Syria is thus something of a lens through which Russian strength, influence, and strategy can be gauged. From political pull in the United Nations to alliance-creation and clientelism among friendly states, and on to nuclear parity and a robust conventional military capability, Russia remains formidable. Moscow has engineered a strong position for itself in the Middle East just as the United States is talking openly about de-emphasizing the region in favor of focusing on the Far East. And the dismissive way in which President Obama’s call for deep reductions in nuclear arms was treated by Russian leaders is yet another sure indication of Moscow’s confidence in its standing in the world.
It is tempting to ask what Mitt Romney would do — and I invite him to weigh in on this matter — given that the concerns he expressed about Russian opposition to American interests during last fall’s presidential campaign have been largely borne out. For my part, geostrategic thinking leads me to three pretty straightforward conclusions. First, there is the need to keep Russia from “winning” in Syria. This can be achieved either by escalating support for the anti-Assad insurgency or ratcheting up a peace process — the aims of which are to put Syria on a path to a post-Assad, democratic future. Perhaps both approaches can be simultaneously pursued. Either way, Russian influence will wane, and the western linchpin of its anti-Sunni arc would become unhinged.