The eyes of the world are on Syria and rightfully so. The atrocities of the Assad regime are horrific. There’s no question that a friendly Syria, without Assad, would be great news for the free world. It would weaken Iran, allow Israel to be able to deal with Hezbollah, and most importantly would stop the slaughter of the Syrian people.
The minute Assad goes our top priority must be to secure Syria’s five major chemical weapons sites and the storage facility at Cerin, which handles the Syrian Biological Warfare Program.
How did Syria get to this point?
That's a good question and what should concern the international community is that the “usual suspects”-- Russia, China and North Korea -- have consistently supported the Assad regime and have helped foster the current situation.
The recent actions of Russia are by far the most troubling.
It’s not just Russia’s direct actions regarding Syria, but its broader actions internationally. Make no mistake, Vladimir Putin, the former KGB agent, is making his move now on multiple fronts:
Let’s look at the facts.
- In 2005, Russia forgave 75% of Syria’s debt for military purchases (about $9.8BN), in order to be able to sell new weapons to Syria.
- This year, military arms contracts between Russian and Syria are expected to reach $4.3 billion.
- Russia has a Naval Support base in Syria at Tartus which it has expanded since 2009 and the channel has been recently dredged to allow larger Russian ships to enter. The base can now support up to 10 guided-missile cruisers, submarines and aircraft carriers.
- In addition, presently there are 3 Russian naval ships off the Syrian coast, gathering intelligence for Moscow and the Assad Regime.
Now, let’s look at Putin’s recent actions outside of Syria.
Earlier this month, Putin announced at a military base in Southern Russia, that he would build a new strategic bomber capable of “global reach.”
In addition, he announced that Russia would spend $13 billion over the next 8 years on its new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Program, including strike and reconnaissance UAVs.
Two days later, Putin sent General Nikolai Makarov, the Commander of the Russian Armed Forces to Finland. In Helsinki, Makarov warned the Finns that possible NATO membership would be viewed as a direct military threat to Russia.
Makarov also chastised the Finns for cooperating too closely with NATO and cited military exercises in Northern Norway and the Baltic Sea.
NATO’s response to this threat -- a few days later, the Norwegian Parliament voted to end 60 years of fighter jets in the north of Norway at Bodo, near the Russian border and move them further South.
That was just the message Putin wanted to hear.
Bear in mind that there's one key difference between Russia today and the Soviet Union of the 1980s --resources. Putin is going all out to mobilize Russia's oil and natural gas reserves. R
emember the Russian submarine in 2007 planting a flag on the Arctic seabed to claim the Arctic and the North Pole for Russia? Earlier this year, Putin even cancelled an export tax to encourage oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.
America's response? President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline, which would have brought crude oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.
And that reminds me, oh yes, America has sent another message to Russia this year -- President Obama has promised that he will have "more flexibility" after the November election.
In the early 1960s, America had a president in John F. Kennedy who stared down Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In the early 1970s, the Soviets were no match for Richard Nixon who was always one step ahead and knew how to drive a wedge between the Russians and the Chinese.
In the 1980s, we were blessed with Ronald Reagan, a man with ice water in his veins when it came to the Soviets and an inner moral compass who understood the Soviet Union for what it was -- an evil empire. Reagan’s will and resolve set in motion a course of events that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Today, America and the free world are being challenged once again by “the bear in the woods” and Russia is being led by an ex-KGB agent with ambitions of reconstituting the power once held by the Soviet Union.
Michael Reagan, President Reagan’s eldest son, says that the “Cold War has moved from Eastern Europe to the Middle East.” He’s right, but the same old “usual suspects,” Russia and China, are once again playing the lead roles.
These are dangerous times and make no mistake, the stakes are just as high, if not more so, than when the Cold War was in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, today America lacks a clear and defined foreign policy -- a real plan -- and we continually send all the wrong signals to the bear in the woods.
What America and the free world need now more than ever is another Kennedy, Nixon or Reagan on the world stage who understands this international chess game and who has the intellect, vision and resolve to stand up to the bear and “out fox” the old KGB agent.
Where is that leader?
Oh, and one more thing, it's clear that Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan would have never offered “more flexibility” after the next presidential election.
Van D. Hipp, Jr. is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm specializing in government affairs, business development and public relations. He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army and currently serves on Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union. Follow him on Twitter @VanHipp.