Ever since the Russians started their intervention in Syria, the theme coming out of the White House has been that the Russians will get “bogged down” in Syria. When you read stuff like:
Two U.S. officials told The Daily Beast they more or less hoped that Russia did dive into what they called the “quagmire” of Syria, a conflict that the U.S. has kept at arm’s length by limiting its involvement to airstrikes directed exclusively at ISIS and al Nusra forces.
“If he wants to jump into that mess, good luck,” one official said, noting that Russia had become bogged down in Afghanistan a generation ago in a fight against Islamic radicals.
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told reporters that the Russians may be “making a terrible strategic mistake” by deepening their military involvement in Syria. He also warned of the “risk of running into a quagmire.”
You have the sense of people trying to convince themselves that this is the case rather than trying to convince others. As things stand today, there is no chance of Russia becoming “bogged down.” Unlike the Afghan mujahadeen, no major nation is going to arm ISIS. On the other hand, Russia doesn’t have to commit combat troops because Assad, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Lebanese Hezbollah are acting a proxy armies.
As the US is being turfed out of the region by a high visibility but small footprint Russian operation, the newest warning is “blowback.” This is a tired only left wing trope that, at its core, is utterly racist. We saw this in the Iraq war when the left was actually insisting that the more jihadis you killed the more were created as if the typical Arab or Muslim was so lowly evolved that they don’t possess even the sense of self preservation one finds in lower order animals. The fact is, what we saw in Iraq was that the supply of jihadis prepared to go to almost certain death was limited and, surprise, Arabs and Muslims, behaving very much like humans everywhere else, weren’t all excited about being killed.
Now blowback is becoming the new watchword of our failed Machiavellis:
And U.S. officials note that every bomb against a non-ISIS Sunni target puts them more in bed with Iran and Hezbollah, which are Shiite. U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf warn that this could set off a huge sectarian conflict and that the deeper the Russians get into this, the harder officials believe it will be to get a diplomatic process with the Saudis and others restarted.
“It is going to be hugely tempting for the Saudis to start financing their guys again,” another senior administration official said. “Syria will be a magnet for every jihadi, who will rush to fight the Russians, just like they did in Afghanistan. The problem is while this will cause problems for the Russians, it will also mean trouble for the Gulf, when the jihadists come home.”
“The Russians can’t be stupid,” another senior administration official said. “This is going to be wildly expensive. And they can’t hold out long. They know in the end there is no future for the guy (Assad) because the whole reason they had to come in is because Assad and his forces were extremely vulnerable. So we are hoping they will come to their senses, stabilize the situation and then we can agree on the Assad piece.”
(Hilariously, this piece is not even two weeks old and already the last paragraph is, to use Nixon-speak, ‘inoperative.’)
Now, POLITICO, ever the dutiful stenographers of the Obama message du jour are predicting Armageddon: Putin faces blowback from Syria intervention.
U.S. intelligence officials warn that Russia’s military intervention in Syria has stirred the wrath of Islamic radicals who may retaliate by staging terrorist attacks inside Russia.
Terrorism analysts say they are already seeing signs of fresh militant anger toward Moscow, which could raise the domestic political cost to Putin for his foreign intervention and further complicate the decisions facing U.S. policymakers.
Such attacks would serve as revenge for Putin’s defense of Syrian ruler Bashar Assad against a rebellion fueled by militants tied to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“There are very public calls on social media by terrorist groups to attack Russian targets,” said [mc_name name=’Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001150′ ], the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “It could very well result in a renewed focus on attacks in the Russian homeland.”
This is the kind of boogeyman that keeps Obama national security people clenching their sphincters. Oddly enough, the story presents a couple of very good reasons why blowback, if it happens, isn’t going to bother Putin very much.
In 1999, a series of apartment complex bombings killed nearly 300 people in Moscow and other cities. Then an acting prime minister hoping to succeed Boris Yeltsin as president, Putin blamed Islamic militants seeking vengeance for Russia’s brutal military campaign to suppress the Chechen republic’s bid for independence from Moscow. Vowing to hunt down and kill terrorists “in the outhouse” if necessary, Putin led a bloody crackdown in the region.
