SPEAKING FREELY Putin wins the war on terror
By Riccardo Dugulin
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the George W Bush administration vaguely defined the American response to the growing threat posed by international jihadi terrorism as the "war on terror".
This political concept was meant to outline a strategic posture which would set the US military and diplomatic might in an international fight against Islamist terrorist networks and states or groups sponsoring them. The overall motto of this war was found in a "with us or against us" understanding of international relations.
As President Barack Obama took power in 2008, the core
concepts of the war on terror were disregarded and priority was given to dialogue and humanitarian actions. While major terrorist attacks against the US have not occurred under the Obama administration, the president's lack of political resolve to combat Islamist terrorists worldwide was proven by his actions and policy decisions, which have emboldened radical networks waging war in Africa, Central Asia and the Near East.
Obama has effectively given up on the core tenets of the war declared by former president Bush against al-Qaeda related terrorist groups. Drone strikes and targeted killings are meant as reactive measures of containment and not as a pro-active policy aimed at the eradication of global jihadism.
In the light of current international developments, the opposite can be said about Vladimir Putin's Russia. While on one hand, the Russian president has been conducting arguably defendable deals with Iran, he has been able to successfully shape the war on terror discourse for the benefit of his country's internal security and Russia's overall international standing.
As a result of the crisis started by the use of chemical weapons in Syria in August 2013, Putin has highlighted the two tenets necessary to wage a successful campaign against international Islamist terrorism. A coherent and well-crafted political message easily transmitted by international media along with the use of appropriate military and diplomatic means are the key steps to effectively combat global jihadist networks.
Putin demonstrated during the Syrian crisis that he is in clear control of the way he wants the media to portray his country. By having a simple, even simplistic, approach to the current multi-faceted insurgency that is hampering the Syrian security environment, Putin has effectively raised the debate concerning the scope of jihadist actions in Syria.
By crafting its own rhetoric in regard to the conflict and escaping both human rights-lead considerations and extremist discourses, the country appears to be the only actor able to voice a clear policy based on national interest.
This comes in as a major differentiator in comparison to both the Bush era ambivalence in regard to the targeting of terrorist networks and the idealist yet imprecise Obama foreign policy. The fight against international terrorism is a complex and unapologetic process, in which states face the risk of easily falling into the trap of global reprimands.
The Bush administration lost its way when images of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib started to surface, as its rhetoric was based on the protection of human rights and American principles. The Obama administration never fully showed the belief required to combat international jihadism. The killing of Osama bin Laden and the multiple drone strikes appear to be ways the president tried to fight against its inability to fully grasp the strategic necessities to successfully combat the spread of radical Islam at home and abroad.
On the other hand, Putin has set up a clear policy which aims at combating jihadist wherever it is possible and necessary, with no concerns for other factors. The current civil war in Syria is considered by the Russian president a continuation of his fight in Chechnya and this is a message easily understandable by the majority of Russians and not disregarded by parts of the Arab world as well as by segments of European societies.
The second aspect of Putin's current success is found in its will to put the full diplomatic and military weight behind his decisions. It may be argued that both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars, focal points of the American war on terror, have not been successful as the US administrations did not invest the necessary manpower and political capital to conduct the task they brought upon themselves.
The same consideration may be said for Obama's posture on Syria. The US president believed he could deter Bashar Al-Assad by showing the minimum amount of force possible. Obama did not invest the diplomatic capital necessary for the world to understand the importance of his message nor did he invest the political capital necessary for the US to be ready to embark on another Middle Eastern intervention.
On purely military aspects, Obama has not been able to take a clear decision regarding US support of the Syrian rebels thus indirectly supporting jihadist elements. On the contrary, Putin has been more or less covertly supporting Assad's military since 2011, by investing troops, materiel and providing the Syrian government with key strategic elements enabling it to keep on the fight.
In addition, Putin never faltered to remind the Russian people why this fight wasn't theirs and that the sole role of Russia was to protect its interests and harm as much as possible international extremist networks. Since August 2013, Putin has marked a clear break with all former Russian policymaking by becoming a key pro-active figure in the international community while the US persisted in a semi-unilateral approach which could not benefit in their long term interests.
These two steps are necessary to maintain a domestic and international posture which guarantees the continued fight against international jihadism. For Russia, the war on terror is becoming a strategic element of its global positioning as it achieves two goals: it proves its diplomatic and military capabilities and it allows the Russian government to gain a certain level of international prestige by outplaying the United States in a fight they seemingly started but are unable or unwilling to finish.
After Grozny, Moscow and Beslan, Putin knows the risks posed by international jihadism and he is in the right direction to contain, if not defeat, radical elements which may harm his country.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Riccardo Dugulin holds a Master degree from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and is specialized in International Security. He is currently working in Paris for a Medical and Security Assistance Company. He has worked for a number of leading think tanks in Washington DC, Dubai and Beirut. His official website is www.riccardodugulin.com and official Facebook site is www.facebook.com/riccardodugulin .