My colleague, Dan McLaughlin, wrote a must-read on Obama and Syria yesterday. In it we are given two models to choose from: Obama the Foreign Policy Wizard and Obama the Idiot.
Anointing Obama a savant in every field has been an endeavor practiced by the American left with a devotion that would shame the North Korean media’s praise of the Kim du jour. The Nation has run a story titled Barack Obama Is a Foreign Policy Grandmaster. If you aren’t a complete master of your gag reflex I’d suggest you not read it. In regards to Syria, other fluffers for Obama have claimed to see a grand design. In this design, Obama has consciously courted Iran to make it a “friend and partner” in the Middle East.
It is difficult to know exactly what, if anything, has been guiding the Obama White House on foreign policy but what is certain is that it is simply overmatched by Putin and his advisers. We’ve chronicled (here | here | here)how Russia has used the conflict in Syria as a very low risk and low cost way of sending a message to the world that power is flowing to Russia and away from the United States.
Iran strategy is a smolder lump of molten FAIL.
I have no reason to doubt that Obama had a plan to co-opt Iran from its 40-year-old role as human rights abuser, purveyor of international terrorism, and implacable foe of the United States into the position of warm and cuddly ally. But the missing part in the plan was always what Iran gets out of the sex change operation Obama had in mind. Its domestic politics are built on a foundation of America-hatred, though Obama never seemed to grasp that:
Obama: “Chanting ‘Death to America’ does not create jobs or make Iran more secure” pic.twitter.com/ebdH3Be8PB
— New York Post (@nypost) September 28, 2015
“Death to America” may not create jobs but “Death to America” does focus domestic anger on America and keeps the mullahs’ heads from being paraded about on pikes. Iran’s recent intelligence sharing arrangement with Russia and coordinating its military plans with Russia while not joining the US led “coalition” against ISIS is a clear sign that Iran is not our friend or ally.
Russia is trolling Obama.
Russia continues its campaign of trolling Obama as a way of building its narrative that it is driving the train in Syria and running a train on Obama. (This, of course, is treasonous crazy talk.) Over the weekend Russian fighters deliberately violated Turkish air space twice and, on at least one of the encounters, acted hostilely:
In addition to the incursion reports, the Turkish air force said a MiG-29 fighter jet of an unidentified nationality had interfered Monday with eight Turkish F-16s on the Turkey-Syria border.
The Turkish air force reported the jet put its planes under a radar lock for four minutes and 30 seconds.
Stoltenberg rebuked Russian combat aircraft for two alleged violations of Turkey’s airspace.
“We also have seen two of them, two violations of Turkish airspace,” he said at a news conference. “Intelligence that we have received provides me with reason to say it doesn’t look like an accident.”
Russia has started intercepting our Predator drones
Russian fighter jets shadowed U.S. predator drones on at least three separate occasions high above Syria since the start of Russia’s air campaign last week, according to two U.S. officials briefed on this latest intelligence from the region.
“The first time it happened, we thought the Russians got lucky. Then it happened two more times,” said one official.
The Russians have not attempted to shoot down any of the U.S. drones, but instead have flown “intercept tracks,” a doctrinal term meaning the Russians flew close enough to make their presence felt, according to one official.
Russia has been deliberately targeting US trained fighters in Syria:
Russia is deliberately bombing CIA-backed rebels in Syria, US officials have claimed for the first time, as Nato warned that two incursions by Russian jets into Turkish airspace were also “no accident”.
US officials said on Monday that Russian bombing of America’s allies in Syria was part of a strategy intended to bolster the Assad regime by going its moderate opponents, rather than targeting terrorist groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil.)
“On day one, you can say it was a one-time mistake,” a senior U.S. official reportedly told the Wall Street Journal. “But on day three and day four, there’s no question it’s intentional. They know what they’re hitting.”
The strategy is part of a direct challenge to President Barack Obama’s Syria policy, the anonymous officials claimed.
Their cruise missile attack on targets in Syria is sending a message to governments in the region (I’m sure Amman and Tel Aviv and Ankara took notice) that Russia can project military power just as effectively as the United States:
Russia says it has launched rocket strikes on Islamic State group targets in Syria from warships in the Caspian Sea – about 1,500km (930 miles) away. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said four warships fired 26 sea-based cruise missiles on 11 targets, destroying them and causing no civilian casualties.
Russia’s decision to attack what it claims to be IS targets in Syria with cruise missiles fired from warships in the Caspian Sea represents a new twist to Moscow’s growing involvement in the crisis.
It is not clear yet why these particular weapons were chosen in preference to air strikes – but the missiles would have had to fly a considerable distance over Iran and then Iraq to reach Syria. Sea-launched cruise missiles have long been a favourite US weapon of choice in interventions overseas, so there may be an element of Russia demonstrating that it has the full military panoply of any other “superpower”.
But it adds yet a further complication to the air campaign in the skies over Syria. Of more significance may be early signs of Syrian government counter-offensives – aided by their allies – which could be linked to the Russian air campaign.
The Russian ministry of defense helpfully posted video on Twitter.
What is Obama doing?
Nothing would be an appropriate description.
The White House understands that Washington’s chattering class is inclined to read Russia’s military intervention in Syria — which continued with dozens of new airstrikes Monday and Tuesday — as a test of wills between two leaders. But Obama remains determined to avoid a direct conflict or a proxy fight with Moscow, especially when he believes Putin is making a strategic blunder.
That’s right. In Obama’s view, it is Russia that is making the strategic blunder. But as Dan McLaughlin points out, the ground component of Putin’s Syrian strategy — Assad’s Syrians, the Iranians, and Lebanese Hezbollah — are more than willing to kill as many people as it takes to win. There is no danger of Russia getting bogged down because Russia is only providing firepower. Russian troops have begun to arrive but they will be used to unscore Putin’s theme of Russian involvement. It is difficult to see what they could contribute in combat power.
Obama administration officials privately acknowledge that Putin, while intent on protecting Assad’s regime, is also enjoying a psychological game aimed at making America look weak.
But that doesn’t change their view that rising to his bait would be a mistake. Obama and his top advisers are convinced that Putin — facing a contracting economy and diplomatic isolation over his aggression in Ukraine — is the weak one.
“I understand that, because of history, and the Cuban missile crisis, the temptation is to make this into a U.S.-Russia, mano-a-mano, eyeball-to-eyeball-in-the-Middle-East thing. I just think the dynamics are totally different” from the Cold War, said Derek Chollet, an Obama national security official until earlier this year.
“It’s telling to me that critics of the administration actually want Obama to be more like Putin,” he added.
Obama is a believer in “strategic patience,” a phrase at the heart of his administration’s recent National Security Strategy. But that patience appears likely to be tested in the coming weeks.
Patience is a virtue. Patience only works, however, when the overall situation is running in your favor. Patience works when you are actually acting. Patience in the absence of an affirmative plan is paralysis. What Obama is practicing is “strategic paralyasis.” He is paralyzed by indecision and as the dithers power trickles from our hands. Rather than acting he pronounces non sequiturs like ‘Russia is blundering’ and ‘America is stronger.’ He can’t act because to act would require him to disavow every act his administration has undertaken for the last seven years. All the while our friends, our allies, and our opponents see a nation that will not defend its interests This is not going to end well for us.