His poll numbers surged and the episode cemented Putin’s place as Russia’s next president, Hill says.
Putin largely managed to crush the Chechen independence movement. But he wasn’t able to prevent horrific terrorist attacks, as militants — including Chechnya’s notorious female “Black Widow” suicide bombers — struck airports, subways, hotels, and even more chilling targets.
In 2002 Chechens captured a Moscow theater during a performance; a subsequent gassing and storming by security officers left 129 hostages died. Two years later, Chechens seized an elementary school in Beslan, where a military assault left 385 dead, including dozens of children.
Putin responded ruthlessly, vowing the “total annihilation” of terrorists in his country, and was hailed as a strong and decisive leader at home. After two female suicide bombers struck the Moscow subway in March 2010, one former U.S. ambassador to Russia wrote that Putin’s circle “remains seemingly impervious” to political damage from terrorism.
Read that carefully. In the Moscow theater standoff, the Russians killed at least 129 people in the theater. Over 700 Russian hostages were hospitalized from exposure to the nerve gas used. Many of those suffered permanent injury and several died. In Beslan, to get at 32 terrorists the Russian government killed 385 and wounded over 700 people. Civilian casualties in the two Chechen wars are northwards of 150,000.
This is willingness to kill as many people as it takes without regards to killing your own civilians is not lost on the Islamists. The surety with which the Russians will extract vengeance makes it much more difficult for militants to carry out attacks because people are reluctant to aid them. Even if they do carry out attacks, they know it will not cause Russia to change its policies.
This is not new. The Soviet Union operated the same way. Back in the 1980s, the main industry of Lebanon was kidnapping Westerners. Our CIA station chief, William Buckley, and a USMC colonel, Bill Higgins, were both kidnapped, tortured, and executed. There was only one instance of a Soviet citizen being kidnapped:
The recent videotaped beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the bloodthirsty savages of ISIS bring to mind a story which took place in Lebanon almost 30 years ago. On September 30, 1985, a group of gunmen seized four Soviet diplomats and embassy workers (Arkady Katkov, Valery Myrikov, Oleg Spirin, and Nikolai Svirsky) in Beirut. During the kidnapping right outside the embassy, Katkov was wounded in the leg.
The abductors called themselves “The Khaled Al-Walid Force” and the “Islamic Liberation Organization”. According to SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) Colonel Yuri Perfilyev, who at the time was the KGG rezident (station chief) in Lebanon, the kidnapping was orchestrated by infamous Hezbollah operative Imad “Hyena”Mugniyeh in response to an offensive by Syria-backed leftist militias in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. The Shiite radicals demanded that Moscow force Damascus to suspend the Tripoli offensive and close its embassy in Beirut. To demonstrate that they meant business, only two days after the kidnapping, Mugniyeh murdered the wounded Katkov by riddling him with machine gun bullets and left his body in a Beirut rubbish dump.
[T]he KGB kidnapped a man they knew to be a close relative of a prominent Hezbollah leader. They then castrated him and sent the severed organs to the Hezbollah official, before dispatching the unfortunate kinsman with a bullet in the brain.
In addition to presenting him with this grisly proof of their seriousness, the KGB operatives also advised the Hezbollah leader that they knew the indentities of other close relatives of his, and that he could expect more such packages if the three Soviet diplomats were not freed immediately.
Soon thereafter, the surviving three hostages were dropped off by the Soviet embassy “from a late-model BMW that couldn’t drive away fast enough” and never again was a Soviet (diplomat or otherwise) kidnapped in Lebanon. As Benny Morris put it: “This is the way the Soviets operate. They do things – they don’t talk. And this is the language the Hezbollah understand.” Not only Hezbollah, but ISIS and every other Muslim terror group.
There may very well be retaliation against Russia for its role in Syria. Personally, I doubt it. But if there is we know one thing for a fact: it will not cause the Russians to stop what they are doing.