Obama will be forced to play Putin's game in Syria
Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Barack Obama yesterday at the U.N. for 90 minutes, and in that hour and a half, Russia became the dominant power in the Middle East.
For years, President Obama had insisted that Iran would not be invited to negotiations to achieve a political solution in Syria – until yesterday, when the president all but conceded almost every point being advancved by Putin. Obama even backed down from his insistence that President Assad leave office before negotiations can begin, saying that his exit could be negotiated.
It's clear that a new axis is forming in the region, with Iran and Russia joining to prop up President Assad and fight the Islamic State.
During his discussion of the non-coalition coalition, Rouhani did not hesitate to emphasize how closely aligned his country’s views regarding the situation in Syria are with those of the Russians. He described them as “a mirror” of one another. Then, in recounting a conversation he had with Vladimir Putin prior to the recent Russian military buildup in Syria, he spoke of the Russian president’s expressed desire to get involved in that country in order to mount a “more effective” campaign against the Islamic State (IS).
More effective than who, you might ask? (Do you really have to ask?) The implication was clear. Putin, who views a collapse in Syria as a local issue with the regime in Damascus serving as a bulwark against the spread of extremism into the gut of Russia, doesn’t think much of the U.S.-led efforts to date against IS. In fact, during his address to the U.N. on Monday, Putin implied the United States was doing nothing to fight IS in Syria, stating, “We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurdish militias are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.”
Interestingly, Rouhani also said that Putin told him that he had let Barack Obama know of his plans to dial up the heat during a conversation with the American president. This is unsettling because the United States has seemed so unprepared for the Russian escalation, although apparently the White House had a president-to-president heads-up that it was coming.
Indeed, according to recent reports like this one in the Washington Post, Obama, for his part, is still reportedly trying to figure out what the heck his next halfway measure should be in Syria — should he dial up more tweets from the NSC or perhaps give another speech about how bad the options are in that country? Certainly, his U.N. address on Monday did not offer any clear answers — about anything.
It should be obvious that the United States is on the outside looking in when it comes to Syria. We have refused to cooperate with President Assad and Hezb'allah in fighting the Islamic State – and the rebels who are trying to topple the dictator. Eventually, if the U.S. wants to be a player during political negotiations, we are going to have to swallow hard and accept Russian leadership and coordinate with them, even if it's just to avoid accidental conflicts that might occur during air combat operations.
"Halfway measure" is an excellent description of our efforts in Syria to battle the Islamic State. We have committed the U.S. military to a conflict we have no desire to do what's necessary to win. And it appears that this immoral policy will continue.