“We need to be much more clear with Russia when we disagree with them,” was the way Senator McCain’s national security adviser, Randy Scheunemann, put it to our Eli Lake back in March for an article we ran out on our front page under the headline, “McCain Backs Tougher Line Against Russia.” Well, here’s a perfect opportunity at which a little American clarity toward Moscow could go a long way.
A group of Syrian military officials arrived in the Russ capital on Monday for a five day visit. According to a report by the Russian state news agency, Novosti, the Syrian delegation is led by Syrian Air Force and Air Defense Commander General Akhmad Al Ratyb. General Ratyb is a regular visitor to Russia; he was also there in December of 2006.
The Russian wire reports that on this week’s visit the news is that “Moscow and Damascus had agreed on deliveries of the latest Russian MiG-29SMT fighter. Syria also bought 36 Pantsir S1E air-defense systems from Russia, and hopes to receive Strelets short-range air defense systems, Iskander tactical missile systems, Yak-130 aircraft, and two Amur-1650 submarines.”
If Syria had these air defense systems and advanced fighters back in September of 2007, it would have been harder for Israel to have taken out the nuclear reactor that the Damascus dictatorship was building with North Korean assistance. The White House said last month that the Syrian regime “supports terrorism, takes action that destabilizes Lebanon, allows the transit of some foreign fighters into Iraq, and represses its own people.”
Why Russia would want to sell arms to this regime is beyond us, but if the Krelmin goes ahead with the sales, it would only reinforce Mr. McCain’s call for a tougher line against Russia. And it’s a wonder Senator Obama isn’t making an issue of the threat that is building.
Arms dealers need customers, but the right way for the Russians to expand their markets would be by backing a free and democratic regime in Damascus that could use its arms to clear Hezbollah, Hamas, and other Iranian-backed terrorist groups out of the Syrian capital so that a productive economy could take root. Until then, arming Syria amounts to a proxy war against America and its friends in the Middle East, including Israel, Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon.
If President Bush doesn’t move to prevent this sale, he will leave a more difficult field of battle for his successor to operate on, not only in respect of the Mideast, but in respect of the whole Kremlin camarilla, which has postured as an ally in the war on Islamist terrorism while all too frequently playing a double game.