Putin moves in as Obama's Syrian strategy against ISIS collapses
A very sharp analysis of the Syrian situation from the New York Observer's John Schindler, who lays out a case that Russian influence in the Middle East is on the rise while America's is being frittered away by the incompetents at the White House.
The forces Mr. Putin has just deployed to Syria are impressive, veteran special operators backed by a wing of fighters and ground attack jets that are expected to commence air strikes on Assad’s foes soon. They are backed by air defense units, which is puzzling since the Islamic State has no air force, indicating that the Kremlin’s true intent in Syria has little to do with the stated aim of fighting terrorism and is really about propping up Russia’s longtime client in Damascus.
The White House is left planning “deconfliction” with Moscow—which is diplomatic language for entreating Russians, who now dominate Syrian airspace, not to shoot down American drones, which provide the lion’s share of our intelligence on the Islamic State. The recent meeting on Syrian developments between Mr. Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who clearly finds dealing with the Russian strongman preferable to parleying with President Obama, indicates where power is flowing in today’s Middle East.
To make matters worse for the administration, new revelations regarding flawed intelligence assessments of the Islamic State, which I told you about last week, paint a troubling portrait of organized lying at the Pentagon. Some of the more than 50 analysts at Central Command in Tampa who blew the whistle on politicized intelligence reported feeling “bullied” to make their assessments of the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State appear more successful than the facts warranted. This is about much more than merely “cherry-picking” intelligence.
One named whistleblower has come forward about CENTCOM’s intelligence problems, explaining that he witnessed persistent, command-mandated low-balling of terrorist threats in Iraq since the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Rising terrorism in Iraq was “off message” for the White House, eager to pronounce jihadism there as dead as its leader.
It's not just cooked intel. It's the way the White House has been interferring in the prosecution of the war against ISIS, highlighted by the resignation of John Allen, Obama's "war czar," who quit in disgust because of micromanaging from national security aides:
The main culprit is micromanagement by White House staffers, especially on the National Security Council, which is bloated and regularly treats senior military officers and diplomats like hired help. Obscenity-laced tirades by senior NSC staff are not uncommon. To make matters worse, significant differences between the NSC and the Pentagon on how to defeat the Islamic State went unresolved for months, leading to lethargy inside the Beltway while U.S. theater commanders were close to panicking about the enemy’s rise. Mr. Allen eventually had enough.
Now the White House needs to find a replacement who’s up to the job, which looks to be no easy task. “Good luck with that,” stated a senior Pentagon official, “I doubt they’ll find another four-star eager to be the dog who catches that car.” A senior NATO official explained that Mr. Allen’s departure “is really a serious blow. We had little confidence before in President Obama’s ability to defeat Daesh,” the Arabic term for the Islamic State. “Now we have none.”
Schindler speculates on what happens next in Syria:
What happens next in Syria is the top guessing game among security experts the world over right now. Has Mr. Putin finally gone too far? Can anything be salvaged from that awful conflict that could serve Western interests while stopping the rise of the Islamic State—and perhaps even save innocent lives? What is the aim of Operation Inherent Resolve now that General Allen is leaving the stage? All that’s certain at this point is that President Obama’s flailing war against the Islamic State is looking for a strategy as well as a new czar.
It has been evident from the start that the president has not been serious about confronting the Islamic State and was interested only in doing the bare minimum necessary to give the illusion of action. When you pretend to fight a war, the results are predictable: failure. Vladimir Putin should be grateful for the gift President Obama has given him in Syria, as 70 years of U.S. policy to deny Russian influence in the Middle East appears to be unravelling.