We are witnessing the most significant shift in the Middle East strategic balance since the post-WWII era.
Vladimir Putin asserts that is difficult to defeat ISIS without the assistance and logistics from Syria’s al-Assad government. While Syria has been a long time client state of Moscow, whether that government is a puppet of Iran and Russia, is irrelevant. Putin however, is correct. Syria could act as a magnet to draw in ISIS fighters, and a kill box within which to defeat them, or at least eliminate a not insignificant number of their fighters.
In the last several months, while the Obama administration overwhelmed with the crafting a successful Iranian Nuclear deal well into August, Putin was doubling down on Syria. No news there. He has had military bases in the beleaguered nation for many years. He now stands in a good position to weaken ISIS in the process – to a far greater degree than the U.S. has been able to, or for that matter, willing to do.
Speaking of which, Obama, not having learned anything from his many foreign policy misadventures in the region, has decided to invest in Syrian “rebels” who somehow have become virtuous patriots – instead of merely another assemblage of Jihadists, former mujahedeen, current members of the various al-Qaeda franchises, and to be clear, not friends of democracy or freedom fighters. Mr. Obama nor does his civilian senior national security policy advisors just don’t get it. There are no freedom fighters or prodemocracy plays in this region. It is a war of the roses based upon just religion, albeit. It is anti-West sensibilities, adherence to Sharia, tribal power skirmishes, and territorial control. The old saying; ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is both tired, misrepresentative of the current landscape, and a dangerous game for amateurs to play. Likewise, topping despots and dictators without having valid, supported and trustworthy leaders who can step-up and provide leadership, stability and respect. The old saying; “history and nature abhors a vacuum”, will always apply.
Syria is an important place – geographically and geopolitically. Putin knows this. More importantly, Assad is his ally. Putin – spy master, politician, businessman, diplomat, quasi-dictator, martial artist, energy expert, possible assassin, and global force to be reckoned with – recognizes the importance of supporting your allies. We could learn something from him, as we continue to abandon our friends, and give benefits to our enemies. Reputations matter. Consider this….If you had to select a second for a street fight, would you pick Putin or Obama? A sad reality, but who does the world trust more? Not who does the world use more, or misuse more, or abuse more, but trust or fear more.
Like Assad or not, he has created a vortex in Syria and perhaps northern Iraq as well, within which ISIS is being or will being drawn in. Al-Qaeda is in play there as well, by way of its affiliate the al-Nusrah Front. As well as those Syria rebels we are supporting. We ought to think of it as an opportunity to let savages kill each other, and their teams become severely degraded. Instead we are arming, at ridiculous expense, a handful (think meaningless) of jokers to represent our interests over there.
Yes Assad is an unsavory fellow, using chemical weapons. He isn’t alone. And to his credit – even bad guys have their good points – he has protected Christians far more than any other dictator in the region. Putin is supporting Assad. And?
As an aside, think Christians have had any political patronage in Iraq lately? Or Iran? How are Christians faring in other Muslim nations with few exceptions, like Morocco? A bit closer to home, how are Christians treated in the U.S.? While Obama is yammering about human rights, and taking in refugees from the Middle East (let us not forget much of this mess is the result of his doing, or lack thereof – it’s primarily he and his policy’s fault), he is about to deport Christian refugees, and has been hesitant to allow Christians under siege in Iraq to enter the U.S. Double standard anyone?
Like it or not, the world is one big game of Stratego or Risk, remember the board games? The reality is in the real world – it’s winner take all. There’s no second place, or runner up, nor is it like the left’s menagerie games where everyone gets a trophy, and everyone’s a winner. The good guys can choose to be benevolent victors, and good trading partners, even good neighbors, but at the end of the day it’s really all about which team controls the natural resources, the transit routes and lines of communications, that influences strategic decisions, trade deals, and leads globally with manufacturing and distribution infrastructure that wins the game, and perhaps future games. Obama problem is he has always viewed the world and approached international situations and nation’s beit sovereignty or problems from the standpoint of how he believes they should be, versus by reality and the way situations, good or bad, actually are. His focus has always been ideologically versus reality driven.
