Friedman and Bruni

In “Putin’s Syrian Misadventure” The Moustache of Wisdom says the Russian president’s bold moves have had costly repercussions for his country without making real advances against ISIS.  Mr. Bruni, in “Anyone but Ted Cruz,” says that the strident Texas senator wants the ultimate promotion.  He says we should check his references first.  Here’s TMOW:

When President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced he was setting up an air base in the middle of Syria to take on the Islamic State and bolster President Bashar al-Assad, more than a few analysts and politicians praised his forceful, game-changing, strategic brilliance, suggesting that Putin was crazy like a fox. Some of us thought he was just crazy.

Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-ISIS militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him. Many of the anti-Assad rebels in that area are ethnic Turkmens, with strong cultural ties to Turkey; Turkey was not amused by Putin bombing Turkmen villages inside Syria, because it weakens Turkey’s ability to shape Syria’s future.

Meanwhile, in Crimea, Ukraine, which Putin annexed, pro-Turkish Tatars apparently cut the power lines, plunging Crimea into a near total blackout. And in October dozens of Saudi clerics called for a “holy war” against the governments of Syria, Iran and Russia.

In sum, Putin’s “crafty” Syrian chess move has left him with a lot more dead Russians; newly at odds with Turkey and Iran; weakened in Ukraine; acting as the defense lawyer for Assad — a mass murderer of Sunni Muslims, the same Sunni Muslims as Putin has in Russia; and with no real advances against ISIS.

Other than that, it’s been a great success.

Truth be told, I wish Putin had succeeded. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble, because ISIS is not the “J.V. team” President Obama once called it. It’s actually the Jihadist All-Star team. It combines the military efficiency of Iraqi ex-Baathist army officers with the religious zealotry and prison-forged depravity of its “Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” the Web-savvy of Arab millennials and a thrill-ride appeal to humiliated young Muslim males, who’ve never held power, a decent job or a girl’s hand.

And the ISIS threat is becoming strategic. The massive outflow of refugees from Syria and Iraq that ISIS has provoked is leading the European Union to start to close internal borders and limit the free flow of people and probably some goods as well — just the opposite of what the bloc was created to do. That will only slow the E.U.’s economic growth and fuel greater nationalism that could ultimately threaten its unity. The E.U. is America’s most important partner in managing the global system. If it is weakened, we are weakened.

But to sustainably destroy ISIS, you need to understand three things: 1) It is the product of two civil wars; one was between moderate and extremist Sunnis and the other was between Sunnis and Shiites. And they feed each other. 2) The only way to defeat ISIS is to minimize the struggle between Sunnis and Shiites and strengthen the fighting capacity of moderate Sunnis against extremist ones. And 3) the fight has to be led by Arabs and Muslims but strongly backed by America, the E.U. and, yes, Russia.

Whereas Putin’s goals are uncertain, and perhaps limited to protecting a truncated Assad regime, Obama really does want to defeat ISIS. Just as important, he wants to do it without being either Putin or George W. Bush, who just dove into the middle.

But it isn’t clear that a middle approach exists, let alone the fantasy options of many Obama critics, as in Donald Trump’s just “bomb the [blank] out of them.” (Gosh, no one thought of that!) Everyone wants to defeat ISIS with the “Immaculate Intervention”: more bombs from the air or somebody else’s troops, boots, risks or political transformation.

Sorry, but to sustainably defeat ISIS you need a mutually reinforcing coalition. You need Saudi Arabia and the leading Sunni religious powers to aggressively delegitimize ISIS’s Islamist narrative. You need Arab, Kurdish and Turkish ground troops — backed by U.S. and NATO air power and special forces, with Russia’s constructive support — to uproot ISIS door to door.

You need Iran to encourage the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to create a semiautonomous “Sunnistan” in the areas held by ISIS, giving moderate Iraqi Sunnis the same devolved powers as Kurds in Kurdistan so they have a political alternative to ISIS. And you need Iran to agree to a political transition in Syria that would eventually replace Assad.

In short, you need either a power-sharing political solution that all the key players accept and will enforce, or an armed force to just crush ISIS and then sit on the region indefinitely, so ISIS doesn’t come back. Obama can’t secure the former, and doesn’t want to do the latter. Nor do the American people — nor Obama’s critics, despite what some of them might suggest.

