Putin’s Great Game in the Middle East and Eastern Europe: an interview with Dr. Michael Rubin

by Jerry Gordon and Lisa Benson (November 2015)

Russian aircraft at Syrian airfield

Dr. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the Washington, DC, American Enterprise Institute was a guest on the Lisa Benson Show, Sunday, October 4th. He is the author of Dancing with the Devil:  the Perils of Engaging with Rogue Regimes. We published both a review of Dancing with the Devil and an interview with Rubin in the March 2014 New English Review. The introduction to our interview noted:

We met Rubin in 2005 when he returned to Yale to discuss his experience as a former Pentagon official on Iran and Iraq who also served as a political advisor to the Provisional Coalition Authority. He spoke about the emergence of the nuclear Iran threat under the “reformist” regime in Tehran led by Ayatollah Khatami. See Rubin’s background and blog at the AEI website, here and here. Our interview with Rubin ranged across an array of prevailing issues. Among these are the Iranian nuclear and ICBM threat and Putin’s great game of one sided politics in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He also addressed Pakistan’s tolerance of terrorism and the lack of US support for the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria. He criticized the folly of the Administration’s support of Turkey under Premier Erdogan and the folly of its lead in the Final Status negotiations with the Palestinians imperiling Israel’s security.

As regards Putin and his current démarche to the Administration in Syria this exchange with Rubin from our interview illustrates how clear-eyed was his response:

Gordon:  How dangerous to American interests is Russian President Putin’s great game strategy in the Middle East?

Rubin:  Very. The problem is that Americans tend to see diplomacy as a means to compromise, a win-win solution. However, Putin sees international relations as a zero-sum game in which for Russia to win, everyone else must lose. When Neville Chamberlain goes up against Machiavelli, Machiavelli wins.

Note what Obama said during an October 2, 2015 White House Press Conference in response to a question from CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett regarding his former Secretary of State and Democrat presidential hopeful, Hillary’s Clinton’s change of heart on Syria in this Breitbart News report:

President Obama found himself in a bit of a conundrum after he denounced critics of his Syria policy as being full of “mumbo jumbo” and “half-baked ideas.”

In response, CBS reporter Major Garrett questioned Obama whether Hillary Clinton’s proposal to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria was a half-baked idea.

“Hillary Clinton is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems,” Obama said carefully, reminding reporters she served in his administration as Secretary of State.

But Obama pointed out that Clinton’s rhetoric on Syria is merely campaign rhetoric.

“I also think that there’s a difference between running for president and being president,” he said carefully, pointing out that he was having specific discussions with his military advisors about the right way forward in Syria.

“If and when she’s president, then she’ll make those judgments and she’s been there enough that she knows that, you know, these are tough calls,” he said.

Clinton broke with the White House on Syria, calling for a “no-fly zone” in Syria to protect Syrian citizens in an interview with a Boston TV station on October 1, 2015.

Rubin’s prescient warnings about dealings with rogue regimes is reflected in a meeting in Vienna with Russia, Turkey  and Saudi Arabia to be held on October 30, 2015, to which the White House assented to include Iran. The parlay is seeking a political solution to the raging civil war in Syria that has claimed over 250,000 lives, 1 million injured, 11 million displaced including more than 4 million who have fled the country now flooding Europe. Meanwhile Russia continues air assaults on opposition forces and Turkey bombs opposition Syrian Kurds. Iran supplies weapons and commanders for the decimated forces of beleaguered Syrian President Assad along with thousands of fighters, including those of its proxy Hezbollah. The only party missing from the negotiating table is the self-declared Sunni Islamic State that occupies vast swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Against this background, Lisa Benson of the eponymous radio show interviewed Dr. Rubin.  Among issues Rubin addressed were:

  • The failures of President Obama’s policies in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

news and commentary. And now your host Lisa Benson.

broadcast is entitled Islamic Supremacy in the Middle East. Shalom, Israel, and to our friends in Israel. Jerry Gordon, senior editor for New English Review, former Army Intelligence officer my co-producer and my researcher, welcome back.


Jerry Gordon:  Glad to be back.


Lisa Benson:  Our guest today is Dr. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute. He is a former official with the Pentagon, expert on the Middle East and author of Dancing with the Devil. Welcome back.



Dr. Michael Rubin:  Thank you, Lisa, and greetings to Jerry as well.



Benson:  Russia started bombing Syria this past week. Why has Putin done this?

of Iran but Russia as well.

Russia, U.S., and Israel?

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are like ostriches with their heads in the sand.

Benson:  Why is Putin bombing the moderates in Syria?

Islamic state.

that if you want to go from Damascus to anywhere in Syria or from any major town to any other major town, you have to pass through Homs. That is why it becomes so crucial to the control of the future of Syria.

Benson:  Are they Alawites in Homs?

 listening today about his supposed love for the Christian community?

about in a decade, and that is the birth rate of ethnic Russians is declining. By contrast the birth rate of Russian Muslims is about three times as high and it is rapidly increasing.

On top of that, when Vladimir Putin took over the Crimea he took over a population of Tartar Muslims. Now because the young Muslims have a higher birth rate and because the youth are conscripted into the Russian army, you have a situation that in a decade or more maybe 15 years you could have 30 percent of the Russian army Muslim. Therefore it raises real questions, and Vladimir Putin knows this. About whether or not to deploy into the north Caucasus, for example, where you have Islamist separatism and whether they would actually carry out the orders. So one of the reasons why Vladimir Putin wants to double down on Christianity is simply because he knows he has a huge demographic problem at home.

Gordon:  Michael, are we witnessing a third Intifada in Israel with a difference? I point out the influx of the Iranian revolutionary guard troops into neighboring Syria, cross-border exchanges that have occurred, and the question of Hezbollah with its arsenal of missiles to the north. What is Israel going to do at this point?

Unfortunately, rather than standing on the side of moral clarity, the Obama Administration, Secretary of State John Kerry, Samantha Power as U.N. ambassador, are in effect through their silence, through actions encouraging genocide.

Gordon:  What is it that Americans can do despite the fact that the Democrats in the Senate spiked rejection of Iran Nuclear Pact?

the big picture. In the year 2000 and then subsequently under Ehud Olmert a comprehensive peace deal was given to the Palestinians, including pretty much everything they wanted: a divided Jerusalem, some degree of refugee return and an independent state. The Palestinians have turned that down and not made any counterproposal. Which begs the question what is President Abbas, now currently serving the 11th year of his four-year term, really after? Certainly, it is not an independent Palestinian state. Unfortunately it has to do with, just as with the Iranians, the eradication of the State of Israel.

Benson:  I thought Abbas was resigning?


Gordon:  Does that mean that a gentleman who was kicked out of Gaza, Muhammad Dahlan, who is currently a resident of the UAE, is likely campaign to come back and replace Abbas?

Benson:  As we are speaking there are rockets being launched at Israel from Gaza. Does this surprise you, Michael?

el-Sisi in Egypt.

Gordon:  Michael, can we switch gears and ask you a question related to something you wrote about recently?

 Rubin:  Of course.

Eastern Europe given the actions by Putin?

Benson:  Dr. Michael Rubin, I thank you for being with us today.

Rubin:  Thank you, Lisa.


Listen to the Lisa Benson Show interview with Michael Rubin.




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