What goes on inside Vadimir Putin´s head when he thinks about Syria?
The CIA, White House, and Pentagon, along with their counterparts around the world would give their eye teeth to figure him out.
We have identified two things:
(1) Hours ago, President Putin made a startling gambit:
"Vladimir Putin has suggested the Syrian government could be ready to work with rebel groups that are willing to fight against the so-called Islamic State.
Mr Putin said he had asked President Bashar al-Assad how he would view such a force during his surprise visit to Moscow on Tuesday.
´He answered: "Positively",´ Mr Putin told a conference with foreign dignitaries in southern Russia.
´We are contemplating this and will try to implement it,´ he added.
He called for Kurdish groups to join forces with the Syrian and Iraqi governments against IS.
However, opposition forces fighting on the ground in Syria have consistently demanded President Assad step down as a condition for negotiations on a political solution to the crisis.
Their viewpoint was reiterated by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, who said the Syrian president was the ´one thing´ standing in the way of uniting Syrians and helping them to choose their own future leadership."
We are contemplating this [new coalition] and will try to implement it. Putin thus inches toward the solution put forth in this blog: a Winston Churchill-inspired International Alliance Against ISIS.
If I were scoring Putin´s gambit in a chess match, I would give it a "!!" -- excellent move.
Rally around me. A center is defined and established by having objects and people move around it. By setting himself up as the mediator among Assad, the anti-Assad rebels, the United States -- indeed, among all anti-ISIS forces -- Putin once again outflanked and outwitted Washington.
We saw Putin´s core strategy before -- in the Snowden Affair (see out post of July 14, 2013, "Ed Snowden, Quid Pro Quo Vadis?"). We saw it again two years ago, when Putin garnered international support to stave off an imminent attack -- a week away -- by the U.S. and the West on Assad for using chemical weapons. The attack evaporated when Syria agreed to hand over its chemical weapons under a UN program proposed by Russia.
They say there are no absolute truths. However, it is absolutely true there is no mystery about what Putin is doing. We note for the benefit of the White House, State Department, NSA, CIA, FBI, and other non-chess players:
“Control the center when you play chess ... the person who controls the four squares at the center of the board will have the best game. There are simple reasons for this.
First, a piece in the center controls more of the board than one that is somewhere elsewhere. As an example, place one Knight on a center square and another in one of the corners of the board. The Knight in the center can move to eight different places, while the ´cornered´ one has only two possible moves!
Second, control of the center provides an avenue for your pieces to travel from one side of the board to the other. To move a piece across the board, you will often have to take it through the center. If your pieces can get to the other side faster than your opponent's pieces, you will often be able to mount a successful attack there before he can bring over enough pieces to defend."*
Control the center and relegate the United States to a fringe outlier position: that is what Putin is thinking. That is the spectacle being played out right now in Syria before the eyes of the world.
(2) The second thing inside Putin´s head surges to the fore whenever he ponders the American, "All-Is-Periphery" thinking about Syria -- indeed, about international relations in general.
Боже мой! My god. A.k.a. -- good grief!
UPDATE: October 28. Did the United States just wake up?
Hours ago, Iran announced that it has been invited to and will attend a summit meeting this week in Vienna. The United States, Russia, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will be among the participants. The purpose: find a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
The Syrian rebel opposition to al-Assad has expressed doubts about the invitation to Iran. Three days ago, that opposition rejected President Putin´s offer to join it in an alliance against ISIS.
It appears the United States did not actively oppose the invitation to Iran; the BBC claims that for America, toleration was the order of the day. Whatever happened, Washington is to be congratulated for its change in policy no matter how small.
Russia reiterated its policy of "widening of the dialogue" on Syria. In terms of building an IAAI, we hope for a constructive competition between Russia and America to get there first.
*Chesscentral.com. Is Putin´s control-the-center strategy working? BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus observed on October 28:
"Whatever the inconsistencies in Moscow's own policies, it has highlighted the deficiencies in Washington's approach - not least the collapse of its ailing ´train and equip´ programme for Syria, which was largely going nowhere.
Washington badly needs a new approach. US prestige in the region is at a low point.
Most of its allies are in one way or another negotiating with Moscow, and the clear message is that any new diplomatic path will run through the Russian capital rather than Washington [my emphasis]."
Coming soon. "Part III: Why the United States Will Not Win in Syria."