You can say that when it comes to ISIS and Syria, Obama has done an impossible job badly, and someone else might have done it better. But it is still an impossible job as long as all the key players in that region define their interests as rule or die and as long as most of the real democrats in that region are living abroad.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

You’re evaluating candidates for an open job in your company, and you come across one who makes a big impression.

He’s clearly brilliant — maybe smarter than any of the others. He’s a whirlwind of energy. And man oh man can he give a presentation. On any subject, he’s informed, inflamed, precise.

But then you talk with people who’ve worked with him at various stages of his career. They dislike him.

No, scratch that.

They loathe him.

They grant him all of the virtues that you’ve observed, but tell you that he’s the antithesis of a team player. His thirst for the spotlight is unquenchable. His arrogance is unalloyed. He actually takes pride in being abrasive, as if a person’s tally of detractors measures his fearlessness, not his obnoxiousness.

Do you hire this applicant?

No way.

And that’s why voters should be wary — very wary — of Ted Cruz.

He’s surging. I warned you about this. In a poll of Republicans in Iowa last week, he was in a statistical tie with Donald Trump for the lead.

More and more Republican insiders talk about a battle between Cruz and Marco Rubio for the nomination, or about a three-way, if you will, among Cruz, Rubio and Trump.

And in the voices of these insiders I hear horror, because Trump and Cruz are nasty pieces of work.

Cruz will work overtime in the months ahead to persuade you otherwise. The religious right already adores him, but to go the distance, he needs more support from other, less conservative Republicans, and he knows it. Expect orchestrated glimpses of a high-minded Cruz, less skunk than statesman, his sneer ceding territory to a smile.

You saw this in recent debates. He chided moderators for meanspirited questions. He bemoaned the pitting of one Republican against another. The audacity of those complaints was awe-inspiring: Cruz rose to national prominence with gratuitous, overwrought tirades against fellow party members and with a complete lack of deference to elders in the Senate, which he entered in January 2013, at age 42.

He likened Senate Republicans who recognized the impossibility of defunding Obamacare to Nazi appeasers. They took note.

“As Cruz gains, GOP senators rally for Rubio” said the headline of a story this week in Politico, which explained: “The idea of Cruz as the nominee is enough to send shudders down the spines of most Senate Republicans.” Support for Rubio is the flower of anyone-but-Cruz dread.

Anyone but Cruz: That’s the leitmotif of his life, stretching back to college at Princeton. His freshman roommate, Craig Mazin, told Patricia Murphy of The Daily Beast: “I would rather have anybody else be the president of the United States. Anyone. I would rather pick somebody from the phone book.”

It’s not easy to come across on-the-record quotes like that, and Mazin’s words suggest a disdain that transcends ideology. They bear heeding.

So does Cruz’s experience in the policy shop of George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. After Bush took office, other full-time advisers got plum jobs in the White House. Cruz was sent packing to the Siberia of the Federal Trade Commission.

The political strategist Matthew Dowd, who worked for Bush back then, tweeted that “if truth serum was given to the staff of the 2000 Bush campaign,” an enormous percentage of them “would vote for Trump over Cruz.”

Another Bush 2000 alumnus said to me: “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.”

His three signature moments in the Senate have been a florid smearing of Chuck Hagel with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz, a flamboyant rebellion against Obamacare with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz, and a fiery protest of federal funding for Planned Parenthood with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz. Notice any pattern?

Asked about Cruz at a fund-raiser last spring, John Boehner responded by raising a lone finger — the middle one.

More recently, Senate Republicans denied Cruz a procedural courtesy that’s typically pro forma.

“That is different than anything I’ve ever seen in my years here,” Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, told The Washington Post.

Many politicians rankle peers. Many have detractors. Cruz generates antipathy of an entirely different magnitude. It’s so pronounced and so pervasive that he’s been forced to acknowledge it, and he spins it as the price invariably paid by an outsider who challenges the status quo, clings to principle and never backs down.

No, it’s the fruit of a combative style and consuming solipsism that would make him an insufferable, unendurable president. And if there’s any sense left in this election and mercy in this world, it will undo him soon enough.

From his mouth to God’s ear.


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