Unlike our liberal internationalists, Putin knows that foreigners’ incentives cannot overcome a people’s reluctance to fight only for their own ends. Knowing Sunni Arabs’ kinship to ISIS, he does not imagine that they can be relied on to fight it, or that the Kurds will fight ISIS beyond keeping it away from Kurdistan.
That is why Putin allies with people who have their own reasons for exterminating ISIS. Far from conditioning the alliance on asking the Shia to act moderately, he encourages the bloody sentiments that motivate them in the first place. But since his objectives coincide with theirs only to a certain point, he enters the alliance fully prepared to cut it short once his objectives—not theirs—are achieved.
Unlike our neoconservatives, Putin knows that force discredits itself if it is not used decisively. Like Napoleon, he knows you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them. Russia’s expeditionary force in the Middle East, unlike America’s, is not there to drive around replenished minefields, getting legs blown off by IEDs. Their artillery will devastate ISIS’ strongholds as it did Chechnya. Their tank and plane combination will open the way for murderous militias.
Russia’s military orthodoxy is the decisive difference between its expedition in former Syria and Iraq and America’s recent ventures.
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