America, we are losing this game, and we are losing it badly. And the world knows that too. This is not to be taken as gloom and doom, but to remind ourselves that our future, and that of our children depends upon the economic and security future we create and pass along. Those two facets are inextricably intertwined. One cannot separate the economy, energy, immigration, and security issues, into separate lanes. Within that construct, the Middle East matters to our economy and security – unfortunately we can’t run away from it, turn a blind eye to it, or ignore it and hope it just goes away.
Mr. Obama was handed the opportunity for success in Iraq, and he blew it. Iraq which has been and remains an extremely important strategic and geopolitical nation throughout the history of the Arab and Middle Eastern world, despite the post-WWI Sikes-Picot Agreement, despite Saddam evil transgressions, and despite our early short-falls in the most recent war – where a subsequent turn-around, thanks to the brilliant surge strategy of General Petreaus, the situation was fragile, yet positive. After a long and costly affair, the likes of a positive outcome, through still long and hard work, a positive outcome was reachable and perhaps likely — granted the correct action of political, diplomatic, and military maneuver was implemented. While the legacy of being the POTUS to end all wars is noble, doing so by walking away is not a viable option, nor forfeiture a winning option in any game.
Located in and at a strategic crossroads, and a short lived new, now former ally we misread — thank you again Mr. Obama, we have now for the most part abandoned a vital piece of real estate. Not to mention our feckless behavior which over the course of the last 3-years or so has emboldened the behaviors of radical Islamists, including the creation of ISIS.
As for ISIS, or Assad, or Egypt, or Libya — there are no consequences that our enemies face when doing barbaric acts against Americans, or allies, or our interests. Obama’s laughable lines in the sand, and empty threats backed up by, well nothing, aimed at ISIS, Russia, Assad or (fill in the blanks) they are as fragile as a sand castle on the beach during a tropical storm, the effort took to build it is meaningless. Just like words and actions, if they are not backed up by resolve, they too are meaningless.
So the question the world is asking now is; could you, would you trust Mr. Obama if your life depended on it? Ask our four Americans who languish near possible death in Iran. Who could have easily been presented as the tip of the spear and pre-cursor before any consideration of sitting down at the table to discuss the Iran Nuclear deal, let alone the subsequent release of the $150 billion dollars, that our President is giving Iran before they lift a finger on their part of the deal. Ask the Iraqis who risked their lives to provide intelligence to our military, and are now isolated, hunted, and alone. Ask the Christians who are being butchered by ISIS and other Islamists in the region. Where is Obama Where is the United States? Russia has provided more moral clarity on the issue than we have.
The vacuum created when Obama placed politics over patriotism and popularity over leadership by removing our military from Iraq, and then added stupidity to idiocy, by reaching out to Iran to help us fight ISIS (tacitly giving Tehran the political cover to enter the fight, and likely capture much of Iraq). Then capping it off with a moronic two-year diplomacy play that has been a major financial and political coup for Tehran, and in the process of implemented a colossal foreign policy failures by mishandling Syria, betraying Israel, sabotaging a 35-year alliance created by the Camp David Accords between Egypt, Jordan, and again Israel. While at the same time, ignoring Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, as well as plunging the African Sahel and the Maghreb (North Africa), into a radical Islamic catastrophe. And let us not forget about the other valiant, courageous, and loyal ally in the region in addition to Israel, the Kurds, whose desperate calls for aid and assistance to fight ISIS have fallen on the administration’s deft ears. Well, as we have now witnessed, Mr. Obama’s incoherent policy and lack of a regional strategy has yet set the stage for a new geo-political sheriff to emerge … Mr. Putin.
