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The Mess in the Middle East
Russia Leads in Syria as U.S. Falters

Russia is forging ahead in trying to broker a deal in Syria, as Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has said that his government has invited members of the regime and of the Syrian opposition to meet in Moscow next week. Moreover, this Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with UN Syria Representative Staffan de Mistura in Moscow, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

Russia has also reportedly shipped 100,000 tons of wheat to the Syrian regime, and perhaps as much as 120,000. Western sanctions do not prohibit the import of foodstuffs, but do impose restrictions on the financing of grain sales.

Meanwhile, the coalition of U.S.-backed ground forces in Syria is not much an alliance—and not much of a force either, as front-line interviews by the New York Times make clear. One Arab commander said his forces were struggling to fight ISIS with “simple means”, and needed everything from more ammunition to more U.S. airstrikes. Most of the coalition’s power comes from the Kurdish forces, with whom the more disorganized and weaker Arab forces have a mistrustful relationship. As one Arab commander put it, “ISIS brings foreign fighters for an Islamic State, while they [the Kurds] bring foreign fighters for a Kurdish project…But if that is how they think, they’ll fail.” A Kurdish commander said when told of the comparison, “I came to bring democracy, while ISIS came to kill…That is the difference.”

But idealism is one thing; getting results is another. And right now, the contrast between the high words of Americans and their allies, and the effective actions of the Russians and theirs, is on stark display.

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  • Re

    “And right now, the contrast between the high words of Americans and
    their allies, and the effective actions of the Russians and theirs, is
    on stark display.”

    WHAT???? Is this article a joke? Are you sure you shouldn’t rename yourself “The Putin Interest”? And what about the fact the Assad forces didn’t gain ground after one month of strikes? The rebels even grabed some territory…Is this kind of failure called “leading”? No, sorry but the Russian intervention is a failure for now…I’m really disappointed by this lack of objectivity, really disappointed..What happened to this great website? I know Obama is too undecisive but it is not a reason to fall in love with a dictator that is the opposite of the U.S values while being blinded…Why did we get nothing about the fact the Assad regime didn’t gain ground after one month of strikes? You can do better TAI!

    • Dale Fayda

      Whether or not Assad’s forces gained ground in the past month is not the point of the article. Even assuming that the results of Russian intervention in the Syrian war have been less than stellar thus far, the intervention itself is by no means over. The facts are that Russia is putting in substantial military and financial assets on Assad’s side, that is it doing it quickly and decisively and that Russia and Iran, its collaborator in Syria, aren’t the least bit slowed by the notion of avoiding “collateral damage” in their military planning. Their lack of decisive battlefield success thus far notwithstanding, Russia, Iran and their proxies (Assad, Hezbollah, etc.) are fighting to win.

      It’s certainly safe to say that the Assad regime is in much stronger position that it was just 4 – 5 months ago, when it being squeezed to extinction.

      Compare that with what Obama has done in Syria over the last (4) years (pause for laughter…) and the contrast is stark. If you were one of the warring factions in Syria right now, in whose resolve as an ally would you have more confidence – Iran’s and Russia’s or Obama’s? To whom would you look for prompt and sizable military assistance – to Iran and Russia or to Obama?

      Keeping in line with these facts, whose military efforts are likely to gain more success in the long term – Iran’s and Russia’s or Obama’s? Who is more likely to wield decisive influence in that part of the ME (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan) going forward – Iran and Russia or Obama?

      IMHO, that is the overarching question this article was attempting to ask.

  • mikeb330

    If the Kurds think THIS Administration is going to help them “bring democracy”, they have learned nothing over the past 7 years.

  • jeburke

    The only way to have skin in this game is to put some skin in the game. A couple of US combat brigades in addition to special forces and serious air sorties would bring a lot of Arab anti-ISIS forces into the coalition.

