Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Trouble with Syria

If the Republicans wanted a lesson in why we shouldn't get anymore involved in Syria than we already are, they have one in Russia and Turkey.  Syria is a hornets' nest of hostilities with a deeply entrenched authoritarian government and a myriad of resistance forces, supported by different countries.

This particular case had Russian jets targeting Turkmen opposition forces along the Syrian-Turkish border, which Turkey supports.  President Erdogan had repeatedly warned President Putin to lay off, as the jets had been encroaching on Turkish airspace, but Vlad being Vlad decided to call Erdogan's bluff and down went one of his SU-24 jets, courtesy of an American-made F-16.  Both Russian pilots ejected onto Syrian soil.  One was shot from the sky, the other lived to tell the tale, claiming his plane hadn't crossed the border.

Tensions were already at a breaking point between Russia and Turkey, primarily over Putin's active support of Syria's President Assad, who Erdogan had turned his back on after attempts to broker a compromise to end the civil strife back in 2011 at the peak of the "Arab Spring."  I guess the young Syrian strongman felt he could withstand a civil war with Russia backing him, but it has drug on four long years with no end in sight, and now he has Russia committing its planes and long-range missiles to the war.

Erdogan has had to deal with a tidal wave of Syrian refugees, estimated between 1.6 and 2 million, and is none too happy about it.  In comes Vlad the Impaler making the matter worse by striking any and all factions opposed to the Assad regime.  Putin has also struck American-backed rebels.  ISIS seems to be the least of his worries.  However, after the France bombings, Putin said he would coordinate efforts with NATO countries, as France decided to launch airstrikes of its own at ISIS.  Seems Vlad doesn't regard Turkey as part of NATO.

It is hard to say what Putin's endgame is here.  My feeling is that he is trying to drive the price of oil up, as his economy has taken a heavy hit over the low prices the past two years.  Oil is currently trading at $42 a barrel.  If you create a little instability in an oil-rich region, speculators are prone to start buying, even if there are plenty of reserves.  Putin figured he could take a few pot shots at Erdogan's Turkmen in the process.

Trump was extolling the virtues of Vladimir Putin a few weeks back, saying that if the Russian president wants to take matters into his own hands then so be it.  In his mind, Obama wasn't doing anything anyway.  Trump has changed his tune in the aftermath of the Paris bombings and now wants the US to make a greater commitment to the war effort.  A sentiment shared by most of his fellow GOP candidates.

Obama had already increased America's commitment before the Paris bombings.  He deployed troops despite not yet having a war powers resolution from Congress, much to the chagrin of fellow Democrats.  So, it's not like Obama has sat on his hands this whole time.  Of course, now Congresspersons are saying 50 troops are a joke, with Lindsey Graham demanding at least 10,000 "boots on the ground."

Trump would prefer to keep our boys in the air, hoping for less casualties that way, but now that Putin has lost a jet, it is not unlikely that we may see an American jet go down in the coming months.  Then what?

Like Putin, the Republicans really haven't thought this one out.  They are just trying to see how much political mileage they can get out of the Syria crisis, hoping that tough talk translates into higher polling numbers.  They aren't even bothering to find out what's going on, as Marco Rubio skipped out of an intelligence briefing on the Paris bombings to attend a fund raiser.  Ironic since he used the Paris bombings in his most recent campaign ad to drum up support for his cause.  It's this kind of shameless behavior that makes matter worse, not better.


  1. The problem for Republicans is that they always proceed from the same starting point no matter what the issue: Obama is a disaster. While this plays well with a big chunk of their base -- racist white males in their 40s -- it also shortsides them. A solution can be found to the Syria problem, but nothing will happen as long as Assad is in power. Hard to tell what Vlad has in mind, but I suspect you're right about oil prices. They may not explain everything, but they are in the picture for sure.

  2. It is hard to figure out what Putin gets from Assad. It's like one of those long-standing relationships that's hard to break off although you don't see any reason for keeping it going. The US was willing to cut ties with Mubarak when they saw t hat the gig was up in Egypt, but Russia just can't seem to find a way to part with Brother Assad. It's like a Dostoyevsky novel.