America Fans the Flames While Europe Puts Out the Fire

A pattern is emerging across current events from Syria to Iran to Ukraine. The pattern has two parts. In the first, America is increasingly in conflict with her natural allies. America, contrary to its mythical image as the cops of the world, fans the flames of conflict and finds itself in conflict with the Europeans who are running from flame to flame trying to put them out. Just as unnatural and surprising is that, in the second part, the President of the United States sides with Europe and finds himself in conflict with a US government – either the congress or the State Department – over which he has lost control.

The pattern began in Syria. America wanted regime change and, as in Iraq, clothed it in a push to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. So chemical weapons became the red line in Syria. But it was never really about chemical weapons.

The chemical weapons were never the red line that, if crossed, would lead to US intervention and regime change in Syria. Regime change was the goal long before the chemical weapons. On July 30, 2006, the Jerusalem Post reported that, during the Israeli-Lebanese war, “Defense officials told the Post . . . that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria”. As early as May 23, Robert Parry says, Bush “urged Israel to attack Syria”. Stephen Zunes says that the American push to extend the war beyond Lebanon into Syria was no secret. “In support of the Israeli offensive, the office of the White House Press Secretary released a list of talking points that included reference to a Los Angeles Times op-ed . . . . The article . . . urges an Israeli attack against Syria”: “Israel needs to hit the Assad regime. Hard,” the op-ed argues.

In August 2011, two years before the chemical weapons strikes, Obama had publicly declared that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside” as the only solution to the Syrian crisis.

The goal, then, has always been regime change in Syria, not the elimination of its stockpile of chemical weapons. The chemical weapons were supposed to provide the excuse for the regime change. Perhaps that’s why the US tried to prevent the U.N. from inspecting the site of the Syrian chemical weapon strike, as investigative historian Gareth Porter has shown. And perhaps that’s why Secretary of State John Kerry rejected Syria’s granting of unlimited access to sites said to have been hit by chemical weapons as “too late to be credible,” even though the Syrians agreed to the UN request for unlimited access the very day after they received it. A State Department spokesperson has confirmed that Kerry then intervened and pressured UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to call off the UN investigation.

Kerry’s efforts were, ultimately, unsuccessful. But the State Department seems not to have wanted to locate and remove the weapons because the voluntary surrender of the weapons would remove, not only the weapons, but the excuse for regime change.

So, America fanned the flames in Syria and tried to ignite a regime change. They continued to fan the flames by blaming the Assad government for the sarin gas attacks long after it was clear that it wasn’t clear that the Assad regime was responsible for the sarin gas attacks. America asserted that the red line had been crossed when the red line hadn’t even been drawn. US intervention was on the horizon.

It took the Russians to douse the flames and forestall another American Middle East war. In accordance with a plan worked out by Russia, and finalized by the US and Russia, Assad signed the international convention against chemical weapons, placed Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and swore off the future development of chemical weapons. And the Syrians came through.

Putin had saved Obama from his own hardliners. But the hardliners, especially those in the State Department, would not soon forgive that cooperation. And they would drive a wedge into it and put an end to Obama’s warming toward Russia.

That wedge was Ukraine. The State Department fanned the flame in Ukraine by kindling a coup.

The wedge took the shape of forcing Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych to choose between the economic packages offered by Russia and the European Union. The Russians didn’t force a choice. Putin had offered Yanukovych the option of accepting a collaboration between the E.U., the US, and Russia. But, according to Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, "it was the European Union, backed by Washington, that said in November to the democratically elected President of a profoundly divided country, Ukraine, ‘You must choose between Europe and Russia’."

Having said that Yanukovych must choose one or the other, the West then made it impossible for him to choose the West. Robert Parry reported that the E.U. was "demanding substantial economic ‘reforms,’ including an austerity plan dictated by the International Monetary Fund." Russia, however, offered $15 billion in loans without such demands.

In addition to the austerity measures, Cohen adds the little reported addendum that the E.U. proposal also "included ‘security policy’ provisions . . . that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO." The provisions compelled Ukraine to "adhere to Europe’s ‘military and security’ policies."

In effect, the West forced Yanukovych to choose Russia, thus setting the stage for the violent protests in the street. Then the State Department help coax the protest into a coup. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland was caught plotting the outcome of the coup, telling the American ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, who the Americans wanted to become the new leader of Ukraine. Even more blatantly, Pyatt also refers to the West needing to "midwife this thing," a metaphorical admission of America’s role in the coup. At one point, Nuland even seems to say that Vice President Joe Biden, himself, would be willing to do the midwifery.

