Taking advantage of US’ weakness
Moscow’s recent steps in Syria came as a surprise to the international community. Russia has dispatched its soldiers to Syria and has increased its military assistance to the Syrian regime.
Will the Russian soldiers serve as boots on the ground for the United States in its war against Daesh? Hardly! The Russian forces are to prop up Assad after the latter endured a series of military defeats. To be sure, Obama’s tactical objective in Syria is not different from that of Putin’s: Keeping Assad’s regime intact!
Gen. Lloyd Austin’s testimony a week ago is a statement on the failure of the American administration to enlist Syrian rebels who would fight Daesh. In fact, the Americans managed to recruit only a handful of Syrian rebels to do the job. Rebels were asked to sign a document stating that they would only target Daesh and avoid attacking Assad’s troops and his allies! Not surprisingly, Syrian rebels see Assad’s brutal handling of the Syrian revolution as the main reason for the death of hundreds of thousands and displacement of millions of Syrians.
To the rebels, the objective is clear: Get rid of Assad first then fight all radical groups. Indeed, the survival of Assad is the magnet for all militants to assemble in Syria. If anything, Obama’s strategy and his hesitance during the first two years of the Syrian revolution contributed to the current situation. Daesh filled in the void when the American administration refused to arm the then moderate rebels. Both Hillary Clinton and Robert Ford (the former American ambassador to Syria) were among the critics of Obama’s short-sighted policy on Syria.
Key to understanding the failure of the American policy on Syria is the fact that President Obama focused much of his attention appeasing Iran so that the latter sign a nuclear deal.
In the process, Obama promised to respect Iran’s interests in Syria and above all he instructed his army to coordinate the military operations in Iraq with the Iranians via the Iraqi government. Contrary to what the American officials say, there is a de facto alliance between Washington and Tehran in Iraq.
To assure his Arab allies, Obama paid lip service to oust Assad from Syria. When it comes to this particular point, Obama was not successful in putting his money where his mouth is. It is not as if Putin did not take notice of the American empty threats. For this reason, Putin twisted his position and changed course.
It would have been unthinkable for the Russians to start a military buildup of this magnitude, were it not for the weakened leadership of Obama. It seems that Putin does not take Obama’s words seriously anymore.
While the writing is on the wall, President Obama is still optimistic that the Russians can help the Americans on the ground. Of course, Putin needs to justify his intervention by citing the need to build a front to fight Daesh. However, Putin is adamant that Assad should remain at the forefront of this proposed coalition. Besides, Putin’s forces are in Syria to protect Assad and to target the rebels rather than Daesh.
It may declare a war on Daesh but its forces in Syria will focus only on fighting alongside embattled Assad. For a while, Putin has been using the existence of Daesh to sell Assad as an effective partner in the war on terrorism. Like Iran, Russia does not see Assad as a problem. In brief, Putin is taking advantage of perhaps the lack of an American effective policy. He is using the conflict to increase Russian influence in the Levant and collect rent from everyone possible.
For him, everything must go through him or there will be grave consequences. It is in this context one should read the latest move on the part of Moscow. Also, it is worth noting that it is through a combination of Obama’s incompetence and hubris that Russia may get away with its grand plan.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view