Contrary to the principles of American foreign policy of the last 70 years, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry tacitly invited Russia to “help” monitor things in the Middle East. Now they are learning that there are lots of Middle East scenarios far worse than the relative quiet Iraq that the Obama administration inherited in January 2009 – and soon abandoned.
Russian President Vladimir Putin liked the American invitation so much that he now has decided to move in permanently. Putin now wants the West to join his new Syria-Iran-Hezbollah-Iraq axis against the Islamic State – or to at least sit back and allow Russia to straighten out the Middle East as it sees fit.
To fight the Islamic State, Putin has called for something similar to the “anti-Hitler coalition” of World War II that once saw the Soviet Union and the West unite to defeat Nazi Germany.
Certainly, the Islamic State, like Nazi Germany, is a savage regime. So far it has grown unchecked at the very center of the Middle East. Yet under the cloak of fighting the Islamic State, Putin has two greater visions.
One, he is intervening to save his client in Syria, strongman Bashar al-Assad – and with him a new Middle East Shiite axis of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia. Putin says he wishes to destroy the terrorists of the Islamic State. But for now he is bombing moderate opponents of Assad and bolstering the anti-Western terrorists of Hezbollah and perhaps Hamas as well.
Two, Putin is sending a warning to the oil-exporting Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf, who are as rich as they are militarily weak: Russia, not the United States, is the new cop on the Middle Eastern beat.
If oil-rich and nuclear Russia and a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran can bully the Sunni monarchies, Putin’s new cartel may control the spigot of some 75 percent of the world’s daily export of oil.
Putin’s recall of history is as fishy as his proposed coalition. Since he has invoked the “anti-Hitler” alliance of World War II, we would all do well to remember the circumstances that led to the totalitarian Soviet Union of Josef Stalin joining with democracies to defeat Hitler.
Stalin, remember, was originally a de facto ally of Adolf Hitler. Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany on Aug. 23, 1939. That devil’s agreement greenlighted the start of World War II just over a week later.
Germany invaded neutral Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. It was joined soon after by Russian troops attacking from the east. With a now-friendly Russia at his rear, Hitler was then free to turn westward against the European democracies.
Russia still seems embarrassed by its 1939 sellout. Marshal Stalin would supply the Third Reich for 22 months with key resources that helped Hitler to attack Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway and Yugoslavia.
There is no reason to believe the Soviet Union would ever have flipped to join Great Britain against Nazi Germany had Hitler not double-crossed Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. After all, Stalin’s communist regime had liquidated more than 15 million of its own citizens during the 1920s and 1930s, and was a kindred genocidal state to Hitler’s National Socialist Third Reich.
That embarrassing deal with Hitler still haunts Russia. Poland has complained bitterly about absurd statements made by a Russian ambassador who recently claimed that Poland was partly to blame for the outbreak of World War II because it blocked the formation of a coalition against Germany.
Russia’s dalliance with Hitler proved nearly suicidal. Russia lost nearly 30 million soldiers and civilians on the Eastern Front during its four-year struggle against its onetime Nazi partner.
True, the Red Army was responsible for more than two-thirds of the German casualties in the war and helped to wreck the Wehrmacht. Yet cynical and opportunistic Russia at one time or another cut some sort of friendship deal with every major combatant on both sides of World War II: America, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Ironically, Stalin kept his word to the Axis alliance of Germany, Italy and Japan far better than he later did to the Allied partners, Britain and the United States, who helped save him. The Western allies provided nearly 20 percent of all Russian wartime resources. Without key Anglo-American resources like aluminum and heavy transport trucks, Russia might well have been knocked out by Hitler.
Yet after the war, Stalin renounced all his prior commitments to hold free and fair elections in those countries liberated from Nazism by the Red Army.
Putin’s sloppy historical perspective on World War II is a window into his soul. And we should be as distrustful of him as our disillusioned forefathers finally were of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The way to end the murderous rampage of a savage, radical Islamic State is not by joining a Russian-Iranian cartel propping up Shiite terrorists and lapdog dictatorships in the Middle East as it seeks to strong-arm moderate Sunni states and oil-exporting monarchies.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of “The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.” Write to him by emailing email@example.com.