Guess who just popped up in the Kremlin? Bashar al-Assad, Syrian dictator and destroyer. Assad was summoned to Russia to bend a knee to Putin, show the world that today Middle East questions get settled not in Washington but in Moscow, and officially bless the Russian-led four-nation takeover of Syria now underway.
President Obama says Russia is doomed to fail in Syria. But Russia is not trying to reconquer the country for Assad. It’s consolidating a rump Syrian state on the roughly 20 percent of the country he now controls, the Alawite areas stretching north and west from Damascus through Latakia and encompassing the Russian naval base at Tartus.
It will leave the Islamic State in control in the interior north and east. Why is this doomed to failure?
Putin is not reconstructing the old Soviet empire. But he is reasserting Russia’s ability to project power beyond its borders. Annexing Crimea restores to the motherland full control of the warm water Black Sea port that Russia has coveted since Peter the Great. Shoring up a rump Alawite state secures Russia’s naval and air bases in the eastern Mediterranean. Add to that Russia’s launching advanced cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea to strike Syrian rebels 900 miles away and you have the most impressive display of Russian military reach since the Cold War.
For Obama these things don’t matter. “In today’s world,” he told the U.N. last month, “the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory.” That he clearly believes this fantasy was demonstrated by his total abandonment of Iraq, forfeiting U.S. bases from which we could have projected power in the region.
As soon as the ink was dry on the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s Qasem Soleimani flew to Moscow to plan the multinational Syria campaign he is now directing. His Shiite expeditionary force is comprised of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Iraqi Shiite militias and Lebanese Hezbollah fighting under the cover of Russian airpower.
They are pounding non-Islamic State rebels, many equipped, trained and allegedly supported by the U.S. and Obama’s vaunted 60-nation coalition.
The immediate Russian objective is to retake Aleppo, the eastern part of which is the rebels’ last remaining urban stronghold.
Russia is not fighting the Islamic State. Its attacks on the anti-government, anti-Islamic State rebels have allowed the Islamic State to expand.
Think of how these advances mock Obama’s dreams for Iran, namely that the nuclear deal would moderate Iranian behavior.
What has happened since the signing of the deal in July? Iran convicts an American journalist of espionage. Iran brazenly tests a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that our own U.N. ambassador said violates Security Council resolutions. And now Iran’s most notorious Revolutionary Guard commander takes control of a pan-Shiite army trying to decimate our remaining allies in the Syrian civil war.
Obama’s response to this? He has washed his hands of the region, still the center of world oil production and trade, and still the world’s most volatile region, seething with jihadism ready for export.
“60 Minutes” asked Obama: Are you concerned about yielding leadership to Russia? Obama responded dismissively: Propping up a weak ally is not leadership. I’m leading the world on climate change.
Anyone in any conflict anywhere who has put his trust in the United States should start packing his bags for Germany.