Russia Re-Emerges as a Great Power in the Middle East

For the leader of an ex-global power whose economy is in disarray, Vladimir Putin is having a pretty good 2016. Watching the State Department pursue its Syria negotiation with Russia was surreal: as if Robert E. Lee had to chase Ulysses Grant around Northern Virginia, waving a surrender document in his hands and begging Grant to sign it.

The United States is putting aside its worries about Russian complicity in Syrian war crimes, ignoring the destabilizing potential of an ascendant Iran and its impact on the Sunni world and acquiescing in Russia’s return to the Middle East in order to cooperate with Russia against Sunni jihadi groups.

Secretary Kerry, after much hard work, has gotten Putin to accept a temporary alliance with the United States on Russia’s terms. Assad is already stronger as a result of this agreement; America’s alliance network in the Middle East is already weaker. It’s likely that Putin will push the envelope of the agreement to inflict further humiliations on the Obama administration and inflict further damage on America’s international position.

Kicking sand in this administration’s face is a one way bet for the Russians. The Americans will sulk and pout and make inspiring speeches about the arc of history, but the weaker they look the less anyone cares about all that. The President doesn’t really understand why, after all this time and despite his best efforts, the world is less peaceful now than it was when George Bush left office.

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