US foreign policy is responsible for Syria situation
A chain of poor decisions that alienated Russia is backfiring on Washington.
Russia’s boots-on-the-ground intervention in Syria shouldn’t have been a surprise to the West. Washington surely must be questioning its own wisdom over striking an agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which gave the Americans a key Turkish airbase, as few geopolitical experts disagree that this was the spark that ignited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wrath.
US President Barack Obama, a man parodied by his own comical red lines in Syria, which he didn’t even respect himself, had crossed a red line of Putin’s. That decision will grow like an ugly wart on Obama’s legacy and be soon etched into the history books of why the United States failed in Syria.
In reality there were many mistakes. One could go as far back as Afghanistan, which may have been a “victory” of sorts for the hardliners in Washington at the time but was always going to be a short-term one in terms of cold war battles.
More recently, Putin was enraged by what he felt was a betrayal by the West, which managed to wrangle a UN decision in Libya to enforce a no-fly zone. That move ended up being a free-for-all for France, the United Kingdom and the United States to plough ahead with an ill-conceived plan to back rebels and oust Muammar Qaddafi, who remarkably became the buddy of the United Kingdom and the European Union a few years earlier when it suited them to bring him in from the cold.
But will the West ever bring Putin closer to its fold?
It’s often projected by Western media that Putin is a sort of bully who likes being on the fringe. Few could forget his gung-ho comments in August 2008 when the European Union had the temerity to question his legitimacy in invading Georgia. “I have no problem with restarting a cold war,” he calmly replied, knowing this would swiftly silence the foreign policy lapdogs in the European Commission. Like puppies kicked by a new owner, they quietened and sulked.
In many respects this is what we have unfolding in Syria. Remarkably though it seems to be getting personal. Putin has shown that he is going to support Syrian President Bashar Assad no matter what and will not allow US foreign policy to ridicule him once again after Libya. Even though Iran is a major supporter of Syria in terms of proxy militias, it is Russia that holds the real power — both in military might and an important veto at the UN Security Council.
It is early days and many questions arise about the Russian intervention, with the United States allegedly arming the Kurds and Russia playing the ace card with reports of Cubans about to arrive in Syria.
Are the Russians spreading their wings in the Middle East and using Syria to showcase themselves as a regional superpower that Arab regimes might want to align themselves with? You bet.
Does it mean that as a pure act of petulance, Assad will stay in power for decades just to prove a point? Possibly.
Are the Gulf Arabs likely to arm their opposition fighters in Syria with upgraded weapons? Likely.
What about on the ground? After only a couple of weeks, the victories are not so easy to gauge in the fog of war. Remarkably, despite many advances the Syrian regime has made with the support of Russian air power, it has also incurred considerable losses.
But even with all that, Assad’s campaign does not seem to be working, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
“The Syrian regime has not gained much terrain in the first week of its large-scale ground offensive against rebel forces, despite support from intensified Russian air strikes and hundreds of Iranian proxy reinforcements,” said Chris Kozak, a Syria research analyst at the ISW in Washington. “Operations against the Syrian opposition will likely prove harder and slower than anticipated by either Russia or Iran.”
Either way, it’s clear we are in for a longer war than anticipated and all that has happened by Washington’s policy decisions is that Assad’s reign has been enforced. Perhaps soon the Americans will realise that Assad should never been the prism of hatred in Washington and that Putin is the cowboy in the black hat who has nothing to lose and is the real danger.