Monday, October 5, 2015

Everyone's a Loser in Syria

With Russia's entry into the bag of dog doo that is Syria, the chattering classes are all astir over who's up, who's down, who's winning and who's losing.  Russia is the usual nominee for winner.  But what exactly has Russia won?  It can't win the war.  Between ISIS, the Kurds and various other rebel groups, most of Syria is no longer in the hands of the Assad regime.  Russia can't afford to commit the tens of thousands of ground troops, equipment and air power that would be needed to retake and hold all this ground, and the Assad regime's army appears too depleted to mount the major offensives that would be needed.  All Russia can do is prop up an Assad rump regime in western Syria that would be under constant attack.  That would mean an indefinite commitment to a war with no end in sight and no possibility of a Russian victory.  

Russia's puppet in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, isn't a winner; he has only avoided becoming a big loser.  His diminished army can't reconquer what he's lost in Syria.  Russian air strikes will allow him to bolster his lines and tighten up his defenses.  But a few dozen Russian air craft don't begin to provide enough air power to support an offensive that could retake all of Syria.  At the same time, Assad's authority is diminished.  Now, he will have to do whatever Putin tells him to do, and like it, as well.

The Iranians, who apparently negotiated an alliance of sorts with Russia, have had their weakness revealed.  For all their bluster and unacknowledged efforts to build nuclear weapons, they don't have the strength to prop up a two-bit dictator in a small nation.  They had to call in first, their Hezbollah allies, and then Russia.  Maybe the Iranians are claiming a propaganda victory.  But they just ceded power to Vlad the Invader, and it's generally a bad idea to give power to an aggressive despot.  Has the Islamic Iranian government forgotten that one reason Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi allied himself so closely with the United States was because the Russians wanted to take over Iran after World War II?

The Shiite dominated government of Iraq has cozied up to Russia and allowed Russian military planes to fly over Iraqi air space in order to reach Syria. Maybe it had no choice; its Iranian handlers could have told it to cuddle up to Putin.  But, reality is you can't be an ally of America and an ally of Russia.  If the Iraqis snuggle up to Putin too much, America may not provide as much military equipment or intelligence to Iraq as it once did.  It may see less value in supporting a Shiite government in Baghdad and perhaps more value in supporting the Kurds.

The Sunni rebel groups--ranging from ISIS to the various metastasizes of al Qaeda to the tiny and shrinking handful of moderate rebels supported by the United States--are ships out of luck.  They can't win, not with Russian military assets located in and protecting western Syria.  They will be battered by Russian air power, and will have to hunker down.

Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies have quietly been supporting various of Assad's opponents, hoping to unseat him and install a Sunni-friendly government.  That ain't happening now, not with Russian soldiers in Latakia.

The Kurds have enjoyed notable success in Syria, carving out safe havens for themselves and others who aren't Sunni or Shiite crazies.  But Russian air power will likely preclude further Kurdish gains.  The Kurds will have to concentrate on holding what they have.

Turkey has been fighting Russia for centuries.  Now, with Russian military aircraft in Syria, the Russians just flanked Turkey and can hit it from two sides.  Not that Putin has expressed any unfriendly intentions toward Turkey, but given the centuries of war between these two nations, nothing needs to be said.

Israel has been fighting various Russian allies almost since its inception.  Never, however, have Russian military assets been so closely positioned to Israel.  Had Iran been so brazen as to station military aircraft in Latakia, Israel's more advanced air force would have swarmed in the next morning before dawn and walloped the warm living yogurt out of the Iranians.  But Israel cannot attack Russian forces.  It can only watch, and hope that Syria proves to be a hopeless morass for Russia.

And last, but not least, the United States has seen its modest influence in Syria diminish even more.  By propping up Assad, Putin precludes any possibility of an American victory.  Not that it matters since, at this point, America isn't even really engaged in Syria.  The Obama administration issues a steady stream of press releases about Syria, but it's doing little more than talking. Since it's not engaged in Syria, it doesn't have the leverage to get the Russians out.  Hopes that Russia will join hands with the U.S. in attacking ISIS are delusional.  ISIS has weakened America's position in the Middle East.  Why would Putin want to weaken ISIS, which is doing the dirty work for him?  All he needs to do is prop up Assad, his puppet in Syria, while ISIS and America batter away at each other, neither able to conclusively defeat the other.

In the end, the absence of anyone strong enough to impose peace and order in Syria means that the country will be de facto partitioned.  That's what happened to Yugoslavia.  It's what's happening now in Iraq.  The flood of refugees into Europe will continue.  The truth is everyone is a loser in Syria.

No comments: