The Caravan

On the Syria Crisis

Thursday, September 12, 2013
Syrian Refugees
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Dona_Bozzi, Shutterstock

Edward Snowden, now in Moscow as special assistant to President Putin, has given us a highly classified telegram, drafted by Russia’s chief diplomat for the Middle East Georgi Kennankov to President Putin, “eyes only.” The telegram was sent from the Russian embassy in Tehran, Iran.

It is a long telegram; I can only read to you the main points.


BEGIN TEXT: The situation is unprecedentedly excellent. Let us review it.

President Obama four and a half years ago launched his major plan to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” To achieve this, he would have to take the US out of its leadership role in international security, a role it has carried out for nearly a hundred years.

He has succeeded in doing so to a remarkable degree making him potentially the most consequential president in American history.

Of course we are delighted with this American abdication of its leadership.

At this moment the situation is exceptionally favorable to us. When chemical weapons – nerve gas – was used in Syria to devastating, horrifying effect, it violated a fundamental principle of the international state system, a system which had relied upon American resolve. It also crossed a “red line” that President Obama himself had set, probably inadvertently.

So Obama declared that the US would take military action. But the success of his own strategy for transforming America meant that the country was unprepared psychologically, morally, politically, and militarily for such a military operation.

This led Obama to explain, for several days, what he was not going to do. (We found this amusing, because the first rule of strategy is “never tell your opponent what you are not going to do”). All the while, Secretary of State Kerry was delivering powerful speeches on the need for immediate, forceful armed intervention.

Suddenly President Obama added another “not”; he was not going to decide to act. Instead, he would put the decision in the hands of Congress. Congress quickly read the opinion polls, which reflected the success of President Obama’s approach: the American people saw no reason to get involved. So the Congress, it appeared, was not going to authorize the President to take action.

As of today, with the President scheduled to address the American people this evening, many in Congress are deeply concerned that to deny the President’s request for authorization would be seen as tantamount to impeachment or, at the least, turn his presidency into “lame duck” status with over three more years to go.

So from our point of view, the situation has reached an ideal stage. The United States is close to locking itself into a permanent condition of international ineffectiveness. The country is politically fragmented. And Obama is regarded as confused and vulnerable.

Thus it was a brilliant move when our Foreign Minister Lavrov seized upon an off-hand remark by Secretary Kerry to declare that we, Russia, would take the lead in a diplomatic process to place Syria’s weapons of mass destruction under international control, and Syria, under orders from us, welcomed the idea. It has again been amusing to see American politicians of all stripes racing to propose their acceptance of this face-saving way out. At this moment it appears that President Obama will accept our leadership in his speech tonight.

The American president will therefore be grateful to us and depend on us while, at the same time we are exactly where we want to be in that we have vast and successful experience in concealing and delaying all such programs to control chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

We are of course not alone in this. I am drafting this telegram from Tehran where I have been in consultation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Command and the Ayatollah. They, as you know, already have sent signals to the Americans that Iran is ready to negotiate comprehensively. This is because the Iranians also recognize that the Americans are at this moment confused and vulnerable and looking for a way to be relieved of this crisis so that President Obama can continue with his program of fundamentally transforming America. The Iranians have compiled an astonishingly successful record of delaying and deceiving the Americans about Iran’s relentless drive to acquire nuclear weapons, and in this new diplomatic offensive they will continue to do so successfully.

Permit me, my dear Vladimir Vladimirovitch to list the benefits of our current position:

First, -- Russia has replaced the US as the arbiter and leader in international security matters;

Second, -- Russia and Iran now are perfectly placed by way of our two-pronged initiatives to

  • Give President Obama a non-embarrassing way out of his dilemma, and
  • Get, through skillful drafting, the survival of the Alawite regime, with Syria becoming accepted as a joint satellite of Russian power and Iran’s emerging Shia hegemony over the Middle East.

Third, -- our two initiatives will submerge the incipient renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And here may be the most monumental shift of all. The goal of a “two-state solution” for Israel and Palestine is entirely in the context of an American-led international state system that has structured the modern age for three hundred and fifty years. The Palestinians now, seeing the US retreat and accommodate itself to our idea of international order, will come to our way of thinking and abandon the two-state goal.

Fourth, -- We can count on China to add to our initiative by conducting challenges to the U.S. in the East and South China Seas.

We therefore stand at a turning point in history which is nothing less than the end of “the Modern Age”. Based upon the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Westphalian state system, we the new powers have never fully accepted the Modern Age with its individualism, human rights, and ideal of democracy. We know that a one-party state under firm political control, in a hierarchical world order governed by the big regional powers, is a far better way to control world affairs:

-- You, dear Vladimir Vladimirovitch have called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the worst catastrophe of the 20th century.”

-- The Islamic Republic of Iran, a true revolutionary movement, has set itself against the established international system since coming to power in 1979 even as it has used its status inside that system to serve its own strategy.

-- The People’s Republic of China has never fully accepted the modern international system. It accommodated itself to it in the post-cold war years but now has moved into a more assertive, adversarial stance toward it.

Thus we stand at the dawn of an entirely new era, the end of the so-called “Modern” and the birth of a “troika” of power – Russia, Iran, and China – capable of dominating the entire Eurasian land mass (including Western Europe) which, as the old geographers pointed out, means domination of the world as a whole.


Respectfully submitted,

Georgi Kennankov


Charles Hill is the Brady-Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy at Yale University and co chair of the Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order, Hoover Institution.