Obama doubles down on failed Russia and Syria policy

The list of President Obama’s foreign policy failures is long. Thanks in large part to Obama, Iran is rich (and still able to go nuclear at the time of its choosing); Libya is a failed state and significant base for ISIS; the butcher Assad remains in power, while ISIS controls wide swaths of territory in Syria; Russia’s influence in the Middle East and Eastern Europe hasn’t been stronger in decades; and so forth.

Josh Rogin of the Washington Post describes how Obama is doubling-down on two of his most significant areas of failure: Russia and Syria. The administration, he notes, is proposing increased military cooperation with Russia in Syria, in exchange for Russian agreement to abide by the cease-fire it already agreed to.

This move is perverse at so many levels that only Obama could make it. (Okay, Hillary Clinton could too; after all, she’s the author of the “Russian reset.”)

First, as Rogin says, Obama “is offering Moscow both a reprieve from the political and military isolation it imposed after the invasion of Ukraine — and a reward for taking unilateral military action designed to undermine U.S. policy in Syria.”

Second, Obama offers Russia the reprieve at a time when its aggression in Ukraine is, if anything, increasing. According to Rogin, the Russian military continues a medium-boil military campaign in violation of the Minsk agreement. Former Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says that “every single day [the Russians] kill Ukrainian soldiers, every single day the death toll is rising, every single day we’ve got civilian casualties. There is no cease-fire on the ground.”

Third, it is irrational to offer to cooperate with Russia in exchange for Russia abiding by a commitment it already made. If Obama must make concessions to induce Russia to keep its past promises, then obviously there is no reason to believe it will keep new promises. As in the Iranian nuclear negotiations, Obama is bidding against himself.

Yatsenyuk tells Rogin:

I don’t believe that you can agree on anything substantial with the Russian Federation because the U.S. is an enemy to the Russian Federation in their view. They can have talks, they can have debates, they can even agree on some non-existential issues. But there is an existential difference. These are just two different worlds.

Yes, Russia will pretend to work with Western powers and even strike deals when the deals are sweet enough. But, Yatsenyuk adds, by selectively violating the agreements while manipulating other governments and the media, Putin will continue to make steady progress toward his anti-Western, anti-democratic objectives.

If anything, Yatsenyuk understates Putin’s objectives. Samuel Charap, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, insists that Russia is “engaged in a new global Cold War against the U.S.; there’s absolutely no question about that.”

How else can one explain Russia’s regular and dangerous military maneuvers near U.S. ships; or its harassment and intimidation of U.S. diplomats across Europe, which Rogin says is at an all-time high; or the Russian government’s hyper-aggressive cyberespionage and propaganda campaigns? The latter stages of the Cold War were probably tamer than this.

What is Obama’s response? Cooperation with Russia in Syria, where Russian policy has been to prop up (successfully) the anti-U.S., pro-Iranian butcher Assad.

In my view, only a president indifferent (at best) to America’s interest would even contemplate such a response. Desperation is the other possible explanation, but I find it insufficient, especially given the long list of Obama’s similarly destructive foreign policy decisions.

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