 2013 10:30 AM

SO FAR...the threat of a strike has ended further gas attacks and made the Syrian gov't begin a chem stockpile handover to Russia. Pretty good without firing a shot, I'd say.

If Bush had only been willing to TAKE THE BACKCHANNEL DEAL, we'd have 5,000 more US sons, daughters, mothers and fathers walking around, about a quarter million more Iraqis and three trillion dollars less national debt.

(but share prices for Halliburton and other defense co.'s would not be as high.)

Sep. 12 2013 10:29 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To David

The US president has veto power over bills passed by Congress.So what's wrong with the 5 permanent members of the Security Council having veto power over General Assembly resolutions? The veto power is part of checks and balances.

Sep. 12 2013 10:29 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Mr. Cohen takes the view that, like many on the American “left’ that the Russian state is some sort of democratic nation with concern about the welfare of it’s citizens or any other people on the planet.
On the contrary the caller was right in, Chechnya the Russian forces committed crimes against humanity and are continuing to do so.
These crack pot “leftist” are really apologist for all manner of crimes by the Russian State.

Sep. 12 2013 10:28 AM
James R.

So one of Paul Danahar's arguments for bombing Syria is that _Israel_ won't take Obama seriously if the US doesn't bomb?! What better case could we see that the BBC has made itself an arm of Likud propaganda?

Sep. 12 2013 10:25 AM

Isn't it time to lose the veto power in the UN? 193 member countries, 5 of which can veto any resolution?

Sep. 12 2013 10:22 AM
Judith from Brooklyn

Apologies to Mr. Danaher - I was referring to Mr. Cohen's comments.

Sep. 12 2013 10:20 AM
Jon from NJ

2 things - any high ground Prof Cohen is trying to carve out for his Statesman of the year Putin is undermined by Putin's own words in the Op-Ed. The idea that the opposition launched the weapons against themselves is ludicrious on its face.
Putin has used extreme force internally to silence all critics domestically. We are exceptional and Russia is led by a thug regime

Sep. 12 2013 10:20 AM
Judith from Brooklyn

What side is Mr. Danahar on? BOTH sides do not need to compromise here. The Syrian government was wrong to use chemical weapons on its people - full stop. The U.S. should not be "trading" away anything-including the right to use force-to get the Syrians to do what any civilized society must do.

Sep. 12 2013 10:19 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

Stephen Cohen makes sense. I don't know if he's absolutely right but he makes sense to me.

Sep. 12 2013 10:15 AM
Barry in Brooklyn from Brooklyn

Please ask Cohen how Obama can influence Putin to liberalize Russia.

Sep. 12 2013 10:10 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Whattsamatta you big crybaby, did AIPAC's whiff on this one knock you over? Yeah, the Russian's owned us completely, I can see the Red Army marching down Broadway right now! What's more embarassing a Russian Dictator bashing gays or a Russian dictator lecturing us on the need to respect international law and norms (and being 110% right). It's a tough call.

Comrade Mr. Bad over and out.

Sep. 12 2013 10:07 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

By the way, NYU’s Stephen Cohen (Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s husband) has always been a Putin apologist. He will (and has) say anything to maintain his academic access to Russia. Everyone in Russian Studies knows his schtick.

No doubt he will promote the innocent idea that the Mideast will be a more stable place if we share the diplomatic leadership with Vladimir the Gay Basher.


Sep. 12 2013 09:59 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

PUTIN TAKES CENTER STAGE – New York Times, 9-12-13

“Yet suddenly Mr. Putin has eclipsed Mr. Obama as the world leader driving the agenda … and reasserted Russian interests in a region where it had been marginalized since the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

It took us decades to get the Russians (Soviets once again) out of the Middle East … and just two days for Obama to let them back in and hand them the keys.

I didn't say it, the New York Obama Times did.

Sep. 12 2013 09:45 AM

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