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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Washington Post lest-than thoughtful editorial on Russia's interest in Syria.

Link: Washington Post article on Russian involvement in Syria.

I haven't read the New York times in years.  I'm not alone in my disdain for politically motivated interpretation of national and international events; the Gray Lady ain't what she used to be.  But I do still take a look at the Washington Post on occasion.  Today's editorial by Samuel Ramani isn't terrible, but it is selectively dismissive of certain facts that really shouldn't be left out of this discussion.  As his first point of conversation, Ramani introduces the issue of Putin's motivation for military involvement in Syria.  Basically, he gets this one right.  Putin has a handful of reasons to be interested in the Syrian conflict.  As we've discussed on this blog previously, Putin really wants that Mediterranean Sea Naval Base at Tartus.  Historically, Russia has always craved access to the Mediterranean.  Moscow's interest in the Mediterranean caused the Ottoman Empire centuries of concern.  Presently, the U.S. has naval facilities in the Mediterranean, and also in the Far East and in the Persian Gulf.  Putin must frequently ask himself why Russia, as an "equal" superpower, doesn't have the same access.  If Assad stays in power in Syria, and ISIS is defeated, you can bet that Russia will get that Naval Base at Tartus.  I'm not sure about Putin interest in billion-dollar arms deals.  I have no idea how Assad is accessing money these days, but I would be very surprised to learn that he's paying for all of the recent Russian largesse regarding military equipment and supplies.  Ramani is right-on about the importance of Syria as an opportunity for Putin to demonstrate his abilities as the supreme leader of a world's superpower.

Ramani makes great import of Russia's interest in "the legitimacy of the Assad regime" as the government and authority in Damascus.  I don't believe that Russia give's a rat's ass about the legitimacy of any government.  Its all about Russia's interests, not Assad's legitimacy.  The opposition that Putin's jets are currently blasting to bits in northeast Syria are arguably more legitimate than Assad ever was.  Don't you think that if Assad could have won a free and fair election, he would have called for one before we reached this stage?  Before Putin's arrival, Assad and his Ba'ath Party cronies had become so marginalized that they were close to losing the support of even the Alawite community.  If Assad were in any way a legitimate ruler, he wouldn't have been facing a rebellion that almost swept aside the Levant's largest army and air force.  Ramani comments about Putin's fear of the U.S. is trying to reshape the world in its own image.  Right after Obama pulled U.S. troops out of Syria, and laid out a plan to do the same in Afghanistan?  Actually, if we turn the clock back just a bit, we see Russian interference in Georgia, and more recently, the outright invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  So who is trying to reshape the world here, Putin or the United States?  Putin may publicly accuse the United States of imperialist intentions, but its nothing more than typical Russian obfuscation.  In the last seven years, the United States has been about as expansionist as Botswana.

I agree with Ramani that Putin is determined to spread the message loud and clear that Russia will not be ignored.  But Russia's intervention in Syria, with its proxy Iran alongside, is really about regional power and damaging U.S. influence in the Middle East.  Putin is a megalomaniac and he does want to be acknowledged as the world leader who vanquished ISIS.  I do not envision a Russian "bloc of allies" in the Middle East, the likes of which we saw in the days of Gamal Abdel Nassar and Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez.  Putin is definitely living in the moment, and recognizes that the leadership vacuum that currently exists vis-à-vis the international community and ISIS, may not last past 2016 and the next U.S. presidential election.  Also, Russia's closest ally in the region is Iran, who leaders have a habit of spitting in every direction, and Tehran may not always agree with Russian strategy.  Iran has serious ideas about its own regional position, and Iraq may end up causing disagreements between the two "new friends".  Putin is aware that he has limited time to accomplish his goals.  Expect to see more aggressive action by Russia against ISIS.

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