Commemorating Russia's first air strikes in Syria

Well, Vladimir Valdimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation, was granted approval unanimously to bomb the crap out of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's enemies. His first strikes hit the city of Homs. Finally! Manly man Vladimir is standing up to ISIL in the way that weak-kneed Obama never has.

Well...

While Moscow’s stated purpose in Syria is to fight Islamic State militants, Russian warplanes and helicopter gunships dropped bombs north of the central city of Homs, in an area held by rebel groups opposed to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally.

Not a Daesh militant in sight.

When facing trouble at home—and if you believe rigged Russian opinion polls which have Mr. Putin at 99% popularity, you have a brilliant career awaiting you in the nomenklatura—despots of varying degrees turn to foreign adventures to prop up their bona fides. Ukraine has become a sinkhole, with the EU breathing down Mr. Putin's neck. So, go rescue an ally, and stick a finger in the eye of President Obama at the same time.

Of course, as any cursory review of the past 12 years will show, outside powers going all in on Middle Eastern adventures are guaranteed to reap a whirlwind. And make no mistake: I doubt that Mr. Putin will train his Sukhois on ISIL, except tangentially. His aim is to reinforce his friend Mr. Assad. He'll leave the fighting of ISIL, despite his UN protestations, to the US and its allies. That's a much tougher road to tackle. He'll focus on the supposedly easy pickings of the non-ISIL opposition to the Syrian government.

The US didn't learn the correct lessons from Vietnam when it went into Iraq. And Russia has learned nothing from its Afghan quagmire. Mr. Assad will not be able to reimpose his diktat behind Russian fighter-bombers. There's a reason Pres. Obama has not attacked Syrian positions. (Well, two reasons, the first being that he couldn't get support out of Congress.) Although ridding the world of the Assad regime is a US foreign policy goal in the abstract, the threat posed by the ISIL death cult to allies in the region is the most pressing issue facing the West in the Middle East. With limited resources, goals have to be prioritized. Unfortunately, this means that a debilitating civil war continues apace. One of the reasons Pres. Obama met with Pres. Putin at the UN was in an effort to resolve the civil war diplomatically, so that crushing ISIL can take center stage. But, again, despite his protestations, Mr. Putin has decided in his strategic genius that helping Pres. Assad win his war is the path Russia should take.

Mr. Putin has decided to go full in on backing the Assad regime. Will he commit a couple of mechanized divisions? Will Syria be Mr. Putin's Afghanistan? Don't get involved in major wars in Asia applies to Russia as much as to the US.



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