A couple of days ago a British political commentator made a list of predictions for 2017. One was that Vladimir Putin would be the one who took on the task of putting Syria back together; western governments would criticize his brutality, while secretly being glad they didn’t have to do the job themselves.
I suspect there’s a lot of truth in that. After all, who wants the job of cleaning up Aleppo? If Putin wants to help Assad do it, most politicians are going to breathe a sigh of relief and let him get on with it. However, there are dangers along that path.
I’m not one of those who believes that Russia is an existential threat to the West. There are certainly conflicts, but many of those are our own fault; when the Cold War ended we could have worked to rebuild relations with Russia and develop common approaches to the threats we both face – Islamic terrorism among them. Instead, in an orgy of triumphalism, we pushed NATO ever closer to Russia’s borders and treated them like a third-rate country that could be safely ignored.
However, as the governments of Georgia and Ukraine learned, if you’re within reach of Russia’s substantial and rapidly modernizing ground forces they can’t be ignored. I predicted, years ago when I was still serving, that Russia would seize both South Ossetia and Crimea as a response to western recognition of Kosovo independence. Kosovo has been part of Serbia for centuries, but has only had an Albanian majority since the 1950s; Moscow saw independence as setting a very dangerous precedent, and it’s hard to argue they were wrong. But their position was utterly ignored.
I said at the time that Putin would retaliate by picking off those two areas, which have ethnic Russian majorities anyway; the fact that both were building ties to NATO and the EU was just a bonus for Moscow, letting him humiliate the west with little risk of direct conflict. Will he push further, and “liberate” the Russian populations of the Baltic states? I didn’t think so when Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and I still don’t think so now – but I’m not quite as sure. Yes, the Baltic states are NATO members and any overt move would risk a response under Article 5. Western foreign policy is weak, disjointed and often incoherent, though, and I have no doubt some in the Kremlin are wondering if we really have the stomach to go to war over a few square miles in eastern Latvia.
And now there’s Aleppo, with the wider Syrian war beyond it. Western policy here has been, frankly, laughable. First we backed the rebels, even though most of them are ideologically identical to the scum who’re regularly causing carnage on our streets. Then we tried to find and arm “moderate” rebel groups, only to see them fall apart or defect to ISIS one after another. Finally the whole plan collapsed into a mess of conflicting aims, unclear goals and political weakness.
Then the Russian bombers moved in.
Despite some technological setbacks around the ancient carrier Kuznetsov, which resulted in at least two fast jets falling into the sea, Putin’s air offensive against the Syrian rebels proved terrifyingly effective. Large swathes of the country have been recaptured by Assad’s army and its shia proxies, and the regime’s survival is no longer in any real doubt. Russia has secured its ally’s position, while our local “allies” are fractious, ineffectual and in retreat. The only effective western-backed force in Syria is the Kurds, and they’re opposed by NATO “ally” Turkey.
We have made a mess in Syria; Putin has, in his own way, cleaned it up. So next time western and Russian policy aims clash, we’re going to be in a much weaker position. We can no longer afford to ignore Russia’s position, because we tried that in Syria, and they won. When Putin talks, people who might have ignored him a year ago will listen – because they can’t afford not to. What happens if they throw in their lot with the west, only to find those Russian bombers approaching their own cities?
I’m no isolationist, but from now on we have to pick the fights that are actually in our interests. Opposing Assad simply because he isn’t very nice just won’t cut it anymore. His overthrow was never going to make things better, and by bumbling vaguely in that direction we’ve just damaged our own credibility and enhanced Russia’s. It’s time for an adult foreign policy.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.