Obama's foreign policy incompetence encouraging Putin to go to war with Turkey

I remember a lot of people speculating about what would have happened in the world if Jimmy Carter had been elected to a second term.  Many believed that the Soviets would have taken advantage of Carter's weakness and confusion to confront NATO, believing that the U.S. would be paralyzed into inaction.

Something similar could happen today, according to some analysts.  Vladimir Putin's saber-rattling at Turkey could become more than bluster if the Russian strongman doesn't think that the U.S. and NATO would go to war if Moscow attacked Turkey.

The Russians are beginning military exercises in the region immediately adjacent to their border with Turkey.  The exercises are a threat because Russian troops will be on the highest level of alert short of war.  And Russian rhetoric aimed at Turkey has become more bellicose as events in the Syrian city of Aleppo may force Turkey to try and intervene in the conflict.  With Russian jets pounding rebel positions in and around Aleppo and Syrian and Iranian proxy troops surrounding the city, Turkey may feel it has no choice but to lift the siege of Syria's largest city.

One of Russia's most knowledgable and respected defense analysts – a critic of Putin and Russian military policy – offered some insight into what's going on in Moscow:

Today Pavel Felgenhauer published his analysis under the alarming title, “Russia has begun preparations for a major war,” and he marshals a convincing case that the snap exercises in the country’s southwest are really a cover for a shooting war with Turkey—and therefore with NATO too, if Ankara is perceived as defending itself and can assert its right to Article 5, collective self-defense, which obligates all members of the Atlantic Alliance to come to Turkey’s aid.

As The New York Times dryly noted of the Kremlin, “The [Defense] Ministry has ordered surprise maneuvers over the last three years as tensions between the East and West have worsened. The maneuvers have at times come as combat escalated in Ukraine and Syria.” In fact, using large-scale military exercises as a cover for aggression is old hat in Moscow. It was used during the August 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which explains why NATO always got jumpy when Moscow held military exercises anywhere NATO territory, while snap exercises like this week inevitably caused Cold War panic.

Mr. Felgenhauer paints an alarmingly plausible scenario. As rebel forces defend Aleppo in Stalingrad fashion, the Syrian military, with Russian help, commences a protracted siege of the city, employing massive firepower, which becomes a humanitarian nightmare of a kind not seen in decades, a tragedy that would dwarf the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo. However, any Turkish move to lift that siege, even with international imprimatur, would quickly devolve into all-out war.

Mr. Felgenhauer minces no words about this: “Russia has begun the deployment of forces and resources for a major war with Turkey.” Mr. Putin has decided to let his client, the Assad regime, win its bloody civil war, first in the north around Aleppo, and any moves by Turkey or NATO to stop them will be met with force. So far, President Barack Obama has let Mr. Putin do whatever he likes in Syria, no matter the cost in innocent lives, so the Kremlin has no reason to think that will change.

Putin has already killed 35,000 Chechens – mostly civilians – in his bloody effort to defeat the rebels there.  Something similar could happen in Aleppo, where a humanitarian crisis unlike any the world has seen since World War II is already underway.

So how did we get to this dangerous juncture in history?

Is Mr. Felgenhauer’s alarmism warranted? Many Western insiders think along similar lines. By letting Mr. Putin get away with whatever he likes in Syria, Mr. Obama has created a deeply dangerous situation in the region. By abandoning his infamous Syria “redline” in September 2013, the White House in effect outsourced American policy there to Mr. Putin, as I warned you at the time, and which the Obama administration, powerless to influence terrible events in Syria, is slowly realizing.

“Are we heading for our ‘Sarajevo moment’?” a senior NATO official bluntly asked: “It’s clear that there has to be some actual ‘redline’ for Mr. Obama, something that the United States cannot tolerate Russia doing – but where is it? If I don’t know, I’m sure the Kremlin doesn’t either.”

Has there ever been a U.S. president who has backed himself and the country into this kind of corner due to overwhelming incompetence and hubris?  Putin may eventually conclude there is no red line and attack.  He certainly has no respect for the fighting abilities of European troops.  And Obama has proven he not only doesn't know what he's doing, but can be pushed around by the likes of Iran and Cuba. 

My gut feeling is that if Putin concludes that NATO will stay on the sidelines, he will attack Turkey.  Given the track record of NATO countries in Afghanistan, where most of the alliance forbade their troops from serving in combat areas, and the hesitancy of NATO to respond to Russian threats against the Baltic states and eastern Europe, Putin has good reason to believe he would get away with it – and expose NATO as the hollow shell of an alliance that it is.

