Once again, the Obama administration is surprised and dismayed by Russia and Iran—this time in Syria. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Senior Russian and Iranian diplomats, generals and strategists have held a string of high-level talks in Moscow in recent months to discuss Mr. Assad’s defense and the Kremlin’s military buildup in Syria, according to these officials.The buildup is continuing: On Monday, U.S. defense officials said Russian surveillance drones have started flying missions over Syria, and Moscow has sent two dozen more fighter jets to Syria.[..]The increasing Russian-Iranian defense of Mr. Assad is placing the Obama administration in a diplomatic and strategic bind.U.S. officials had said they hoped the landmark nuclear agreement forged in July between Washington and Tehran, with the assistance of Russia, could pave the way for cooperation in ending Syria’s civil war. They specifically raised hope that a new diplomatic process could start to ease Mr. Assad from power.
It turns out that Russia and Syria aren’t responding to American gestures of goodwill and conciliation by restraint and retreat. Rather, they are coordinating efforts in Syria to frustrate American objectives. And while the U.S. dithers (pardon us, engages in a rigorous and clear headed process of strategic decision making), Russia and Iran are racing to create new facts on the ground.One loses track of the number of times that this White House has been caught flat-footed by the Kremlin. It seems that President Obama doesn’t “get” a core element of Russian and Iranian foreign policy: These powers see themselves engaged in a zero sum competition with the United States for influence and power. They are willing to reach concrete agreements with Washington when they believe that those agreements serve their interests—but they do not see these agreements as steps toward a different kind of relationship with the United States.