Thursday, October 1, 2015

Putin's Objectives

Ralph Peters writes on foreign policy matters for the New York Post. In his latest column he argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin's goal in propping up Bashar Assad in Syria is to humiliate President Obama. I have no doubt that this is true. Putin sees Obama as weak and lacking the will to do anything risky to stop him, but there's more in Putin's calculation than just a desire to emasculate an American president.

After explaining why Putin will keep pressing to make Mr. Obama look as ineffectual as possible, Peters lists what he sees as Putin's strategic goals:
In the short term, rescue the failing regime of Russia’s ally, Syria’s blood-drenched President Bashar al-Assad. And in doing so, eliminate all opposition groups except ISIS, leaving the United States, Europe and the world with the stark choice of “Assad or Islamic State?”

In the mid-term, create a fait accompli, irreversible circumstances, on the ground in the Middle East (and in Ukraine) that will defeat the next US president even before he takes office.

In the longer term, Putin intends to re-establish Russia’s grandeur and glory from the apogee of the czars — and to go still further by dominating the Middle East and its energy resources. Putin has bet on the Shia world against the Sunni Muslims and is well along in the process of building a wall of allies from Tehran to Tripoli. Already, Russia has a renewed presence and influence in the Middle East after a four-decade absence.

Our response? We’re still funding the Iranian-owned Baghdad government; still shortchanging the Kurds; still afraid to use real military power against ISIS; and terrified that Putin will push the Syrian situation into a confrontation. He will. And the Obama administration is utterly, profoundly unprepared.
There is no doubt that Mr. Obama's biggest blunder was withdrawing from Iraq, a withdrawal that left a vacuum in the region for ISIS, Russia, and Iran to fill, and they have. Russia will now have military bases and seaports in Syria, but most importantly, and this is probably Putin's long-term goal, they will have enormous influence over the flow of oil from Iraq and Iran.

By controlling so much oil, Russia will be in a position to dictate terms to our European and Asian allies who need petroleum for their economic survival. Long term, the Russians will use that leverage to wean these allies away from us, isolate us on the world stage, and reduce us to impotence. Meanwhile, President Obama is cutting our military, alienating our Israeli allies, empowering Iran, and giving Putin the impression that he's pushing against an open door.

It's all very difficult to understand. In fact, it's easier to understand why the Russians are doing what they're doing than to understand why we're doing what we're doing.