Given the number of times Vladimir Putin has rubbed President Obama’s face in it, one shouldn’t be surprised to see Obama talk trash about the Russia strong man. Today, at his press conference, the president claimed to have gotten the better of Putin in Syria — adding, with equal doses of condescension and chutzpah, that he takes no pleasure in it.
According to Obama, Putin now finds himself in a Syria quagmire. The Russian boss is bogged down in a war he cannot win. Syria is broken and no matter what Russia does, it will remain broken absent a political settlement.
I take no pleasure in pointing out that Obama is twisting the meaning of “quagmire,” misapprehending Putin’s objectives, and quite possibly laying the groundwork for another U.S. humiliation.
Russia’s direct military involvement in Syria consists mainly of an air campaign. Others are doing the fighting on the ground.
In this sense, it resembles Obama’s strategy in the fight against ISIS. We bomb; others fight. The biggest difference is that Russia is succeeding in degrading and destroying its enemy; Obama, not so much.
Russia, then, is no more in a quagmire in Syria then we are in Iraq and Eastern Syria. Indeed, senior U.S. officials admit privately that Russia, with a comparatively light footprint, has achieved its central goal of stabilizing the Assad government and, at a relatively low cost and with minimal casualties, can sustain the operation at this level for years to come, if necessary.
Obama is probably correct in saying that Russia won’t be able to reclaim large chunks of Syria for Assad. But Russia doesn’t need to. It appears to have saved Assad and is helping expand the area he controls.
In the process, Putin has cemented an alliance with an Iranian regime dedicated to saving Assad. Thanks in no small part to Obama, Russia’s new friends in Tehran are poised to become the dominant power in the Middle East.
Putin has also increased Russian influence with nations traditionally aligned with the U.S. They are tilting more towards Russia, in part because where Obama claims to see a quagmire, they perceive old-fashioned success.
Obama concluded his remarks on Russia by urging it to reach a political settlement. That way, he asserted, Putin can extricate himself from the alleged quagmire.
I continue to believe that Putin would like to reach a Syria settlement with Obama. Who wouldn’t, given the deals Obama has made in the past (e.g., ending sanctions against Iran and selling out Poland and the Czech Republic)?
Obama’s press conference today, with his laughable claim that Russia is losing in Syria and his pathetic appeal for a settlement, suggests that he once again is willing to allow our adversaries to steal his pants.
Though far from bogged down in Syria, Putin presumably understands that making a deal with the perpetually pliant Obama is an option worth considering. After all, Obama has only 11 more months in office and might (but, to be fair, might not) be replaced by a president to be reckoned with.