Russia's help is good news, not bad

Cal Thomas greatly misreads what is happening with regard to Syria ("Putin played Obama like a fiddle," Sept. 12). President Barack Obama's stated objective was to enforce the international norm prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. The fact that Syria agreed to become party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpiles is a victory. How Mr. Thomas turns that into a defeat for the president is beyond logic.

Utilizing a patron state for diplomatic ends isn't new. The United States uses China to advance its interests in North Korea. Should it be any surprise that this model worked with Russia and Syria?

Now it appears the "P5 plus 1" multilateral diplomatic efforts with Iran will pay dividends. Iran's recently elected moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, is seeking direct talks with the United States, the first direct talks between the two countries in over 30 years. Mr. Rouhani campaigned on having friendlier ties with the West. Gone are the vitriolic statements of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With Mr. Rouhani, the U.S. may have a true potential partner for peace.

Not only will direct talks revive our effort halt Iran's nuclear program, it will pay dividends in Syria, too. Having been victimized by chemical warfare itself, Iran is receptive to America's goal of removing Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

What Mr. Thomas fails to understand is that Syria's commitment to get rid of its chemical weapons boxes in Bashar Assad with regard to their future use. Russia knows that the U.S. doesn't trust Syria, so it is Russia's credibility that is on the line. Should Syria renege and use chemical weapons again, it all but guarantees that Russia would step aside and allow a military response.

Sadly, Mr. Thomas lives in a Dr. Strangelove-ian world inhabited by cowboy diplomats riding cruise missiles to "peace" in the Middle East. We don't live in a Cold War world anymore. Mitt Romney had it all wrong. Russia isn't our number one geopolitical foe. Russia and the United States will cooperate where and when it suits both their interests. Now, in Syria, is just that time and place.

Derek Johnson, Timonium

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