As modern history has shown, certainly in the post WWII period, small entities need a big brother. Whether it is Israel, or Bahrain, or the Kurds, Libya, or Syria, or even the Falklands — most countries recognize that it is a dangerous world with unsavory neighbors. Even the vaunted Israeli military recognizes it cannot control the region alone, with the likes of such asymmetric characters as Hamas, PIJ, Hezbollah, and others. They need an ally – loyal and honest. It used to be that the United States without question would always be there. Now, Israel has to play Oliver asking for more soup every time it needs something from Mr. Obama’s United States. Putin being shroud and consummate diplomatic recognizes this, and has reached out to most of the countries in the Middle East starting with the countries of North Africa, establishing or reestablishing affiliations and alliances. Consider for a moment how now Putin suddenly treats Netanyahu and Israel with more concern and respect than that of the current White House; a deft and radical departure from prior Russian/Soviet strategy. And Vladimir has, in at least small ways, used his powerful influence to stem some of the attacks from Iran’s proxies to better position and tailor his diplomatic stance regionally.
Make no mistake about it – Iran, Syria, Turkey, and the Shia-led government in Baghdad, are all critical to Russia’s energy, security, and geopolitical strategy. Poking the U.S. in the eye in the process is just a bonus for Putin. Israel offers potential for Russia, too. Keep a watch on that, particularly as Netanyahu recently paid Putin a visit in Moscow.
So as it appears, Mr. Obama certainly strategically, has surrendered leadership of the Middle East to Russia. Pure and simple! And understandably, we should not blame Putin for that — he is doing what the leader of Russia is supposed to do – being pro-active and looking out for the interests of his nation. While Putin may not be Teddy Roosevelt or Ataturk, he is his own man and arguably has been Russia’s best leader since the days of shoe bangers, and mass murderers. Looking at the world through the prism of a Westerner, it is tempting and easy to vilify Putin. The media and Obama supporters sit around and denounce Putin’s limits on free speech, making Russia dangerous for journalists and dissenters. But this does not change a few critical facts. Putin enjoys a very high approval rating among urban and rural Russian citizens. And while the old Russian axiom – it matters not who casts the votes, only who counts them might be true – it is hard to deny Putin is very popular. To that end, Putin has helped improve the national standard of living, and elevated many of the poor out of poverty. He is a nationalist. He is highly educated, and an effective statesman, diplomat, as well as willing to color outside the lines – one exception here – he doesn’t think he is coloring outside the lines.
Years ago Mr. Putin lamented the fall of the USSR as the greatest calamity of the 20th century. Putin is not subtle – he has a grand strategy, his mission is to reestablish the greatness of the former Russian empire, not the USSR, as many in the west mistakenly or ignorantly claim. Additionally, Mr. Putin is not a Communist. While he enjoys the totalitarian of communism, I tend to describe him as a hybrid fascist, oligarchian nationalist, my term. With that, Putin’s long-term “Eurasia Plan” brings back the old empire and has designs for much of the countries and territories of old the former USSR — but in the form of a more egalitarian and practical nation, and of course a superpower none the less. Then there’s his graduate thesis – how to turn an energy rich nation into an international energy hyper-power. Mr. Putin has laid-out and told us his plans, and every action over the last 10-years has put him closer to it. Rebuild the military, but greater and more agile than that of the former Soviet military. Re-establishing by diplomacy and, or military action, as necessary, old components of the former USSR’s Warsaw Pact – take note of Crimea and Ukraine. Control major energy sources – in the ground, under the sea, through pipes and ships (LNG), and through high-tech innovation, and smart economic wrangling, and as always, brute force…who’s to get in his way of that? Which is why asserting the Arctic territory, and placing a military presence in Iraq, Iran, and Syria should not surprise anyone, except of course, the current occupant of the Oval Office.
If you listen to the White House communications office, the DNC and the Democrats on Capitol Hill, State Department, and of course the supporting mainstream media, Russia woke-up all of a sudden, and decided to place a powerful military presence into Syria, in defiance, mon Dieu (my God), of President Obama. How unsporting of them! And yet Team Obama strategy – to chastise, lay claims of disrespect (read not fair), and lecture (from afar) Mr. Putin, really. This is madness, and stupid, yet it also calls to mind and makes one continue to wonder what Mr. Obama meant by the open mic comment that he would be more flexible about after the 2012 election, as he was heard whispering in PM Medvedev’s ear and requested that it be passed on to Vlad.
