I thought I was going to explode if I had to sit through one more idiotic, uninformed, even yokel-ish tv analysis about Russia in the past days. “Russia is getting more aggressive,” grumbled one retired general. “Look at Ukraine and now Syria!” Another complains that “Putin is set on becoming a major player in the Middle East!” The Republicans point to the Syrian debacle and the collapse of what were never defined US goals and purposes, and now Russia’s supposed act of belligerence, and demand that we double down and “do this right,” i.e. through direct US military action to overthrow Assad and supposedly to defeat ISIS. We are already in full violation of international law in our actions, and the Republicans offer more of same. But the Democrats offer no alternative, either. Hillary Clinton is the most gung-ho “use of force” advocate on the campaign trail. I would laugh if all this ignorance were not leading us to the precipice of war. I see we have now sent state-of-the-art nukes to Germany. Oh, goody. And although the US is (of course) absolutely blameless in this turn of events, Putin is making us look slow and stupid. Most of those speaking their piece share the view that this uppity Russian (Putin) is begging for a beating from somebody, and that somebody should be the US. Except we’re busy at the moment being beat up by ISIS.
What Putin did was a beautiful coup against the now largely past-tense World’s Only Superpower. He put a long-time military agreement with Syria into effect in a lightning strike, with very little warning to the US-led alliance. Not coincidentally, for one month, Russia heads the UNSC. This gives Russia major if perhaps only passing leverage and Putin has used it to not only suggest a way forward out of the morass, with a coalition of the willing to support the Syrian Army and the Kurdish fighters; he also put his words into action, launching airstrikes against ISIS in coordination with the Syrian government and Iran. The US and NATO have been invited to join the coalition for a common cause, and NATO is dumbstruck or perhaps just dumb. Not unless we’re allowed to depose another head of government, the US and its friends insist. We couldn’t possibly fight alongside Hamas, they add. As for the Iranians, to whom we just gave our blessings for nuclear weapons, they aren’t the right partner in this context. And Russia merely replies, “we don’t do governments, the voters of the country involved do.”
Now the world sees on one side a stubborn and arrogant US, oddly resistant to join all hands in the fight against ISIS, backed by a handful of allies who act in their own sectarians interests, helping now one side and now the other. They are acting as if Russia has committed some criminal act by opposing illegal US actions inside and outside of Syria intended chiefly to unseat Assad and only in a very desultory fashion to go after ISIS. On the other side, we see a smart, tough man leading a country beaten down by western sanctions and oil prices, who knows Russia’s security is also at stake and who acts decisively to fill the power vacuum he has seen the US leave in its wake. Russia cannot afford to have this ISIS movement grow. From Putin’s perspective, if nobody else was going to go after ISIS as long as ISIS was fighting the Syrian government, then Russia would step in. Now other nations are going to line up with the Russian alliance in the hopes of staving off ISIS and getting the refugee situation in Europe under better control. In NATO territory, ordinary people upset by the Syrian/faux Syrian influx are asking why the EU and NATO can’t collaborate with the Russian group to defeat the enemy and the main source of refugee outflow. Most people are looking for an alternative to the aimless and, from where I sit, increasingly immoral conduct of war in other countries that the US is offering. It has got to stop, and not least because we are losing badly. I posted a comment at a blog site that referred to “the five good guys we are currently working with in Syria.” That was a few days before the Pentagon admitted it only had four or five guys left from their trainees. See, you can’t even make this stuff up.
The world, much of it, has grown truly tired of endless wars to unseat leaders who seem to be good or bad depending entirely on the interests of the US and its allies at the moment. The real effects of tearing countries apart “for the good of everybody,” something the US is specializing in, are coming home to roost and they aren’t pretty. Everywhere one looks in the Middle East and beyond, where the US has settled things by use of military force, the fabric has never re-healed and our continued involvement has fed the ISIS movement. We are lightning rods of misery. Doing more of what we are doing, and largely to protect our claim to absolute leadership in global affairs, is sheer madness.
Putin acted in Russian national interests by establishing a counterweight to US might in the Middle East and giving Russia a powerful voice of opposition to the way business is being conducted there. If the US were to agree to collaboration, we could perhaps still deliver ISIS a very serious blow. But the US needs to get on the train, because it is departing the station. This could become yet another lever for creating divisions in the EU and NATO.