  • Dhako

    Walter,

    Let me help you out here, and say what is going on are these:

    Firstly, what Obama is doing is to ensure he doesn’t get to “own” the problem of Syria, in the manner Bush Jr become the “proud owner” of Iraq after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. And, this means, effectively, playing little as possible in Syria, particularly in the hope that situation will resolve itself. Or if not, then he can continue to play that “grudging hand” of his with time, so that by the time he leaves office in January of 2017, Syria’s fate has’t become akin to what North Vietnam have achieved in South Vietnam by the time Gerald Ford (and the Republican party in general) came to face the US’s public in 1976 presidential election season, which was a total defeat of US’s agenda in South-East Asia at the hand of the Vietcong.

    Secondly, this means, for Obama, to keep the situation in Syria in flux, while never allowing the Iran-Russia-Assad-axis (i.e., the party with the upper-hand) to win a decisive victory in Syria, whereby back in the Beltway, that victory for the “other party” can be a gift that is keep on given to the GOP, since they can fashion that outcome as an “electoral cudgel” to which to beat the Democrats and Hillary Clinton, come 2016 presidential election.

    Furthermore, this means, of course, keep the situation in a decidedly ambiguous tone with the added bonus of seeming to “act” to resolve the situation, even if the act itself will not resolve anything, fundamentally (as he knows it), while at the same time it will buy him some time. Or at least it will allow him to run-down the clock on his presidency without suffering a “strategical defeat” at the hand of that arch-villain, by the name of Putin, over Syria.

    Thirdly, in similar fashion, the situation in Afghanistan is also the same “time buying”. Which means Obama strategy is to buy a “decent Interval” to keep to US’s forces there while he is in office in the White-House. And, this “cooling-the-heels-strategy” as you know is similar to the manner of Kissinger-and-Nixon school of disengagement over South-Vietnam was carried out. And, it seems, Obama, is doing gradual and deliberate shuffling of his feat, in-order not to suffer a defeat while the time left on his watch is run down, rather cynically.

    And, this of course, will mean, if there is going to any defeat of the US strategy in Afghanistan as well as Syria, it will have to “occur” under the watch of whoever will be occupying the White-House, come the day after he leaves office, in January of 2017.

    Fourthly, the only solution of Syria, will be one in which the parties in the conflict (and wider region) would have to agree on, which will mean, the Assad regime will stay put while everyone else (particularly the Sunni’s regional powers) will have to swallow their pride and come to the table thinking that the ISIS is their worst nightmare (or it ought to be). And Assad (by the sheer din of getting the Iranian as well as the Russian to back him up) have seen his position fundamentally strengthened vis-a-vis the wider Sunni powers.

    This is bottom line, which means, the American Sunni allies in the region are really having difficult time in accepting that Assad regime have escaped the fate they thought he ought to be destined for, which is similar to one Qaddafi of Libya have suffered.

    Fifthly, Obama is reluctant to force them to accept that the Iranian-Russian-Assad-Axis, has won this round decisively, since if he were to do that, then these Sunni powers, could turn around and say, Obama have lost Syria, which will play badly in the Beltway, which in turn will mean that the GOP will have 24/7 political TVs attack ads against Obama and against Democrats for the presidential election of 2016.

    And, finally, one should expect a cynical foot-dragging from Obama in the mean-time, and expect equally, of course, a prolong seven stages of “strategical grieve” from the Sunni powers in the region, before they accept that Iran, as enemy, with the help of Russia, is singularly, out of their league.

    And this, consequently, will mean, they should accept that it’s best for their interest if they start making a “concerted diplomatic rapprochement” with Iran, since Obama in particular (and American in general) are not going to rescue them. And that is so on the American side, regardless of how much incoherent blathering the usual GOP’s Neo-Cons strategists inside the Beltway start spouting about, particularly with the intention of “persuading” the US to saddle up on a White-Horse, and start siding openly with the Sunnis against their Shiite’s regional enemies. This is the reality behind what is going on in Syria.

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