“We have gone from the victory-at-any-cost mindset of World War II to the exit-at-any-cost mindset of the [Barack] Obama years,” wrote David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy, in his latest commentary on the persistent American immobility vis-à-vis Russian prop-activity about Syria.
He elaborated: “Obama’s plan is now becoming clear. We’ll leave Syria and Iraq to the Russians and the Iranians. Both of the war-torn countries are a mess. There is no political will in the United States to get more involved. What could go wrong? What could the long-term implications be of allowing the Russians and the Iranians to continue their clear and thus far successful strategies of extending their influence in their overlapping neighborhoods by fueling fractures within their neighbors and then stepping in and gaining influence over chunks of those neighbors, thereby also weakening their opponents? It is an approach that has given Russia bits of Georgia and Ukraine and has explained muscle-flexing in Belarus and the Baltics. It is the approach that has expanded Iranian influence from Lebanon to Yemen (not to mention, of course, Syria and Iraq).”
Years ago, when the Arab unrest penetrated the borders and the Obama administration started to send its first signals of non-involvement, I had also commented along the lines that there was no room for the luxury of the US leaving the Middle East to its own devices, because the vacuum would rapidly enough invite its rivals to be its fillers — no matter the mess former US President George W. Bush left behind him in Iraq or the US opinion in disfavor of boots on the ground. Leaving the rivals to fill in the vacuum would also jeopardize the reasoning and position of its allies and shatter delicate balances in a larger scale.
The past days have showed how. And the coming weeks and months will invite even stronger consequences.
Questions have been asked from the US sphere and are now being done with bolder tones.Republican Sen. John McCain said, “This administration has confused our friends, encouraged our enemies, mistaken an excess of caution for prudence and replaced the risks of action with the perils of inaction.”
McCain added that Russian President Vladimir Putin had stepped “into the wreckage of this administration’s Middle East policy’.
“Syria is primarily not Obama’s fault or responsibility,” wrote David Aaaron Miller in Foreign Policy.
“But it’s unlikely that history will be as forgiving. The cruel reality is that as time passes, the complexities of the Syrian tragedy will fade and only one question will likely remain: Why didn’t the world, and particularly the world’s greatest power, do more to stop the killing?
“If Obama were going to have real regrets about the Middle East, he’d have to believe that he was responsible for the mess there (he doesn’t) and that there were other reasonable options (he doesn’t believe they existed). Instead, Obama believes that George W. Bush’s Iraq War created a good deal of the mess he now faces and that the Arabs themselves created the rest with the uprisings of 2011 that ended up being more a winter than a spring. Given his risk-aversion and the Middle East mess, he probably doesn’t think much about do-overs.”
But, in our immediate neighborhood, a new reality is emerging. It may be so that Obama’s rationale may over time be proven right. If so, much will depend on how Vladimir Putin will play his cards about the fate of Bashar al-Assad, and Syria as a whole. The game being set will surely involve a very keen Iran whose assertiveness will encompass both Iraq and Syria.
And the final response will be whether or not Putin’s stated goal of fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria will turn the ground to a new Afghanistan for the ruler in Moscow. Putin, with a strong memory may not go as far as engaging land troops, and he has already signaled that he has his eyes on the Kurdish militia. That, if any, is a common ground he has with the Americans and some Europeans, which, in due time, may be increasingly attractive.
Sadly, this new game taking shape brings the alienation of Turkey to a point of completion. Its “precious loneliness” is almost sealed, its “out of the loop” status is strengthened by Putin outplaying Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ruthlessly adding to the isolation of Ankara, which is still stuck in an invalid idea of no-fly and safety zones. Its short-sighted obstinacy also overshadows Turkey’s benevolent role in hosting a huge amount of refugees.
With the suspended step of the American stork, all one can hope is Turkey and Saudi Arabia seek a “reset” of their roles, and adopt a realistic, interest-based strategy. But then, you have the undying habits of ostriches. Not much ground for hope.