Yet despite all that Russia has done in recent years, Crimea, Ukraine, challenging U.S. continental airspace, here’s where Mr. Obama continues to play stupid with Putin, with rhetoric limited to insults or just plain ignoring him. Consider the recent televised insult the White House press secretary gave to Putin – the substance of which was that Mr. Obama was disappointed in Putin, and Russia should not take the lead in Syria, but fall in behind the U.S. in our vague and limited strategy to support a few Syrian rebels. Mr. Putin is bigger and smarter than that and leads an almost superpower. Remember, it was Mitt Romney who told Mr. Obama during the 2012 debates that Russia was our greatest geopolitical foe – Obama in turn lectured him that the Cold War was over. It my friends, is the Obama team that just doesn’t get it! You don’t insult a proud country led by an unapologetic nationalist eager to resurrect their former empire again. Putin is not Mr. Obama’s subordinate or servant. To the contrary; Mr. Obama could stand to learn a lot from Mr. Putin.
In just a few short years it was the United States that went from being a major influence worldwide, with our flag in lots of places, to now having Russia, and for that matter China challenging us.
So what should the U.S. pay attention to and why does the Middle East and Russia matter. Key word – Energy. It is the lifeblood for every nation – fossil fuels, NOT alternative energies. Forget what the left-wing lunatic solar and wind energy scientists and Climate Change cow flatulence philosophers preach. The reality is whoever controls energy, controls the world.
Doubt me, why do we kowtow to Saudi Arabia? If Riyadh controlled wheat fields instead of oil fields and OPEC, we would ignore them. Doubt me, why did Europe capitulate to Gazprom-Russia (Russia’s oil industry)? Because it’s cold in the winter without heating fuel.
Until the U.S. once again fully utilizes our enormous energy potential along with our financial, economic, and natural resources – fossil fuels – from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic and its new found fossil sources and extraction techniques, and our modern stabilized and sustainable capability to produce nuclear power — we will forever be wedded to the Middle East and to now to Russia. Actually, held hostage might be a better term for it. The importance of both a coherent regional geopolitically policy and strategy tied strategically to our global energy and economic policy and strategy, cannot be overstated. Instead of vilifying Mr. Putin, closely monitor and analyze him, even learn from him. He is in our backyard, and on the doorstep of our allies, vying for strategic position and power. It is a game we must always play, but have under Mr. Obama, unfortunately acquiesced and for the most part surrendered.
Further, even without oil and natural gas, the Middle East region is the 21st century maritime equivalent of the Silk Road – the convergence of critical ‘lines of communication’, as they are called; with seas, straights, canals, and waterways, with key ports and distribution points serving as major transit routes for shipping of important products and materials. Which is why it boggles the mind that the titular leader of the free world would do so precious little to protect the critical crossroads represented with Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Bahrain, and North Africa — you get the idea. This region is vital to U.S. economic interests, and those of our regional and international allies, and for that matter the rest of the world. Stability and security are the most critical conditions for the Middle East. Unfortunately, it is, as we’ve recently seen with the lifting of the economic sanctions on Iran – every country for themselves … except of course the U.S. under Mr. Obama, who continues to give away the store, largely to our adversaries, mainly again Russia, and to China as well, as both stand to benefit the most by the release of hundreds of billions to Iran, as primary trading and client state partners.
