NEW YORK - America’s most vital national security concern is to maintain calm, productive relations with Russia.
The reason is obvious: Russia and the United States have thousands of nuclear warheads targeted on each other. Many are ready to launch in minutes. Compared to this threat, all of America’s other security issues are minor.
Avoiding confrontations with a major nuclear power is obvious. Yet the United States and Russia are ignoring such common sense in their increasingly heated war of words over Syria’s civil war.
The US and its allies have been actively trying to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria for over a year. They have been pouring arms, money, communications gear and fighters into Syria to take advantage of a popular Sunni uprising against the Alawite-dominated regime.
Washington’s intervention in Syria is driven by its obsession to undermine Iran by bringing down its most important Arab ally. Israel, which exerts enormous political pressure over US Mideast policy in an election year, sees destabilizing Syria as a triple win: a blow to its arch enemy Iran; a blow to Syria’s efforts to regain its strategic Golan Heights that Israel captured in 1967, then annexed; and wrecking the key backer of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinians.
Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose presidential ambitions are increasingly evident, accused Russia of selling MI-24 helicopter gunships to Syria. Russia angrily denied the charge and asserted that US anti-riot gear was being used against demonstrators across the Mideast.
Washington scourged Syria for attacking civilian targets. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The same week, the US-installed president of Afghanistan pleaded with Washington to stop its air strikes that are killing many civilians. Pakistan’s feeble government begged Washington to halt its drone attacks.
The angry Russians could have added that the US has been buying rocket-armed Russian-made MI-17 combat helicopters from them for use by Afghan government forces, and using helicopter and AC-130 gunships in Afghanistan. Or citing US sales of advanced Apache attack helicopters to Israel that were used to attack civilian targets in Gaza.
Syria has long been a close ally of Moscow. US attempts to overthrow the Assad regime were sure to infuriate and alarm Moscow, which sees US plots everywhere to undermine Russia. The Kremlin must find a way to answer the US challenge or lose face.
Meanwhile, another US-Russia fracas is brewing up in the Caucasus. Relations between the two great powers are still raw due to the 2008 mini-war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia. Washington helped overthrow the former Georgian government of Eduard Shevardnadze in the so-called “Rose Revolution,” replacing him with close US ally, Mikhail Shakashvilli.
The new Georgian leader quickly turned his small Caucasian nation into a base for US and Israel intelligence and military operations. In 2008, Shakashvilli foolishly picked a fight with Russia. US warships were moved into the Black Sea, setting of a war scare in the region before tempers cooled.
Now, the US is back playing the Great Game in the Caucasus while the Georgia feud still simmers. This time it’s in oil-rich Azerbaijan, which has become a key American and Israeli ally. The Baku regime just bought $1.6 billion worth of Israeli arms.
Azerbaijan and Armenia, a close Russian ally, have been warring for a decade over disputed Nagorno-Karabakh. This obscure conflict is heating up again as Russia and the US back opposite sides.
CIA has been busy for some time trying to stir up Azeri separatists in northern Iran. The US and Israel might use Azerbaijan as a base to attack Iran.
As if Russo-American relations were not bad enough, US Republicans demand President Barack Obama “get tough” with Moscow. Threats fly back and forth over the planned US missile defense shield in Eastern Europe that enrages the Kremlin.
Provoking or antagonizing Russia over areas that are of no vital US strategic interest is dangerous and childish. Moscow and Washington should be seeking peaceful resolutions in Syria and the Caucasus, not playing silly Cold War games.
Hopefully, Presidents Obama and Vladimir Putin will sit down and talk some grown-up sense when they meet at a summit this week in Mexico.