Yesterday at NRO, I noted: “We should expect worse to come, . . . Unless the United States accepts keeping Bashar al-Assad in power, Putin will continue to burn Syria.” Today, launching a massive bombing raid of Aleppo, Putin and Bashar al-Assad took their fight to President Obama’s five-yard line. According to the reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the latest pummeling of eastern Aleppo involved 14 air strikes and Assad’s favorite weapon: barrel bombs. Such weapons do not discriminate between children and fighters.
Of course, such apparent indiscrimination is the whole point here. It is deliberate. Putin is painting a red line with civilian blood to send a message to America: Cease support for anti-Assad rebels, and accept Assad’s dominion alongside Russian supremacy over the international politics of the Middle East. This has always been the Russian goal. But skillfully manipulating President Obama’s arrogance, Putin has played the slow game. It has paid off. In Syria, Russia is on first down and five yards out.
Why not? After all, every time the Russia-Assad-Iran axis slaughters another civilian, or bombs another aid convoy, the U.S. routine is unchanging. President Obama says nothing, and John Kerry goes on television/Twitter to express sadness. Next, Kerry holds a news conference with his Russian opposite, Sergey Lavrov, in which both men express guarded optimism for the future. These Lavrov Waltzes then produce faux-deals that are worse than nothing. Putin then openly breaks the faux-deal, escalates a little more, and the cycle starts over. This merry-go-round — in companionship with Obama’s many-times-crossed red lines – has shredded Obama’s credibility.
Why does the White House persist with its absurd responses? Weakness, primarily — but Russian disinformation also might have something to do with it. Because just as the Russians are masters of media disinformation, they also revel in disinformation: They tell us what they want us to hear, while pretending that they believe we are not listening. Putin the KGB colonel takes particular enjoyment in such intelligence antics. The White House keeps insisting that Russia’s weak economy will force Putin to compromise. Perhaps Putin has tricked them in his wilderness of mirrors.
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Regardless, it should be clear that we cannot continue on our present course. That bloody road is crushing U.S. global credibility. The Sunni-Arab monarchies think that Russia is the new power broker, and they are increasingly fearful of Iran. As a result, they are abandoning America and our moderating influences against extremism. Iran is laughing at us. Khamenei will break the nuclear deal the moment he perfects ballistic-missile technology. The Chinese are conquering the South and East China Seas unhindered. Our allies are losing faith in the U.S. leadership that has preserved great-power peace since 1945. Pressuring Russia into serious negotiations, we can reach a durable deal in Syria. But when we pretend that acquiescence is strength, we only maximize the pain of an inevitable defeat. Absent change, Aleppo will be the metaphor for President Obama’s failed foreign policy.
— Tom Rogan writes for National Review Online and Opportunity Lives. He was a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and is currently a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. His homepage is tomroganthinks.com.