From the moment Mr. Obama took office, he has squandered any advantage the U.S. possessed internationally. His famous Cairo speech in June 2009, revealed his reckless view of the world, his apology and blame for the worlds problem, all because of the U.S.’ doing. And of course, his new found strategy of leading from behind. All tied to his corrupt and false ideological views. In turn, his foreign policy failures and retrenchment, and that of his JV diplomatic team of Clinton and Kerry, have diminished the stature and respect of America, which has disadvantaged us geopolitically, especially in the Middle East. The Arab Spring – better named the Arab Winter or Arab Disruption, and a direct creation and strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood, not the people on the Arab street, to topple select leaders across the Middle East by design. As a result, it ushered in a level of chaos and destruction not seen in the region since the bloody days of Black September, the ill-fated attacks from Egypt, Syria and the Lebanon Civil War and the Intifada against the Jews of 60’s and 70’s, which resulted in more real estate for Israel in need of a security buffer from its Arab neighbors, and the USSR-Afghan war.
In just seven short years the Middle East now belongs to Russia. Mr. Putin has reestablished workable air and naval bases – in Syria, along with new found relationships with Turkey, reestablishing historic ties in spite of Putin’s new support of the Kurds, tenuous so it is. Further, Mr. Putin has now reached out to Israel, long a near exclusive protectorate and partner of the U.S. Though Israeli sensibilities still better align with those of the U.S., Mr. Putin recognizes a need by and opportunity with PM Netanyahu. Mr. Netanyahu must deal from not a position of security, but a position of survival, and will have to be very careful walking the tightrope between a weak leader (Obama) of its longstanding ally, and a strong leader (Putin) of a questionable enterprise and friend of Israel’s to regional foe’s Iran and neighbor Syria.
There was once a time in the world before Obama, when the skies above the Middle East were secured by the U.S. and Israeli Air Forces and the U.S. 5th Fleet. There was once a time in the world before Obama, that the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden, and much of the oceans near the region, and even the Persian Gulf were all virtually the U.S. Navy’s private waterway, not from the standpoint of possession, but as the protectorate and provider of security and stability critical for international commerce and trade by all nations. Once there was a time when the Middle East was held together albeit tenuously, but with the U.S. as the key honest broker, a stabilizer, an authority figure, a force of good, and, well, we spoke softly and brought lots of battle carrier groups. Once there was a time the energy industry was considered a value not a villain to U.S. interests, where oil/gas exploration were important commodities, not incidental to the U.S. and our allies.
What the left seems to overlook — are the power grabs and battles being fought in the Middle East are not a pillow fight, or debate between academics, but harsh realities of the real world, radical Islamists and geo-political foes, like Mr. Putin. Such brutality and turmoil needs to be deal with the tools of real diplomacy, real economics, and if necessary military action as a last resort, but backed by leadership and resolve, with an eye on peace complimented by freedom and stability — vice leading from behind, surrender, and acquiescing to brutality and barbarism. ISIS is playing to win. Iran is playing to win. Mr. Putin and Russia is playing to win. China is playing to win. Syria’s Assad is playing to win. And Israel is playing for survival. The only nation/ country that is more than happy to cede leadership and defeat seems to be America, unfortunately led by Mr. Obama and his supporters, who give each other awards and kudos for illusionary and delusionary successes, when none have been realized in actuality.
Still doubt me? Consider Libya. We ousted Gaddafi, who in his old age realized the need for amending ill will of his former years for supporting and deploying terrorists around the region and the world. In turn, he made efforts by of retribution by providing intelligence on the workings of al-Qaeda in the region. Despite, being briefed of his strategic turn-around, Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton chose to ignore that and go for a quick and easy strike, and tried to spin it as a victory, supporting his adversaries — rebels who were and are more dangerous than that of Gaddafi regimes’ worst years. As Ms. Clinton joked; “We came, we saw, he died.” And in turn, the Libyan revolutionaries were so grateful for our support, they killed our ambassador and four Americans trying to protect him in Benghazi.
Consider the misnamed Arab Spring – where Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton’s State Department along with the Muslim Brotherhood, orchestrated the toppling of long-time U.S. regional ally, stalwart of the late Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak. Whose efforts along with Ronald Reagan were the pillar of establishing a valued alliance for regional peace and stability between Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Egypt became awash in flames, and as the historic center of the Arab world was perilously close to being ruled by the vial and brutal Mohammed Morsi and his brutal Muslim Brotherhood. Were it not for a lesser Jihadist second revolution that wrestled power from the extremists, we only can image what that would have brought to the region.
