That’s the front page headline of today’s Washington Post (paper edition). The story is about signs in August that Putin was mobilizing for a military offensive in Syria. Despite these signs, the Obama administration was “caught flat-footed” when the Russian offensive materialized two months later.
In a larger sense, “Russian intent” has long been clear. Putin has said he consider the fall of Soviet power a geopolitical catastrophe. He wants to restore Russian influence to the maximum extent feasible.
With Obama’s ascent to the White House, the “maximum extent feasible” increased dramatically. Putin figured this out in 2009 when Obama visited Russia. As I wrote at the time, his visit left the Russians giddy with the realization that they could steal the American president’s pants.
Russia isn’t the only American adversary whose “intent” Obama has failed to grasp. Iran is an equally dramatic case. Obama somehow came to believe that reaching a nuclear deal favorable to Iran would lead to improved relations with the mullahs and to arrangements to help “stabilize” the region.
But this week, as Scott has discussed, Iran’s “Supreme Leader” banned any further negotiations with the United States. What’s left to negotiate? They already have Obama’s pants.
Let’s return, though, to the Post’s story about signs in August that Russia was preparing to take military action in Syria. According to Post reporters Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung:
Among the first clues that Russia was mobilizing for a military offensive in Syria were requests Moscow began making in mid-August for permission to cross other countries’ territory with more and larger aircraft.
“We were getting the word the Russians were asking for inordinate overflights,” a senior Obama administration official said, referring to reports from U.S. allies receiving the requests. Russia was seeking clearance for not only cargo planes but also “fighter aircraft and bombers” that Syrian pilots had never been trained to fly, the official said. “It was clear that something pretty big was up.”
Something big was, in fact, up. By October, the Russians were pounding Syria rebels with air strikes.
Among those pounded were rebels trained and armed by the U.S. According to the Post, these rebels — our proxies — “appeared to get no warning” from the U.S. “that they were in the Russian jets’ cross hairs.”
This is how the U.S. treats its friends and allies in the Age of Obama.
Here’s perhaps the most shocking passage in the the Post’s depressing account:
Hesitation to take stronger action against the Russian move, [some White House official] said, stemmed in part from the administration’s belief, based on an interpretation of signs earlier in the year, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was moving toward withdrawing support from Assad and supporting talks that would lead to his departure.
They have got to be kidding. Putin is a bully. He has repeatedly demonstrated that, in the absence of serious resistance, he doesn’t withdraw, he advances.
So jarring is Obama’s naivety (or willful blindness) that his former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called him on it in a Washington Post op-ed this week (co-written by Condollezza Rice). Among the zingers were these:
President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry say that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. That is true, but Moscow understands that diplomacy follows the facts on the ground, not the other way around.
and, even more pointedly:
Putin’s move into Syria is old-fashioned great-power politics. (Yes, people do that in the 21st century.)
Meanwhile, according to the Post, the Pentagon says it is “sharply scaling back its effort to build a force to battle the Islamic State.” And our regional partners in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) have deepening (and well-founded) doubts about the “coalition” Obama purports to lead.
The Post reports that CIA director John Brennan has gone to the Middle East “amid concerns that the coalition might be fraying, worries that intensified after allies including the Saudi defense minister and Jordan’s King Abdullah II made summer visits to Moscow.” (Emphasis added)
I wonder whether Brennan will even be able to look Saudi and Jordanian officials in the eye. I’m almost sure he wouldn’t be able to do so with the rebels his agency trained, the Russians pummeled, and Obama apparently now is turning his back on.