Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 8:02 AM

Putin’s Bush-lite Declaration of ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has abruptly declared that he is withdrawing the majority of Russian troops from Syria, saying the six-month military intervention had largely achieved its objective…

Western diplomatic sources were both sceptical and startled by Putin’s unexpected and mercurial move…

Putin and US President Barack Obama spoke on the phone on Monday, with the Kremlin saying the two leaders ‘called for an intensification of the process for a political settlement’ to the conflict.

(London Guardian, March 15, 2016)

As it happened, I warned that Vladimir V. Putin’s bombing of Syria smacked of the same kind of vaingloriousness that characterized George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. More to the point, in “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015, I explained why Putin’s bombing would prove every bit as feckless as Bush’s invasion:


ISIS-621324Hailing Putin’s [bombing] as ‘shock and awe … on steroids’ ignores that it took hundreds of thousands of troops invading (not hundreds of jets bombing) for Bush to win his pyrrhic victory in Iraq…

Criticizing Obama for having little to show after bombing [Syria] for over a year ignores that he deems it as unconscionable as it is counterproductive to get off on killing thousands of women and children in a vain attempt to kill a few ISIS combatants…

Staking out safe zones in Syria and Iraq will stem the flow of refugees into Europe. It will also provide a base from which Western ground forces can launch strategic incursions to kill ISIS leaders and enemy combatants, not hapless Syrians unable to flee. Russia … should join forces with the United States and its coalition partners to implement this strategy.

All else is folly.


No doubt it’s inconvenient now for Western pundits to recall how virtually every one of them hailed Putin when he launched his bombing campaign. In fact, conservatives seemed to relish propagating the narrative about Putin outmaneuvering Obama, making a mockery of the unchallenged superpower influence U.S. presidents have wielded the Middle East for over 50 years.

Tonight Charles Krauthammer said Russian President Vladimir Putin is directly targeting American allies in Syria and the Obama Administration is giving him a green light. ‘It’s one thing to be humiliated,’ Krauthammer said on Wednesday’s Special Report on Fox News. ‘It’s another thing to have that demonstrated to the world when our allies are looking at us and wondering who’s in charge here.’

(National Review, September 30, 2015)

Of course, these pundits would be hard-pressed to explain what salutary objective Putin achieved with his six-month bombing campaign. For, as Krauthammer himself unwittingly conceded, he killed more innocent civilians than ISIS terrorists. This, despite Putin vowing from the outset to “defeat ISIS.”

Rights groups and observers lay bare human cost of Moscow’s campaign as Putin declares military drawdown…

Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed about 2,000 civilians in six months of attacks on markets, hospitals, schools, and homes, rights groups and observers say, warning that plans for a military drawdown may not mean an end to the deaths.

Moscow has insisted it carried out only surgical strikes on ‘terrorists,’ but victims and fighters say bombers strayed well behind frontlines in areas far from strongholds of Islamic State or al-Qaida fighters.

(London Guardian, March 15, 2016)

20160319_LDD001_0Frankly, nothing betrayed Putin’s vainglorious intent (no matter the human cost) quite like his propaganda about deploying 150,000 Russian troops to “wipe out the evil Islamic state.” Western media bought this hook, line, and sinker – as evidenced by this headline in the December 18, 2015, edition of the London Express:

End of ISIS? Russian bombs leave terrorists on the ‘brink of DEFEAT.’

Unsurprisingly, Putin never deployed those troops and ISIS remains as powerful today, if not more so. What’s more, if he ever follows through on his threat to resume his orgy of bombing, within hours if necessary, he would only be aping Bush’s heralded “surge” of troops back into Iraq, which did nothing but wreak more death and destruction.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 5.14.48 PMIn other words, for all of his bluster and bombast, Putin has ended up in Syria right where Obama has been stuck for years; namely, trying to negotiate a political settlement between government and anti-government forces. Which of course holds about as much promise as negotiating a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

But clearly, unlike Western diplomats and pundits alike, I was neither skeptical nor startled by Putin’s abrupt withdrawal. Not least because it merely vindicated my commentary, “Russia Flexing Military: more Regional Bully than Global Superpower,” March 19, 2015, which includes this prescient observation:

The only issue I have with Putin’s military exercises is that he’s using them to extract economic concessions from the West…

Far from making Russia look strong, these maneuvers only make it look as feckless as Putin is reckless. It might be an unwitting demonstration of his intent to use desperate military threats to extract sanctions relief that he invited North Korea’s boy leader, Kim Jong-un, to make the first foreign trip of his reign to Russia.

This is why I am encouraged that no less a publication than The Economist is now seconding my observation. For here, in part, is what it published in a commentary that is uncanny – as much for its title, “A hollow superpower,” as for its date, March 19, 2016 (coming one year to date after my Russia as regional bully commentary):

Judging by the pictures on television, Vladimir Putin won a famous victory in Syria this week…

Look closer, however, and Russia’s victory rings hollow. Islamic State (IS) remains…

As our briefing explains, Russia’s president has generated stirring images of war to persuade his anxious citizens that their ailing country is once again a great power, first in Ukraine and recently over the skies of Aleppo. The big question for the West is where he will stage his next drama.

Flexing muscles. Staging drama. That’s the Putin doctrine in a nutshell.

Enough said?

Related commentaries:
Bombing ISIS
Flexing muscles

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