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Dunsmore: Cold War Deja' Vu

The words “Cold War” virtually cover the front page of Tuesday’s New York Post. Normally, I don’t pay too much attention to Rupert Murdock’s sensationalist tabloid. But in this case its fear-mongering is not all that different from much of the foreign news coverage in the main stream media in recent days. In one way or another, most coverage implies the dire warning - The Russians are Coming!

So what is re-kindling this Cold War rhetoric?

Well, Russia sent new sophisticated weapons, planes and missiles into Syria. It beefed up its naval port near the Syrian city of Latakia on the Mediterranean and 2000 Russian troops were added. Then yesterday, for the first time, Russia became directly involved militarily in Syria, conducted bombing raids on what it called “international terrorists.” But indications are it mainly attacked rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad – not the Islamic State terrorists - although Russia insists defeating Islamic State inspired its intervention.

Monday, President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin each made speeches to the United Nations General Assembly in which they presented totally different world views for why there is so much turmoil throughout the globe - and they blamed each other for the mess. Actually, each man was implicitly admitting that after four years, his Syrian strategy did not work. The U.S. failed to create a credible, moderate Syrian opposition to President Assad. While Russian support for Assad has failed to protect him from the Islamic State which now occupies large parts of Syria.

The crisis in Syria cries out for an end to the wonton killing. As many as 250,000 Syrians are dead and millions of refugees have been created, many of whom are now piling up on Europe’s shores. Yet for now the stumbling block to a cease fire - and ultimately a political solution - remains dictator Assad. The US and Sunni Arabs see him as a mass murderer and want him gone. The Russians insist Assad, their long time and only Mideast client, is the legitimate head of the Syrian state.

However the Islamic State, not Assad, is the far greater threat to the Middle East - and to America, Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. If an ad hoc alliance involving these countries is to be formed to defeat the Islamic State, a way must be found to finesse Assad’s future, however distasteful that may seem.

During World War II, the United States made common cause with Russia under mass murder Stalin - and during the Cold War it made nice with Chinese mass murder Mao - because it served America’s vital interests. Today, defeating the fanatical Islamic State is a vital American interest.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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