Don’t Chase Putin Out of Syria — Let Him Fail On His Own
With each Russian escalatory step in Syria, the situation only seems to get worse. Critics pile on, citing it as an example of President Barack Obama’s “failed” foreign policy, calling for Obama to “do something” — confront Moscow, punish it for its reckless behavior, reassert leadership. But what would that something be?
Across the political spectrum, there are calls for a more muscular U.S. approach in Syria. Some are talking of proxy battles, while others are calling it a new Cold War and declaring a need to act tough to restore American credibility. But before the U.S. tumbles into something, it’s worth taking a step back and asking what Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to get out of this, and whether, if measured by his own goals, this brazen military intervention will work. I think the answer is no – which should guide how the U.S. should respond.
Let’s start with Putin’s stated objective for his intervention in Syria: fighting ISIS. This claim is preposterous. Few Russian strikes are taking place in Islamic State-controlled territory; the air campaign is focused on the opposition that is primarily fighting Assad. This is consistent with Putin’s inverted logic of the conflict, which — as he stated at his UN General Assembly speech last week — is as follows: Assad not only has a right to stay in power, but he in fact is the key to solving the ISIS problem. Unlike the United States and most of the rest of the world, who see the Syrian leader as a driver of the conflict, Putin asserts that Assad is the solution.