The U.S. appears to be on a VERY lonely island when it comes to the Russian-Syrian alliance. The Obama Administration is pretty sure Vladimir Putin will eventually get fed up with Bashar al-Assad and give him a massive bear fur boot out of the country he holds power in. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken reinforced the idea during a Halloween discussion at The IISS Manama Dialogue in Bahrain.
Russia’s intervention is a powerful example of the law of unintended consequences. It will have two primary effects. First, it will increase Russia’s leverage over Asad. But second, it will increase the conflict’s leverage over Russia. And that in turn creates a compelling incentive for Russia to work for, not against, a political transition.
Russia cannot afford to sustain its military onslaught against everyone opposed to Asad’s brutal rule. The costs will mount every day in economic, political, and security terms—but at best only to prevent Asad from losing, not to make him win. There is no military victory to be had.
Meanwhile the quagmire will spread and deepen, drawing Russia further in. And Russia will be seen to be in league with Asad, Hezbollah, and Iran—alienating millions of Sunnis in Syria, the region, and in Russia itself. Already, Russia’s indiscriminate air campaign—while dropping many bombs—is making virtually no gains on the ground.
The problem with Blinken’s statements is no one else believes them. Josh Rogin wrote at Bloomberg View how the prime allies of the U.S. are pretty convinced Putin wants to keep Assad in power, unless Syrians say otherwise.
The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, told me he had good reason to be skeptical of that optimism.
“There’s a school of thought that says that as the Russians get drawn into this conflict, they will more and more looking for a way to get a political solution,” he said — but “it’s not my government’s assessment.”
Hammond said he spoke with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, the day before in Vienna after the talks concluded and Lavrov told him Russia did not have any flexibility on the issue of Assad’s departure. Hammond said that the Russian position on Assad is exactly the same as it was three years ago and that it’s likely to remain the same. Russia says Assad was elected, and only an election can replace him.
There probably won’t be any elections, not while the civil war is raging, so Assad will stay in power as long as he wants. It’s possible the Obama Administration is trying to compare Russia-Syria with how the U.S. handled Iraq and Afghanistan. But they’re forgetting the popularity of Putin in the Russian system of government versus how the U.S.’ direction of government can swing depending on how the American people feel about a prolonged conflict. The Russian government also controls most, if not all, of the media, whereas the U.S. government doesn’t directly control any. So it’s easier for Putin to put out his message of “things are going great in Syria and we want everyone to be involved in fighting ISIS” than it is for Obama (even if the MSM is in the tank).
Britain isn’t the only country which disagrees with the U.S. over the Putin-Assad alliance. Russia Today reports Ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy told a group at Moscow State University how the pro-Assad and anti-Assad factions need to come together to kick ISIS out.
“There are two international coalitions operating in Syria simultaneously. They agree on some goals and are at odds on others. It is necessary to unite these two coalitions. This is the condition for the military victory over IS barbarians…The Vienna meeting is the first step. What is our common goal? Is it destroying Islamic State or is it another goal? The fight against terrorism must be a priority for all. IS is our common enemy, one cannot say one thing and do another.”
So if England and France don’t think Russia is going to go anywhere, why does the U.S.? It’s possible the Obama Administration knows more than the other two do and is basically waiting for the, “see I told you so” moment. But it’s also possible Obama detests Putin so much that he’s not willing to listen to his allies and just wants to go at it alone and cling to the branch he’s on. Only Obama knows what he’s doing and he’s going to keep tight-lipped about it until it behooves him to hold some presidential address. Make no mistake, Obama’s decision to get involved in Syria is his decision (even if he’s passing the buck faster than Fat Joe makes it rain in a strip club). He was the one who decided to allow the U.S. to start “training” rebels and he was the one who authorized air strikes. It may have been done under duress, but it was still his decision and he’s got to own it (which, of course, he probably won’t). As much as the Administration may want to say Syria will draw Russia in more, the fact is the U.S. is also being drawn in more into the conflict. Blinken pointed out in his speech how America has spent $500M on Syria. It’s not as much as the Iraq War may have cost, but it’s still a lot of money. How much more is it going to eventually become?
The U.S. doesn’t need to be involved in Syria because it’s not their problem. Not everyone agree on this obviously, as Jazz wrote last month how it’s becoming a global conflict. He’s got a point because of the refugee crisis, but one has to wonder if it’d be an issue if Washington had decided to not stick its nose into where it didn’t belong. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a host to negotiations or facilitating a meeting or three in hopes of coming up with a resolution. But that’s a lot different than putting troops on the ground or dropping bombs. It’s unfortunate no one is bothering to consider this, especially when it comes to land wars in Asia. Russia isn’t going to leave Syria, but it doesn’t mean the U.S. shouldn’t. It’s not our fight and it honestly never was.