The U.S. continues to fan the flames as Ukraine burns, Obama watches helplessly and Europe becomes more and more alarmed at the heat. Obama has assured the Europeans that he will resist congressional pressure to send advanced weapons to the coup regime in Kiev, but hardliners in congress continue to pressure. And so does the State Department. Kerry recently declared his support for sending lethal aid to the Ukraine military.

But recent US pressure has come not just from the threat of arms but from exaggerating the threat that justifies supplying the arms. The German paper Der Spiegel has said, in a stunning report, that the Europeans have become alarmed by the hyperbolic claims being made about Russian intervention on behalf of the Eastern Ukrainians by the top NATO commander in Europe, American General Philip Breedlove.

According to Der Spiegel, "The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. . . . The German government is alarmed."

Breedlove has talked of "50 tanks and dozens of rockets" crossing the border when German intelligence satellite imagery shows only "a few armored vehicles". When Breedlove claimed the Russians had "40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border," the intelligence from NATO member states showed "much less than 30,000 and perhaps even fewer than 20,000. Furthermore, most of the military equipment had not been brought to the border for a possible invasion, but had already been there prior to the beginning of the conflict."

As in Syria, it has been left to others to discharge the fire extinguishers while America continues to add accelerants to the flame. The German government, along with other allies in NATO, are trying to dampen Breedlove’s rhetoric.

But, most importantly, in February, in talks that deliberately excluded the United States, Europe, under the leadership of Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande, took the lead and negotiated a cease fire in Ukraine. Though America was sidelined, Merkel emphasized that Putin had been instrumental in pressing the eastern Ukrainians to accept the deal.

Though Breedlove continues to claim that Russia is violating the cease fire and that "What is clear is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day," the German government and intelligence service (BND) disagree and report being stunned by the American general’s report. On March 9, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier confirmed that "the fighting in eastern Ukraine had significantly reduced since [the] European-brokered ceasefire agreement was signed last month". And now even Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine, confirms that the eastern Ukrainian fighters have honored the terms of the cease fire and removed a significant amount of their heavy weaponry.

Victoria Nuland and the State Department also continue to fan the flames. Nuland recently said in her Senate testimony that "This is a manufactured crisis – controlled by the Kremlin; fueled by Russian tanks and heavy weapons".

So as Obama tries to side with Merkel and Hollande’s diplomatic approach and hold out against hardliners in his own State Department, America continues to fan the flames of war as Europe frantically tries to extinguish the flames.

This same pattern is evident in Iran.

While congress acts like America is the sole negotiator with Iran over Iran’s (civilian) nuclear program, five of the six P5 + 1 interlocutors are from Europe and Asia: Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. And while Obama works desperately with those powers to come to an agreement with Iran, Congress continues to oppose the President and threaten increased sanctions that would not only violate the interim agreement – that Iran has honored to the letter – but murder any chance at a final agreement. And it is not only the well-known Republican sponsored sanction and veto bills that threaten the President’s diplomatic efforts, several members of Obama’s own party are on board with both efforts as well.

But at least that’s legal. When 47 senators signed a letter to Iranian leaders attempting to undermine the President’s negotiations and foreign policy, they bordered on the treasonous.

Once again, the Europeans felt the need to attempt to put out irresponsible American fires. As congress grew louder and louder in its calls to ramp up sanctions against Iran even while progress was being made in the P5 + 1 talks, a group of European foreign ministers put pen to the pages of the Washington Post to try to influence the American arsonists.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini wrote an opinion in the Washington Post reminding congressman that "Introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture."

And in another recent sign that Obama is on board with the Europeans and at war with his own government is the recent removal of Iran and Hezbollah in the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment presented to the Senate by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

This dramatic change seems to reflect a warming in the negotiations with Iran and a continued cooling with the State Department who maintains Iran on its List of State Sponsors of Terrorism and Hezbollah on its List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This move also shows the division between Obama and Israel on the Iran issue: a division that is not shared by the vast majority of congress who invited the Prime Minister of Israel to offer the case for undermining the efforts of Obama and the European and Asian countries of the P5 + 1 and for increasing sanctions on Iran.

So in Iran, as in Ukraine and Syria, America fans the fires of war, and it is left to a Europe increasingly distrustful of America, to put out the fires. And in Iran, once again, the President of the United States seems to be hoping for European aid against his American enemies.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.