President Obama responded to his latest humiliation at the hands of Vladimir Putin by stating that “Mr. Putin had to go into Syria not out of strength but out of weakness, because his client, Mr. Assad, was crumbling.” This statement — pulled from the same notebook as the president’s pathetic speech to the U.N. — is true, but it fails to paper over the failure of Obama’s approach to Syria and the rise of Russia as a force in the Middle East.
Obama’s statement would also have applied to the Soviet Union’s intervention in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. In both instances, the Soviets had to invade because their client was crumbling.
So what? The invasions restored the clients to power, which they held for decades thereafter. I doubt that Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson responded to Soviet intervention with the kind of juvenile taunting — you may look strong but you’re really weak — that Obama resorted to. It’s the equivalent of sticking your tongue out at a bully who has punched you, and then running into your house.
Moreover, Obama’s statement effectively concedes that the U.S. position in Syria is weaker than Russia’s. As the president recognizes, Putin has a client that still holds power. The U.S. has no real client in Syria. There is no strong fighting force that owes, or should owe, us any allegiance (just the nine or so poor souls we have trained). There is no force, strong or not, that respects America under Obama. How could any Syrian respect us after Obama drew a “red line” and then failed to enforce it?
Obama mindlessly states that “to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire.” The president engages in his usual fallacy, and the fallacy of many others — namely the assumption that the only alternative to non-intervention (or ineffective intervention undertaken for show) is sending in a large number of troops and becoming bogged down fighting insurgents on the ground.
Putin understands that there is often a middle ground. He hopes that by stepping up the bombing, Russia can help Assad retain power. This doesn’t entail Russian boots on the ground. Foreign fighters can come from Lebanon and Iran.
If Russian bombing isn’t enough to maintain Assad’s rule, Putin can consider his options. In the meantime he has, at a minimum, established Russia as a key player in the region, cemented his alliance with Iran’s mullahs (whom Obama hoped to win over through his pathetic nuclear deal), and made Obama look ridiculous.
Not a bad week’s work.