If ever there was proof of Russia’s intentions in the Middle East, it can be seen in a just announced 4 nation pact there:
Iraq joined Russia, Iran and Syria in a new agreement to strengthen cooperation against extremist group Islamic State, extending the Kremlin’s reach in the Middle East as it rivals Washington for influence.
Iraq’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that the country had signed an intelligence and security cooperation pact with Russia, Iran and Syria, pledging to cooperate in collecting information about Islamic State. The deal effectively formalizes years of military collaboration among the four nations, which have intermittently been allies since the 1980s.
Wonderful. And who, pray, is on the outside looking in and surprised by the pact?
U.S. officials appeared to be taken by surprise by the announcement of the four-nation security pact and said they were still struggling to understand Mr. Putin’s long-term strategy for the region. Mr. Kerry, they said, kept open the possibility that the White House and Kremlin could coordinate, if not cooperate, in fighting Islamic State.
“We’re just at the beginning of trying to understand what the Russians’ intentions are in Syria, in Iraq, and to try to see if there are mutually beneficial ways forward here,” said a senior U.S. official who attended the Kerry-Lavrov meeting. “We’ve got a long way to go in that conversation.”
“Just in the beginning of trying to understand”? Translation: “we’ve been caught flat-footed and hadn’t a clue that high-level talks between Russia and Iraq were happening”. While Kerry may feel they have a “long way to go in that conversation,” Russia has obviously moved beyond the talking stage and is in the “taking action” stage. The intent seems to be obvious to everyone but our State Department.
ISIS is the catalyst, or at least the excuse, for this alliance. And most experts agree ISIS is mostly a result of the poor Iraq policy followed by the US after the Obama administration took over. What Iraq is signaling here is no confidence in the US and with the pact, seems satisfied to let the US remain outside, looking in. Why? Well, take for example the fact that Russia sold fighter aircraft to Iraq last year to boost its ability to fight ISIS. Where was the US? It had delayed a promised shipment over political considerations. Iraq is now negotiating with Moscow to buy more advanced weaponry.
Additionally, the Obama administration and the Russians and Iranians are at cross-purposes when it comes to Syria. Both Russia and Iran have been very clear they support the Assad regime and hope to strengthen it. The Obama administration has repeatedly said that Assad has to go.
What basis there are for talks between Russia and the US (at the UN this week) remain a mystery. But what is very clear with the announcement of this pact just prior to those talks is the US enters them with an incredibly weak hand. It has very little to use for leverage to get its way. But one thing that can be determined for sure – this administration’s past actions, or lack thereof, have put the US in this weak and unenviable diplomatic position.