The Corner

Putin’s Power Play in Syria: Did Obama Blink or Wink?

If you thought Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Syria was the result of some mad dictatorial impulse, better think again.

Wednesday, the New York Times ran a story about how American military analysts have been stunned by the precision and planning of the Russian operation in Syria. “What continues to impress me is their ability to move a lot of stuff real far, real fast,” the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe said, since it means that Putin’s military is fully capable of large-scale expeditionary power projection—something we used to think was solely an American specialty.

The Russians have also seamlessly carried out more bombing runs in a single day than the hapless American-led coalition conducts against ISIS in a month.

They’ve launched a new design of cruise missile against anti-Assad rebels that may match, or even surpass, American technology; and have overall displayed a professionalism and readiness that shocks observers who remember the sad old post-Cold War Russian military, or even the one that launched the invasion of Georgia seven years ago.

But the Times buried the real story in the third paragraph, which states that Russian air power “might soon back an Iranian-led offensive that appeared to be forming in the northern province of Aleppo on Wednesday. That coordination reflects what American officials described as months of meticulous planning,” i.e., between the Russians and Iran.

This confirms what many of us have suspected: Moscow and Tehran were only waiting for Obama to commit himself to a nuclear deal with Iran and then present it to the Senate and the UN Security Council, before they made their joint move on Syria. “The broad outlines were decided months ago,” said Lieutenant General Richard Zahner the Army’s former top intelligence officer in Moscow. Those plans were developed in late July, to be exact, when Iranian Quds Force commander Qassim Suleimani traveled to Moscow—in other words, at the same time that Iran was negotiating the details of its nuclear deal with Obama and Kerry.

The next question is: Did the president and his foreign policy team know? The story at the time was that the White House was caught flat-footed when Putin began setting up his new military base at Latakia in Syria. This story strongly suggests otherwise, that letting the Russians and Iranians intervene to save Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and letting Putin become the new power broker in the Middle East with Russian boots on the ground and Russian fighters in the air, was part of the price Obama was willing to pay to get a deal, any deal, with the mullahs on their nuclear program.

Can anyone really be surprised? Single-handedly Obama has turned U.S. policy in the Middle East inside out. He sees whatever advances Russian and Iranian interests as good, because it will fill the vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal from the region. On the other hand, he refuses to do anything that addresses the concerns of America’s traditional allies including Israel, Jordan, the Saudis, and Turkey who rightly fear a restored Assad and a stronger Iran—not to mention a permanent Russian military presence in the eastern Mediterranean—because that might delay America’s retreat.

It’s a topsy-turvy, Alice in Wonderland view of the world that Lewis Carroll himself couldn’t have devised. Except that this is fact, not fiction. The Russian bombs that are falling on the guilty and innocent alike, are real — as is the newly restored Russian military’s alliance with Iran.

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