The Associated Press reports: “The Obama administration said Tuesday that Russia is sending attack helicopters to Syrian President Bashar [al-]Assad’s regime and is warning about a dramatic escalation in the Arab country’s 15-month conflict. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the delivery represents the ‘latest information.’ She said the U.S. is concerned as the helicopters ‘will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.’” Understand that just days ago the administration was banking on getting Russia’s help to oust Assad. That is how totally out to lunch the Obama foreign policy team is when it comes to Syria and to its “reset” relations with Russia.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:
This is a replay of Moscow’s providing weapons and assistance to Iran, which have enabled Tehran to repress the Iranian people and threaten its neighbors.
Russia has long shielded the Iranian regime from pressure by the U.S. and other countries aimed at forcing Iran to stop its nuclear program. The fact that Russia is being allowed to host the latest round of meetings between the P5+1 countries and Iran means that it will be well-positioned to continue to curry favor with Tehran.
In light of Russia’s policy in Syria, the Obama Administration’s string of concessions to Moscow must stop, including the latest effort to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment to give Russia preferential trade benefits. We must not give a U.S. blessing to Russia’s policies in Iran and Syria or we will simply invite Moscow to redouble its efforts to undermine U.S. interests around the world.”
(The administration is losing support from Senate Democrats on a human rights bill that the Obama team has opposed. The Cable reports: “The bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) was introduced in the Senate Tuesday and the head of the Senate Finance Committee promised he will combine it with a bill to sanction Russian human rights violators. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who is the main sponsor of the PNTR bill and who will shepherd the legislation through his Finance Committee and then on the floor, has agreed to link it to the Magnitsky bill and pledged to pass them both this year.”)
As for the Syria news, Richard Grenell, the foreign policy spokesman who left the Romney team (and is now zapping the Obama campaign regularly on Twitter) agreed this is a huge embarrassment for the Obama “reset” strategy. “It’s clear the naivete of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to ‘reset’ the Russian-U.S. relationship has not only failed but emboldened Russia to openly challenge the U.S. and at little cost,” he told me.
More of the president’s critics unloaded today. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton (for whom Grenell once worked) told me, “Only the Obama administration could be surprised by this development. After President Obama makes profoundly erroneous concessions to Moscow on U.S. missile defense and nuclear weapons, among other issues, this is what he gets in return.”
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mailed me: “We’ve long known that Russia has been providing weaponry and other assistance to the Syrians. Why else would they maintain their base in the port of Tartus in southern Syria? And why else would they [have] hundreds of advisors there right now, working feverishly to refurbish the base?” He pointed out the difference between the Obama approach and the Russians’. He said, “The Russians are, to use a poker term, ‘all in’ with Syria. The provision of helicopters, while brash, should not come as a surprise. It’s just an extension of their investment in this rogue regime.” The Obama team’s reaction amounts to a lot of foot-stomping. Schanzer summed up: “Our leaders consider to declare that Assad ‘must’ stop killing his own people. The Russians ‘must’ stop protecting Assad. None of this amounts to anything, so far. Nor will it, so long as the White House continues to make it clear that it is content to sit on the sidelines of this bloody internecine conflict.”
At this rate the failure of the U.S. to respond will amount to a huge strategic victory for Iran and Russia. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obama team is adrift, if not foolish.