American Elephants


What is Vladimir Putin Doing in Syria? by The Elephant's Child

Putin formalThe great mystery in the Middle East is what is Vladimir Putin doing? Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state from 2005 to 2009, and Robert M. Gates, defense secretary from 2006 to 2011, join to write an op-ed at Fox News

One can hear the disbelief in capitals from Washington to London to Berlin to Ankara and beyond. How can Vladimir Putin, with a sinking economy and a second-rate military, continually dictate the course of geopolitical events? Whether it’s in Ukraine or Syria, the Russian president seems always to have the upper hand.

Obama claimed it is a sign of Russian weakness. Europe is alarmed — they have quite enough on their plates with refugees from the Middle East, not all of them by any means from Syria. They are demanding, expecting far more than the Europeans are willing to give, and the people of Europe are beginning to act in opposition.

The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well because he knows exactly what he wants to do. He is not stabilizing the situation according to our definition of stability. He is defending Russia’s interests by keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. This is not about the Islamic State. Any insurgent group that opposes Russian interests is a terrorist organization to Moscow. We saw this behavior in Ukraine, and now we’re seeing it even more aggressively — with bombing runs and cruise missile strikes — in Syria.

Putin is not a sentimental man, and if Assad becomes a liability, Putin will gladly move on to a substitute acceptable to Moscow. But for now, the Russians believe that they (and the Iranians) can save Assad. President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry say that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. That is true, but Moscow understands that diplomacy follows the facts on the ground, not the other way around. Russia and Iran are creating favorable facts. Once this military intervention has run its course, expect a peace proposal from Moscow that reflects its interests, including securing the Russian military base at Tartus.

Russians don’t regret their foreign adventures. The last time was Afghanistan, and that didn’t happen until Ronald Reagan armed the Afghan mujahideen with stinger missiles. Putin is not responding to world disorder nor does he have any concern for the Syrian people or for Syria as a state.  He’s not trying to hold the Middle East together.

Vladimir Putin is reacting to circumstances in the Middle East and sees an opening created by American disinclination to fully engage.  He’s playing power politics. There will continue to be refugees until people are safe. Significant support for the Kurds, Sunni tribes and and Iraqi special forces is not, as Mr. Obama claimed, “mumbo jumbo.” It might save our current lack of strategy. We must do what we can to prevent an incident with Russian military activities — but we should never have gotten to a place where Russia is warning us to stay our of their way. The Russians intend to secure their interests in the Middle East.

Richard Cohen: The high cost of avoiding war in Syria

David Ignatius: The U.S. cannot pass Syria on to Putin

Charles Krauthammer: President Obama’s Syria Debacle

Peter Baker: Wary of Escalation in Syria, U.S. Is Waiting Out Putin’s Moves

 


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