Sunday, October 04, 2015

What's Happening in Syria

Back from a long break from blogging. We'll see how often I keep updating but this one is fairly important and I want to go on the record so that I at least have the satisfaction of gloating later.

To many people, President Obama's policy on Syria has been puzzling. He really has no policy except to hope that things turn out better on their own. Part of this is his conviction about "being on the wrong side of history" and is aversion to boots on the ground, especially after he bragged about bringing the troops home.

As I write this, the Russians have entered Syria, promising to aid the fight against ISIS (or ISIL or the Islamic State) but their air strikes seem to be doing more harm to rebels apposing Assad than to ISIS.

So, here in a nutshell is what's been going on:

For most of his presidency, Obama pinned his hopes of a major foreign relations accomplishment on a nuclear proliferation agreement with Iran. He unwisely let Iran know how important this was to him giving them an edge.

Early in the war Obama was advised to help the rebels in order to bring Assad to the bargaining table. He didn't do this because Assad is Iran's client and they threatened to stop the treaty if he moved against Assad.

At the conclusion of the treaty process, Obama stated that he expects Iran to move back into the world as a regional power. Privately, Obama is counting on Iran to fight ISIS for him.

So far Obama's efforts against ISIS have had limited effect. You cannot win a war by limited air strikes alone and Iran has objected to Obama arming any force that might threaten Assad. This left a power vacuum in the Middle East which Putin's Russia has filled.

Obama hoped that Iran didn't mean the daily chants of "Death to America" and that signing a treaty that gives Iran a path to being a nuclear power and releasing billions in cash will make Iran our friend. He is likely mistaken.

Putin is taking advantage of our weakness and providing direct aid to Iran's client. This will help Iran in becoming the regional power that Obama envisioned but it will be a Russian ally not an American one. This has an added benefit because the refugee crisis caused by the civil war in Syria is causing strain on all of Europe. The weaker Europe is, the harder it is for them to oppose Russian expansion.

This should be obvious but Obama has trouble seeing Russia uncritically. He spent years on a reset and he has dismissed their territorial ambitions as being on the wrong side of history. He dismissed Romney's warning about Russia with a one-liner about the 80s wanting their foreign policy back. It never occurred to him that Russia wanted a return to the 80s.

So, my prediction is that when the dust settles, Iran will control Syria and Iraq with Russia's aid and will be threatening the other countries in the region. Europe will be too busy worrying about the refugees from all of this to do anything to stop it and it will probably be too far advanced when a new president is sworn into office for the United States to take any effective action.

And that will be President Obama's real major foreign accomplishment.

No comments: