Obama Is Going to Get a U.S. Pilot Killed
President Obama has allowed President Putin to maneuver the United States into a no-win position. He has made it more likely that a U.S. Air Force pilot or crew will be shot down and killed or captured by Russia – or worse, ISIS forces. And it will be perfectly legal. The United States won't have a leg to stand on at the United Nations or anywhere else. The alternative is that we will turn tail and run, by withdrawing U.S. advisors and their assistance to anti-ISIS forces.
Heretofore, the Russian presence in Syria was fairly limited to its warm water port in Tartus, with no significant aviation or ground force presence to speak of. This all changed when the president, in his geopolitical naiveté, decided to instigate a still nascent Arab Spring. He followed this by "leading from behind," as coalition forces, actually led by France, executed, in the words of Secretary of State Kerry, "unbelievably small" air strikes.
While all of this was going on, Obama also managed to undermine our two key allies in the region, Libya and Egypt, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador in one and, until recently, chaos in the other. Obama's poor performance in negotiating a real treaty with Iran that would prevent the Iranians from getting the Bomb has all but guaranteed nuclear proliferation as other nations rush to build their own nuclear programs as a defense against Iran. He essentially stood idly by as Russia annexed Crimea and occupied a portion of eastern Ukraine.
In short, it appears that President Obama has deliberately degraded the prestige and power of the United States in the international arena, and specifically relative to Putin's Russia.
President Putin isn't scared of President Obama. He certainly doesn't respect him or the U.S.'s willingness to go to the mat for its own or its allies' interests. His weakness on the world stage has emboldened Mr. Putin. Putin has now become the prime actor in the fight against ISIS...at least as the world perceives him. He also appears to represent the only world power deliberately protecting Christians from murder and mayhem. President Obama, on the other hand, appears increasingly weak and ineffective.
Here's where things stand right now in Syria. Vladimir Putin has been "invited" in by the Syrians, allegedly to deal with ISIS. He has already deployed some aviation assets. These top-of-the-line Russian aircraft have already struck targets. Incidentally, these targets just happen to be the "moderate" Muslim fighters armed and trained by the CIA and U.S. Special Forces. He has managed to get U.S. officials to "welcome" his participation in the fight against ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry has said, "We’re prepared to welcome Russian involvement in Syria if they target ISIS and al-Qaeda."
Does anyone truly believe that President Putin is there to help U.S. interests? Of course not. He understands which country's interests he's supposed to promote – Russia's.
Here's the part that makes things difficult or at least ambiguous for the United States. These attacks are taking place on sovereign Syrian territory. Both U.S. and Russian pilots are flying in that same airspace. There is, however, one minor difference. The Russians have permission from the still sitting president of Syria, Bashar Assad. The U.S. does not.
When the U.S. led-from-behind coalition first began its attacks on targets in Syria, some folks in our government warned President Assad not to molest our aircraft under threat of severe reprisal. We could get away with that at the time, as our air capability (airframes and aviators) far surpassed that of the Syrians in quality and quantity. Now that Russia is flying sorties out of Syrian air bases, the Russians can, with their advanced aircraft and well-trained crews, enforce Syrian sovereignty – legally.
A Russian three-star general recently walked into a U.S. facility in Iraq and handed a note to the officials there, demanding that U.S. aircraft vacate Syrian airspace within an hour due to Russian air operations taking place shortly thereafter. Here is what is dangerous. This general could, according to international law (such as it is), make such a demarche as the allied representative of the duly constituted government of Syria. This means that, in a confrontation in Syrian airspace between Russian and U.S. aircraft, the Russians would, technically, be in the right. The U.S. would have to run away or get into a gunfight with the Russians.
What President Obama has done is put the strategic interests of the United States in the hands of 22- to 25-year-old pilots, who will have to execute rules of engagement developed by political hacks who have never been at the pointy end of the spear. At some point, one of these valiant young aviators will have to make a decision to save his own life. That decision, while tactical in nature, will end up having strategic results. We will end up in a shooting conflict with Russia or with a U.S. pilot on the ground, fighting for his life as he tries to evade ISIS patrols. Worst-case, we will end up with a U.S. service member on camera, as ISIS executes him.