Diary

The Middle East As Obama Winds Down

Unfortunately our Commander in Chief does not have a plan for the war against ISIS a year after being asked. Also unfortunately, the narcissist is unable to collaborate to find common ground with friends or adversaries, either domestically or internationally. At this point the question in the Middle East is how the regional forces will play out in the absence of American leadership before President Obama is replaced in January of 2017. Some observations and predictions.

With hindsight, there are two reasons that it has taken Russia so long to come to the aid of their client in Syria.

— Russia was a shambles when Vladimir Putin first took over from Boris Yeltsin in 1999. In 16 years – including 2008 to 2012 when he ruled from the back seat during the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev – he has largely reined in the oligarchs who stole much of the Russian wealth during the Breshnev and Yeltsin years, and resuscitated the energy-dependent economy with real disposable income rising over 160% in a decade. There remain major problems with income distribution, the flight of capital, and the drop of oil pricing since 2014, but even in Russia, James Carville’s maxim explains political popularity – “it’s the economy, stupid”. Getting it right was the second priority – after consolidation of power.

— Putin’s international priority was to reconstitute as much of the former Soviet Union as possible through the establishment of economic and national security organizations to rival the European Union and NATO. Byelorussia and Kazakhstan have been eager participants; the three Baltic states looked to western Europe; and most of the other 10 independent countries participate to some extent. Along the way, Russia has supported protection of the millions of ethnic Russians who were stranded outside of the Russian border – with the de facto secession of two provinces fromGeorgia in 2008, the incorporation of Crimea in 2014, and the ongoing support for secessionists in eastern Ukraine. There is more work to be done, but European economic sanctions are biting, and Putin has decided to pause.

The most obvious feature of Russia’s engagement in Syria is that Putin has always been committed to the preservation of the Assad regime, but it is more strategically significant that he has sided with the Iranian-led Shia alliance against the Saudi-led Sunni alliance.

— With the targeting of Russian air units against CIA-aligned anti-Assad forces, Putin has made it very clear that the United States will have no say in the outcome of the Syrian civil war. The protests of President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Carter are embarrassing to the neutral observer.

— With the announcement of an intelligence sharing agreement Moscow has solidified the relation with Iran and Syria while co-opting the Shia government of Iraq which has a trickier balancing act with a large Sunni population. How much intelligence sharing evolves into operational planning is to be determined, but the capability is now in place for alignment of forces in Syria and Iraq, including Hezbollah.

— Without American leadership, the Sunnis (and Israel) are screwed. Recognizing the shifting reality, Turkey’s Erdogan has gone to Moscow for consultations, as has Israel’s Netanyahu. It is a long way for the Sunni leaders of Turkey and Saudi Arabia to retreat from their advocacy for the removal of Assad, but they have been presented with a Russianfait accompli, and they will be realists.

— For their part, the Saudis have more to worry about than who rules Syria. With the validation of Iran’s nuclear program, the release of some $100 billion in impounded Iranian funds, the civil war in neighboring Yemen, and the threat of ISIS, there is a need for the royal family to think defense. And that was before the stampede in Mecca which cost the lives of over 1000 pilgrims, bringing calls for an international Muslim organization to take over management of the hajj from the Saudis.

So, what to look for in the Middle East as the Obama administration winds down?

— In Syria, it is too late for a no fly zone to protect the anti-Assad forces without risking conflict between American and Russian aircraft. Obama will not take the risk; Assad is safe, probably in limited territory. With no “boots on the ground” no air campaign will be able to dislodge ISIS with their growing following.

— In the White House, the president will lose interest. His objective has been to avoid American casualties and reduce our footprint in the world. Mission accomplished, with the extra bonus of “peace in our time” with Iran. It is unfortunate for the 250,000 killed and the Europeans who are confronted with millions of refugees, but speeches were not enough, even back when Obama was giving great ones.

— In the presidential campaign, Hillary will have to explain why she was opposed to efforts to remove Assad before 2012 – before she joined the “Assad must go” chorus without supporting military engagement. The Republicans, if the world is lucky, will nominate a candidate with national security experience willing to do what is necessary to defeat ISIS. Hopefully, the public will still care.

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This week we have videos of three candidates for Republican Majority Leader – Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana; Budget Chair Tom Price of Georgia; and Boehner favorite Trey Gowdy who has apparently turned down an invitation to run.

www.RightinSanFrancisco.com – 10/2/15