Putin’s Old-School Syria Strategy

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TFS Note: In this old school, we believe Barack Obama is yielding the Middle East to our enemies as part of a deliberate strategy to punish America for its values Obama was raised to hate with passion. Some think Obama may be naive, we, on the other hand, believe Obama is intentionally harming America by creating such bulls***t policies as “Strategic Patience” to give our enemies the time and the space to harm U.S. interests. Happy you voted for a con man?

Source: The Wall Street Journal – by Sohrab Ahmari (Putin’s Old-School Syria Strategy)

Ever since Russia launched a military campaign in Syria, the White House has offered the usual mixture of appeasement and lecturing. Washington wants to “de-conflict” the situation, says Secretary of State John Kerry, using an Obama administration neologism.Barack Obama insists Vladimir Putin isn’t making a bid for Middle East supremacy but propping up a failing client, Bashar Assad.

This is what happens when a U.S. president, who imagines history began sometime around 2004, confronts a power with a longer historical horizon. For the Kremlin, the goal is clear: to position Moscow as a dominant actor in Middle East affairs, bolstering friends and punishing enemies. Far from running contrary to Moscow’s best interests, as Mr. Obama argues, Russian Middle East policy follows a clear vision and strategic patterns that in some cases date back to the czarist era.

“In my view this intervention was close to inevitable,” says Vladimir Orlov, the founder of the Russian Center for Policy Studies, a Moscow think tank. “What caught some by surprise was, for those of us following the Kremlin’s thinking about the Middle East, something that Russia was preparing for six months at a minimum and perhaps longer.” Mr. Orlov, who also directs a research center at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, is an influential scholar-practitioner of Russian Middle East and nonproliferation policy.

By intervening, Mr. Orlov says, “Russia managed to speak independently for the first time in the region” since the Cold War. “Even anti-Russian, anti-Assad forces now recognize that Russia is not only speaking but acting in practical terms.” In the past, he thinks, the Kremlin acquiesced too readily to the West, notably failing to block the 2011 Libyan intervention at the United Nations Security Council, “one of the biggest mistakes in Russian foreign policy.” No more.

It’s obvious, then, why most of Mr. Putin’s sorties hammer U.S.-backed Syrian rebels rather than Islamic State—targeting priorities that have befuddled the White House. “For Russia it would make little sense to focus only on ISIS,” Mr. Orlov says, using an acronym for the terrorist group. “Because let’s put it simply: Russia fights alongside the Syrian army. Russia fights with Bashar Assad’s army. And these [non-ISIS rebel] groups are causing problems for Assad’s existence.”

Nor are the Russians as jittery about Saudi-led Sunni blowback as Messrs. Obama and Kerry think they should be. As the U.S. abandons the Middle East, and the Kremlin’s major ally, the Iranian regime, gains power and prestige, it is Riyadh that will likely bend to Moscow, not the other way around.

The death of King Abdullah and the ascent of King Salman “opened up a window of opportunity for Russia and Saudi Arabia to look at each other’s positions,” says Mr. Orlov. The Saudis circulated a shopping list of Russian-made arms and sought Moscow’s help with developing their own nuclear industry. To be sure, Riyadh still bandwagons with the Americans, for now, yet on the Syria question Mr. Orlov detects a shift in the Saudis’ tone toward the Kremlin.

“Two years ago the Saudis brought ultimatums” when discussing Syria with Russia, Mr. Orlov says. “Now they don’t do that.”

Regardless of Riyadh’s feelings about the matter, Moscow couldn’t tolerate the explosive rise of Islamic State or the loss of its base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, he says, which would have meant “an inability to operate in the Middle East.” He adds: “If hypothetically the Americans could have dealt efficiently with ISIS . . . maybe Russia wouldn’t have intervened.”

Even so, Mr. Putin didn’t intend to upstage the leader of the Free World, Mr. Orlov suggests. Maybe, but Russian friends and foes alike today see Moscow in the driver’s seat. Even stipulating Mr. Obama’s Russian-desperation hypothesis, it’s precisely the mark of a cunning strategist to turn the potential collapse of a client into a chance to redraw the map and shift the balance and momentum of forces.

Behind Mr. Putin’s decisiveness is a vision of the Middle East in which Russia and its clients in the Iranian-Shiite sphere edge out the U.S. and its traditional Arab allies. It’s an idea with roots in the late czarist period, when Russia was the most powerful, and most predatory, presence in Iran, then known as Persia, and used that presence as a springboard for projecting power elsewhere in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Today Russian ideologues such as Alexander Dugin, known as “Putin’s philosopher,” celebrate the Iranian regime as a bastion of “tradition” resisting U.S.-led Western liberalism. Iran is a political and strategic linchpin of “Eurasia,” the Russian-led, anti-Western empire of Putinist ambition.

Mr. Orlov doesn’t speak in such bombastic terms, but he touts “Russia’s level of cooperation with Iran” and “our level of dialogue with Hezbollah.” He says “we’ve been protective of the Shiites” and predicts that Russia and the Islamic Republic will deepen their ties in the coming years. Moscow earlier this year reneged on a promise to Washington by agreeing to transfer S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Tehran.

All this runs contrary to seven years’ worth of White House assumptions and predictions. Not least the notion that a “Russian reset” would buy Moscow’s cooperation on Iran and the Middle East. Welcome to the 19th century, Mr. Obama.

Putin’s Old-School Syria Strategy


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