The amount of admiration that is being lobbed towards Russian President Vladimir Putin is sickening. The media is doing it. He’s the new darling on social media posts Americans. There’s even a Presidential candidate who seems to admire his strategies.
Let’s take a closer look at Putin’s actions and the motivations behind them. He’s being glorified by the masses as a strategic genius who pulled a successful end-around on US President Barack Obama and the western political establishment. That assessment is understandable, but the boldness with which he’s acting is artificial. He’s not brilliant. He’s playing the only role he really knows: fear, accuse, and react cautiously while masking it all in bravado and strength.
In two brilliantly simple moves, Putin humiliated us and our allies; emboldened our enemies.
This is something that we started seeing in 2011 with the Libya situation. He was in quiet but not silent opposition to the support of ousting dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but he didn’t react.
As Amanda Taub astutely pointed out in her article, it was his fear of two things – western influence and populist uprisings in general – that caused the stance he’s had for years and the actions he’s taken in the last week in Syria.
To understand why Putin is intervening in Syria, you have to understand the lessons he drew from Libya: http://t.co/v0TJjzbbhT
The one thing Putin fears more than western influence is the possibility that the people he governs will do what others around the world are doing. He’s fearful of Islam, not as a religion but in the way that it replaces secular governance with theocratic rule. He doesn’t love Bashar al-Assad or the Ayatollah Khamenei, but he needs both of them to be the stable partners for maintaining a semblance of influence in the Middle East.
Air Strikes are Coming, but They’re Just an Excuse
To the international community, Putin will talk about the Islamic State as an existential threat to the people of the Middle East and the world. He will bolster his position by being the man of action that President Obama has conspicuously avoided being. He will have his Air Force hit targets to drive back the Islamic State and they will by strangely more effective than anything that the United Nations or other countries have been able to accomplish with the same strategy.
Behind the scenes, he will be fighting the rebels that truly oppose Assad. They are his bigger fear. They are the ones who can take out Assad with assistance from the west and that’s something Putin absolutely does not want.
Further behind the scenes in the darkest corners of Syria, Putin will work with the Islamic State to embarrass the United States, solidify their position in Iraq, and even hold their positions in eastern Syria. This will give him victories in western Syria that will justify his presence while the Islamic State grows in influence outside of Assad’s portion of the country.
More importantly, this will give him leverage to keep Assad in power against the wishes of Saudi Arabia, to keep Hezbollah in play against the wishes of Israel, and to keep his presence in the Middle East growing over time.
These are bold, even wild accusations against a man that some Americans have grown to admire. These accusations would be borderline insane if they weren’t likely true.