Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
It has become fairly obvious over the past several days that it will not be Iran that will be testing Obama’s mettle next but Russia. So far Putin dis-sed Obama at their U.N. meeting; decided to send planes into Syria; moved in artillery guns to assist the Syrian Army; appears to be sending in military personnel to bolster the Assad regime; and now is shooting cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea into Syria in support of Assad’s ground forces. Aside from the embarrassment that Russia apparently encountered today when some of these Kalibar cruise missiles landed in Iran, it is clear that Putin’s initiative is motivated by two supplemental goals.
First, Russia has decided to support aggressively the Assad regime not only for its own selfish reasons–to regain a serious foothold in the region; but also, to solidify a growing regional alliance between Syria-Iraq-Iran-and Hezbollah. This quartet now joined by Russian will solidly support for Iran as it begins to spread its wings once the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) is fully implemented. In addition, it will seek to neutralize any Saudi efforts to undercut Iranian efforts to expand its oil production and it will support Iranian Shiite initiatives to destabilize the Sunni Gulf States as well as the Saudis.
Second, now fully sowing his oats once again in Europe as well as at home, having embarrassed the West in the Ukraine, on the occasion of his 63rd birthday, Putin has decided to flex his Russian muscles and embarrass the U.S. He has observed that the Obama Administration has become extremely skittish about using any serious force to uproot the ISIS forces. Putin now is ready to confront Obama over which country is doing more to stabilize Syria. As if these actions were not embarrassing enough for Washington, U.S. air craft now need to reconfigure their flights into Syria so as not to conflict with the Russian air attack on the Syrian rebels. In addition, America’s presumptive ally Turkey, is finding itself caught in the middle of a Russia-U.S. confrontation which could end up in the Turks disallowing U.S. overflights or demanding a high price for their being tolerated.
The Obama Administration appears to be ever more clueless as to how to confront the Russian escalation in Syria. The President claims to be seeking the demise of ISIS forces but not giving significant assistance to the other Assad opponents; while the Russians are electing to push through its lame explanation that it is seeking to expel the Syrian rebel forces by supporting the Assad efforts, presuming that ISIS will then melt away. Some observers now are only waiting for the first accident when U.S. forces inadvertently strike Russians or vice-versa.
White House spokespersons continue to suggest that there is no immediate concern, but undoubtedly, for example, presumably Israel is getting rather anxious at all the fancy Russian military hardware pouring into Syria. The only good news for Obama, perhaps, is that at least politically; so far he has not drawn any red lines in the sand.