When the administration warned Russian president Putin he was foolishly stumbling into a Syrian quagmire, it spoke from its customary vantage of intellectual superiority. It has been constantly waving the Russian away from what they describe as an unwise choice the way an only adult in the room might speak to a child. Peter Baker and Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times describe the president’s latest attempt to dissuade Russia from making a terrible mistake:
“An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference at the White House on Friday, referring to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a longtime ally of both Russia and Iran. “And they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.”
Obama, while acknowledging some setbacks, reaffirmed confidence in his Syria policy saying that he would ”build on that”. Having reassured himself of the correctness of his fundamentals, the Washington Post reported that the president decided not to confront Russia directly. Instead the Obama ridiculed Putin for thinking this is “some superpower chessboard contest” and appeared content to wait until Moscow discovered the error of its ways.
We’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia. That would be a bad strategy on our part,” Obama said. “This is a battle between Russia, Iran and Assad against the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people. Our battle is with ISIL,” he said, referring to the Islamic State.
President Obama has the habit of offering advice to other leaders, explaining how they should think. In 2014 he told Iran that an “Iraq in chaos on their borders is probably not in their interests”. Later in 2014 he told Vladimir Putin that a standoff in Ukraine was not in the interests of either country”. In September of that same year he told Turkey that “it’s certainly not in their interest for all that instability and violence to be occurring so close to their border”.
Surely they see it; and just as surely they will respond as he has foreseen. It must come as a cruel disappointment that so many world leaders disregarded his counsel in 2015, often doing the opposite of what he suggested. Iran is deeply enmeshed in Iraq. Russia is building up forces in the Ukraine. Turkey is in a renewed fight with the Kurds upon its borders.
So much for their interests.
Nevertheless, Samantha Power kept tweeting helpful advice to Russian target planners who have targeted CIA-trained Syrian rebels. “We call on #Russia to immediately cease attacks on Syrian oppo & civilians & to focus on ISIL “. Alas, the New York Times article observes, the administration’s well intentioned advice advice has fallen on deaf ears:
Neither Russia nor Iran showed signs of listening. While Moscow widened its airstrikes to hit Islamic State territory for the first time, Russian troops have unloaded a major long-range artillery system to add more firepower to its deployment in Syria, according to an American official. At the same time, American officials said Iran had sent additional ground troops to bolster Mr. Assad’s government.
Foreign leaders don’t seem to get Obama’s words. Putin has not recoiled from the proferred shadow of Vietnam. Foreign leaders continue to act in what Obama would regard as an irrational way. Ted Cruz noted in his recent Senate speech that they had a habit of doing that. He noted president Obama’s nuclear deal was premised on the idea that Tehran will act as he would. But when did it do that?
“Now, the Administration claims that the deal will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Why? Because they promise not to do it. We have learned from Iran they break their promises over and over and over again. And what we do know is that they will have an extra $100 billion to develop nuclear weapons with now — I will say the Administration has laughingly suggested, well, they will use that on infrastructure to rebuild their roads, to rebuild their energy industry. Right now, they’re sending vast sums to Hamas and Hezbollah, funding terrorism across the world, and they have those same infrastructure needs. With another $100 billion, you don’t think they’re going to funnel an awful lot of it to developing nuclear weapons?”
Speeches are the president’s chosen weapon. However, The Daily Beast notes now that the administration’s word and tweet campaign has failed, it has been left “helpless”.
Putin’s warplanes are targeting the CIA’s rebel friends. And the U.S. doesn’t know yet if there’s any way to respond.
United States officials conceded Thursday that there is little the they could do in Syria to protect CIA-vetted rebels, the very people the American government trained and armed, who are now coming under fire from Russian airstrikes.
The military isn’t willing to intervene on behalf of the rebels, given the potentially disastrous consequences of an escalation with Russian forces, U.S. defense officials and top lawmakers told The Daily Beast. No one wants to accidentally touch off a showdown between superpowers.
The president’s frustration and anger are palpable. It is as if the world were playing a dirty trick on him. His scholarly estimate of other leaders’ behavior seem all off — and he can’t figure out where his calculations have gone wrong. The NYT writes, “bristling at criticism of his own Syria policy, he rejected domestic opponents who offer ‘half-baked ideas’ that amount to ‘a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.’”