Consider the peril Mr. Obama’s policies inflicted upon Israel – the temporary control of Egypt by radical Islamists reinstated the tunnels into Gaza, allowed open military resupply to Hamas, and allowed attacks of Jewish enterprises along the border, including previously peaceful Eilat, Israel’s southern strategic Red Sea port.
Consider Bahrain a critical Persian Gulf nation during the Arab debacle, the country remains in a tenuous position, as Iran, and its Revolutionary Guard Corps try to foster chaos and unrest in the tiny island nation – an ally with the U.S., and where significant intelligence and Navy assets remain.
And of course, consider Iraq – when Mr. Obama ordered the U.S. military to stand down and precipitously leave the region, against his most senior military experts’ advice, it set the stage for Iran and ISIS to carve up the country, much to the peril of Christians and Kurds. Interestingly the people most likely able to defeat ISIS – the Kurds – have been left largely to their own devices and beginning for help, as we used them as bargaining chips, or sacrificial lambs in our failing diplomacy with Turkey. Mr. Putin by contrast has stood with the Kurds, and still managed to build a closer relationship with the Mr. Erdogan’s government in Ankara. Turkey a NATO member and Russia are far closer during the Mr. Obama years than during the Bush years militarily, in geopolitical terms, in trade and in energy.
In terms of economics, national security, energy policy, and regional stability, the Obama administration has allowed the Middle East to fall into chaos. And we will pay the price for it in the U.S. in terms of vulnerability to OPEC, bad trade deals, increased vulnerability to ISIS, which clearly is NOT the JV, in energy, and homeland security, as assessed earlier this year by the Obama National Security Council.
In conclusion, Syria is and remains an important strategic crossroad. Nestled near Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan, with strategically and tactically important military and naval bases, Mr. Putin would have been foolish to not double down on his investments in the region. As a result of his strategic planning and prowess, Mr. Putin is now the go to guy in the region who has demonstrated loyalty to those who trust him. Likewise, Jordan, Lebanon and others are in peril as the umbrella of security that the U.S. has maintained for years has been folded.
Mr. Putin in Syria is nothing new, as previously noted Syria has been a long-time client state, one of which has been contained in box since the post 1973 war. And quite frankly had Mr. Putin not made another strong move into the region, Obama’s inaction nevertheless would leave that area up in flames, and continue the refugee crisis to the west. There is no doubt if Syria falls to ISIS, which appears to be Mr. Obama’s strategy, Israel will be far more in danger than if Bashir al-Assad remained.
Mr. Putin knows ISIS is more dangerous to his interests, and ours, than Mr. Assad. Putin also knows Syria is a strategically important area that cannot be allowed to fall into the growing radical Islamic caliphate, or become part of ISIS control. Putin knows the power of loyalty. And Putin is fully aware and understand implications of the mistakes Mr. Obama has made, and will continue to exploit them globally. Syria is merely another place where Putin has planted the Russian flag, and has outplayed Obama. And as talk about this critical situation, we can anticipate greater involvement in Baghdad and Tehran as Russia’s resolve takes a greater stance.
While I am not advocating or supportive anything that Mr. Putin is doing, I will say he is taking Mr. Obama to school — demonstrating to both to Mr. Obama and particularly his administration’s civilian senior national security aides, as well as the world, what having a policy, having a strategy, having resolve, and actually “leading” looks like…versus what leading from behind accomplishes.
That said; if you want to know where in the world something important is going on, just follow Mr. Putin. And until the United States elects a strong, effective leader, we will be left with Mr. Obama’s so-called policy of flexibility, meaning acquiescence, appeasement and surrendering the Middle East to Russia. It won’t be the last strategic region Russia takes from us.
Jim Waurishuk, Colonel, USAF