In exchange for a troop presence in Iraq, Russia would obtain a free hand in dealings with the countries of the former Soviet Union. It would gain leverage against a weakening Turkey in the Caucasus and Central Asia. And it would vastly enhance its leverage in negotiations over the placement of oil pipelines. Most important, perhaps, it would assert its old status as a global military power against the feckless Europeans. In short, the arrangement would benefit everyone, except of course the population of Fallujah.
I can sum up the possibility of a significant Russian deployment to Iraq in one word.
Oh, that’s not to say there isn’t a downside — not to mention some pretty damn big practical problems. Let’s look at the downside first.
Honestly, the disadvantages are pretty, well, disadvantageous. We spent 45 years trying to diminish Moscow’s influence, and they could get most of it back in one fell swoop. And while Putin’s Russia is hardly Stalin’s (or even Brezhnev’s) USSR, it ain’t exactly Holland, either. True, Russia would become responsible for basketcases like Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Khirgizia — but Russia would also gain a potential stranglehold over emerging democracies in Georgia and Armenia. That ain’t chickenfeed, kids.
Although the Asia Times makes no mention of the Baltic States, you can bet, however, that new NATO members Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia will remain firmly in the Euro-American orbit. If nothing else, NATO expansion will keep the Baltic States free. Hitler might have traded them to Stalin in exchange for the choice bits of Poland, but Bush (contrary to what you might hear from some in Boston this week) is no Hitler.
The practical problems are many, and so difficult solve that they shed serious doubt on the entire proposal.
Russian troops won’t be driving Humvees, protecting their foot soldiers in M2 Bradley IFVs, or swapping artillery rounds with our big guns. Unless the Russians get permission from Turkey to move their troops — and all the supplies those 40,000 soldiers will ever need — by train through eastern Anatolia, then Russia will have to move everything by ship. And those ships will have to move either through the Turk-controlled Dardanelles, or through Russia’s northern ports, which are ice-packed part of the winter.
And don’t count on the Turks proving very cooperative. They wouldn’t even allow us to use our Turkish bases during the Iraq War, despite huge bribes. Russia’s American-approved re-entry into Central Asia and back into Turkey’s Caucasus back yard. . . well, let’s just say Ankara wouldn’t be too pleased.
On the other hand, giving Russia a “free hand” in the former Soviet Republics is a bit like giving condoms to your teenage son — chances are, he already has some and knows how to use them. The only thing that’s changed is, now you at least recognize the boy is – ah – packing heat. Same goes for Russia. If Moscow really wants to move back into Central Asia in a big way, there’s little we could do to stop them. Better we should get something out of the deal.
The last major minus is we’d be giving Putin’s Russia a foot in the Middle East’s front door. That’s a biggie, and not to be treated lightly.
Now let’s cover the plusses.
Let me say first that I don’t give one goddamn about any partisan advantage Bush might gain. Yes, he could squash Kerry’s complaint that Bush chased away all of our Terror War allies. Sure, he could gain votes by reducing America’s cost in blood and treasure. But none of that matters, not in the long run. What matters is permanent victory in the Sunni Triangle, and the permanent reshaping of the Middle East into something resembling a functioning culture. I care about America’s interests, not George W. Bush’s.
That said, America could have some very strong interests in Russian participation.
Whatever election advantage Bush might gain, we sure could use another 40,000 boots on the ground. We need those boots to patrol the badlands, to help train the New Iraqi Army, to help with reconstruction projects, and to take some of the strain off our overstretched Army.
Looking further ahead, having a Russian footprint in the Middle East could help in more subtle ways. If Turkey couldn’t be bribed with carrots into helping us last year, perhaps showing them the Russian stick will bring them around. Even France might eventually start acting like a real ally