Russia’s foreign minister admits it: Moscow is shipping military aid to the Assad regime. And, we’re not just talking spare parts. Advisors, troops, prefabricated housing and other infrastructure are showing up in Syria—a country torn asunder by years of civil war.
Clearly, Moscow and Tehran are working hand in hand. And so far the West has been unable to break them apart. When NATO countries refused overflight rights for Russian “humanitarian” aid, Iran stepped in with a “no problem, use our airspace” offer. Mr. Putin, is seems, has friends in all the wrong places.
This new flush of support for Assad makes Syria’s intractable war even more intractable. Both Russia and Iran have good reason to prop up the chemical-bombing strongman. It gives them access to strategically important ground. They also get a buffer between them and ISIS (and other Sunni-Islamist armies battling at their door steps).
This new flush of support for President Assad makes Syria’s intractable war even more intractable. Both Russia and Iran have good reason to prop up the chemical-bombing strongman.
While it makes every sense for Moscow to buck-up what’s left of Alawite-power around Damascus, Putin probably has no interest in stepping deeper into the quagmire that is Syria. While the Kremlin would like a buffer against ISIS, that doesn’t necessarily mean it wants to see Sunni-terrorism extinguished altogether. Grappling with ISIS weakens and distracts the U.S. and our allies in the region. Both Moscow and Tehran like that.
But the logic train that now has moved Moscow into the Syrian conflict carries another passenger as well.
Consider this: Assad has been on the ropes for a long time. So why enter the ring now? Moscow’s moves came just as it was clear that President Obama had wrapped up a veto-sustaining minority in the Senate—enough to let him go forward with his nuclear deal with Iran. The timing on the latest push from Iran and Russia in Syria is just too coincidental.
This is just another finger in the eye of the Obama doctrine, which supposes that engaging with bullies will make them play nice.
In 2012, that doctrine allowed Russia to pocket the gift known as the New START nuclear deal. The U.S. agreed to cut back its nuclear force and scrap an ambitious missile defense plan for Europe. Moscow agreed to no nuclear cuts—indeed, it got to increase its stockpile of tactical nukes. Three years on, Moscow has emerged as the greatest security threat to Western Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal with Tehran looks to be just as big a winner. Even as the Administration brags that it has brought Iran to the negotiating table and reached an agreement that will prevent war in the Middle East, Russia and Tehran have ramped up their trouble-making in the region. Russia is sending troops. And the Ayatollah renews his promises that Israel won’t survive another 25 years and Iran won’t go any further in “cooperating” with the U.S. beyond what’s written in the agreement.
Since the Iran Deal doesn’t come close to adequately restraining Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, these actions and pronouncements demonstrate that Mr. Obama has gotten exactly nada for playing nice with Moscow and Tehran.
With the Iran agreement all but a done-deal, the Oval Office is no doubt littered with popped champagne corks. But, the real celebrations are going on in Moscow, Tehran and Damascus where everyone knows they got something for nothing.
James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JJCarafano.