I remember a lot of people speculating about what would have happened in the world if Jimmy Carter had been elected to a second term.  Many believed that the Soviets would have taken advantage of Carter's weakness and confusion to confront NATO, believing that the U.S. would be paralyzed into inaction.

Something similar could happen today, according to some analysts.  Vladimir Putin's saber-rattling at Turkey could become more than bluster if the Russian strongman doesn't think that the U.S. and NATO would go to war if Moscow attacked Turkey.

The Russians are beginning military exercises in the region immediately adjacent to their border with Turkey.  The exercises are a threat because Russian troops will be on the highest level of alert short of war.  And Russian rhetoric aimed at Turkey has become more bellicose as events in the Syrian city of Aleppo may force Turkey to try and intervene in the conflict.  With Russian jets pounding rebel positions in and around Aleppo and Syrian and Iranian proxy troops surrounding the city, Turkey may feel it has no choice but to lift the siege of Syria's largest city.

One of Russia's most knowledgable and respected defense analysts – a critic of Putin and Russian military policy – offered some insight into what's going on in Moscow:

Today Pavel Felgenhauer published his analysis under the alarming title, “Russia has begun preparations for a major war,” and he marshals a convincing case that the snap exercises in the country’s southwest are really a cover for a shooting war with Turkey—and therefore with NATO too, if Ankara is perceived as defending itself and can assert its right to Article 5, collective self-defense, which obligates all members of the Atlantic Alliance to come to Turkey’s aid.

As The New York Times dryly noted of the Kremlin, “The [Defense] Ministry has ordered surprise maneuvers over the last three years as tensions between the East and West have worsened. The maneuvers have at times come as combat escalated in Ukraine and Syria.” In fact, using large-scale military exercises as a cover for aggression is old hat in Moscow. It was used during the August 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which explains why NATO always got jumpy when Moscow held military exercises anywhere NATO territory, while snap exercises like this week inevitably caused Cold War panic.

Mr. Felgenhauer paints an alarmingly plausible scenario. As rebel forces defend Aleppo in Stalingrad fashion, the Syrian military, with Russian help, commences a protracted siege of the city, employing massive firepower, which becomes a humanitarian nightmare of a kind not seen in decades, a tragedy that would dwarf the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo. However, any Turkish move to lift that siege, even with international imprimatur, would quickly devolve into all-out war.

Mr. Felgenhauer minces no words about this: “Russia has begun the deployment of forces and resources for a major war with Turkey.” Mr. Putin has decided to let his client, the Assad regime, win its bloody civil war, first in the north around Aleppo, and any moves by Turkey or NATO to stop them will be met with force. So far, President Barack Obama has let Mr. Putin do whatever he likes in Syria, no matter the cost in innocent lives, so the Kremlin has no reason to think that will change.

Putin has already killed 35,000 Chechens – mostly civilians – in his bloody effort to defeat the rebels there.  Something similar could happen in Aleppo, where a humanitarian crisis unlike any the world has seen since World War II is already underway.

So how did we get to this dangerous juncture in history?

Is Mr. Felgenhauer’s alarmism warranted? Many Western insiders think along similar lines. By letting Mr. Putin get away with whatever he likes in Syria, Mr. Obama has created a deeply dangerous situation in the region. By abandoning his infamous Syria “redline” in September 2013, the White House in effect outsourced American policy there to Mr. Putin, as I warned you at the time, and which the Obama administration, powerless to influence terrible events in Syria, is slowly realizing.

“Are we heading for our ‘Sarajevo moment’?” a senior NATO official bluntly asked: “It’s clear that there has to be some actual ‘redline’ for Mr. Obama, something that the United States cannot tolerate Russia doing – but where is it? If I don’t know, I’m sure the Kremlin doesn’t either.”

Has there ever been a U.S. president who has backed himself and the country into this kind of corner due to overwhelming incompetence and hubris?  Putin may eventually conclude there is no red line and attack.  He certainly has no respect for the fighting abilities of European troops.  And Obama has proven he not only doesn't know what he's doing, but can be pushed around by the likes of Iran and Cuba. 

My gut feeling is that if Putin concludes that NATO will stay on the sidelines, he will attack Turkey.  Given the track record of NATO countries in Afghanistan, where most of the alliance forbade their troops from serving in combat areas, and the hesitancy of NATO to respond to Russian threats against the Baltic states and eastern Europe, Putin has good reason to believe he would get away with it – and expose NATO as the hollow shell of an alliance that it is.