John Brennan pauses while taking questions at the Global Security Forum Monday.

John Brennan pauses while taking questions at the Global Security Forum Monday. Andrew Harnik/AP

CIA Director Brennan: Paris Attacks Should Bring U.S. and Russia Closer

Ahead of G-20 summit, White House signals willingness to work with Putin in Syria.

For years, gov­ern­ments in the Per­sian Gulf and the West alike, while dis­agree­ing on much, have been in ac­cord on one big thing—Syr­i­an lead­er Bashar al-As­sad is among the most hein­ous forces on the plan­et and has to go. But after the Is­lam­ic State at­tack on Par­is, he im­prob­ably seems much less odi­ous and most likely now has a life­line to con­tin­ued power.

Rus­sia’s Vladi­mir Putin, too, has been one of the West’s lead­ing vil­lains, par­tic­u­lar since send­ing his troops in­to Ukraine, an­nex­ing Crimea, and destabil­iz­ing the east­ern part of his neigh­bor­ing coun­try. Sus­pi­cious of Putin and his motives, the West has ig­nored his en­treat­ies for a joint Syr­i­an strategy, one that from his own side has meant an air cam­paign de­signed to bol­ster As­sad’s hold on power.

But in the wake of the Novem­ber 13 Par­is at­tack, Ukraine has ab­ruptly van­ished in­to the back­ground, and the West, if not pre­cisely em­bra­cing Putin him­self, will em­brace him as a part­ner in Syr­ia.

Pres­id­ent Barack Obama signaled this shift in a very pub­lic ap­pear­ance with Putin on Novem­ber 15, ahead of a G-20 sum­mit in Tur­key. CIA Dir­ect­or John Bren­nan today ad­ded to the pic­ture of Putin com­ing in from the cold in a speech in Wash­ing­ton.

Par­is was the last of three ma­jor strikes in which the Is­lam­ic State claimed re­spons­ib­il­ity—the first was the Oc­to­ber 31 down­ing of a Rus­si­an air­liner, killing 224 people; the second was a pair of Beirut sui­cide bomb­ings on Novem­ber 12 in which 43 died. As a whole, the Is­lam­ic State seemed to be send­ing a mes­sage that it can and will at­tack any­where.

But the as­sault on the French cap­it­al has seemed par­tic­u­larly po­tent be­cause of Par­is’s stature as a primary West­ern city and, go­ing back to the 18th cen­tury, a sym­bol of West­ern ideals along­side an­cient Greece and the Amer­ic­an re­volu­tion. At least ini­tially, the at­tack has claimed the status of a great in­flec­tion point that, like 9/11, in­stantly shifts geo­pol­it­ics.

It’s yet to be seen wheth­er it as­sumes grander scale in glob­al geo­strategy and the pop­u­lar ima­gin­a­tion, like Pearl Har­bor, or Hitler’s in­va­sion of the So­viet Uni­on. But look now for start­lingly high-pro­file unity among formerly tense rivals and en­emies.