January 5, 2014

HOW’S THAT “SMART DIPLOMACY” WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA? The Ten Biggest Diplomatic Winners of 2013. Here are the top 3:

1. President Vladimir Putin and Russia

The champagne corks were popping in the Kremlin after a banner 2013. With Edward Snowden ensconced in Moscow, Putin can celebrate Russia’s biggest embarrassment of the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union. But that’s only the beginning. Russia’s client Assad defied bloodcurdling White House threats of bombing raids and demands that “Assad must go” in Russia’s biggest geopolitical victory over the United States since Brezhnev was in power. As icing on the cake, a desperate, fumbling White House had to accept a Russian proposal to escape from the trap President Obama built for himself. Russian foreign policy makers hadn’t had this much fun since the Bay of Pigs. Finally, to complete the Kremlin’s annus mirabilus, a clueless European Union lost out to Russia in a battle to bring Ukraine into a trade association with the rich western bloc. What makes this string of impressive victories even more impressive is that President Putin is playing with a weak hand. His economy is in trouble, his army is rife with corruption, his population is in decline, and his coutry faces a growing Chinese superpower to the east and a growing threat from terrorists in the south. Underfunded, underequipped, and underrespected, Vladimir Putin danced rings around Barack Obama, John Kerry and Angela Merkel this year. Western stupidity is his chief strategic asset, and in 2013 at least, there was a lot of that going around.

2. Iran

Close behind Vladimir Putin as the biggest winner of 2013 comes the Islamic Republic of Iran. While western diplomats spun fantasies to themselves that the regime was ‘crippled’ by sanctions, the Iranians managed to extend their hold on the Fertile Crescent and by year’s end appeared to have trapped the United States into a negotiation that, from a US point of view, would at best leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state in exchange for tacit US recognition of Iran’s new dominant position in the Middle East. Spending billions of dollars to prop up its protégés in Damascus and Lebanon, Iran strengthened its presence in Iraq, and used the chaos of the Syrian war to give Hezbollah sophisticated new weapons that could change the military balance on Israel’s northern frontier. This would have been achievement enough for any revisionist power, but Iran took it one step further. At the same time that it’s actual policy became increasingly aggressive and assertive, Iran brilliantly deployed theatrical lighting to paint itself as an increasingly moderate and conciliatory state. It’s like taking the Sudetenland and getting the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year.

3. Bashar Assad and his Damascus Regime

The year’s third biggest winner was the man President Obama said must go and then threatened to bomb. Unbombed and unbowed, Bashar Assad has turned the tide of war in Syria and may yet end up with American support as Al Qaeda linked groups take over what is left of the forces opposing him. The victory wasn’t perfect; President Assad has had to let Iran’s Revolutionary Guard into what was once his closely held private preserve of a country, and it’s unclear just how much freedom of action he has. But 2013 could have been much, much worse for the world’s most famous chemical warrior; he’s saved his skin for yet another year and turned the President of the United States into a paper tiger.

Conspicuously missing from the winners’ list: The United States and Barack Obama.