We’ll just put this bluntly: when you, as a country, do something incredibly stupid from a foreign policy perspective, you open the door for your global critics and adversaries to i) call you out on it publicly, and ii) use your gross incompetence and general disregard for anything that even approximates common sense, to their geopolitical advantage.
And make no mistake, in Syria, Washington, Riyadh, and Doha did something incredibly stupid.
They financed, armed, and trained a hodgepodge of Sunni extremists in Syria in an attempt to destabilize a regime that was deemed to be unfriendly to the interests of the West and its regional allies.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but from the perspective of human suffering, the results have been simply horrific: hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.
From a reputational perspective, the results have been equally catastrophic. Not only did the US, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have a hand in creating the group that ultimately morphed into what we never tire of characterizing as an insane band of white basketball shoe-wearing, black flag-waving, sword-wielding desert bandits bent on establishing a medieval caliphate, but subsequent efforts to arm and train “moderate” rebels were wildly unsuccessful, and the entire effort culminated in the embarrassing admission that the Pentagon’s latest “program” - designed to field 5,400 fighters by the end of the year - had only managed to produce “four or five” soldiers at a cost to the US taxpayer of $41 million.
Finally, the US just threw up its hands and resorted to paradropping hundreds of tons of ammo into the middle of nowhere and hoping the “right” people pick it up.
So one could be forgiven for being slightly enamored with the Russians at this juncture because in one extraordinarily elegant geopolitical chess move, Vladimir Putin has all at once i) exposed the fact that perhaps the US has ulterior motives for wanting to (gasp) keep ISIS around, ii) marked a triumphant return for Russia to the world stage, iii) strengthened Moscow’s relationship with Tehran ahead of the latter’s re-emergence as a force in the world of oil exporters, and iv) effectively restored Bashar al-Assad on the way to establishing a major Russian presence in the Mid-East.
And that’s in the space of, oh, let’s just call it three weeks.
This has been nothing short of a humiliation for Washington and just as Beijing simply instructed people not to sell when the SHCOMP rout embarrassed the Communist Party, the US wants you to know that it’s enough already with the Putin worship. Here’s CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: demanding that you to “Stop swooning over Putin”:
From a WaPo op-ed:
Vladimir Putin has the United States’ foreign policy establishment swooning.One columnist admires the “decisiveness” that has put him “in the driver’s seat” in the Middle East. A veteran diplomat notes gravely, “It’s the lowest ebb since World War II for U.S. influence and engagement in the region.” A sober-minded pundit declares, “Not since the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago has Russia been as assertive or Washington as acquiescent.”
It’s true that it has been a quarter-century since Moscow has been so interventionist outside its borders. The last time it made these kinds of moves, in the late 1970s and 1980s, it invaded Afghanistan and interfered in several other countries as well. Back then, commentators similarly hailed those actions as signs that Moscow was winning the Cold War. How did that work out for the Soviet Union?
And now that we’ve given you a chance to thoroughly deride the American media for the anti-Putin line, we will once again prove that we are in fact fair and balanced. Here's what Zakaria gets right:
Washington deposed Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq (Syria’s next-door neighbor, with many of the same tribes and sectarian divides). It did far more in Iraq than anyone is asking for in Syria, putting170,000 soldiers on the ground at the peak and spending nearly $2 trillion. And yet, a humanitarian catastrophe has ensued — with roughly 4 millioncivilians displaced and at least 150,000 killed. Washington deposed Moammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya but chose to leave nation-building to the locals. The result has been what the New Yorker calls “a battle-worn wasteland.” In Yemen, the United States supported regime change and new elections. The result: a civil war that is tearing the country apart.
Of course he then skips directly to this:
Those who are so righteous and certain that this next intervention would save lives should at least pause and ponder the humanitarian consequences of the last three.
To which we say: Fareed, you seem to have forgotten that it wasn't Russia who trained and armed the groups who plunged Syria into civil war, it was the US and its regional allies.
You might want to mention that next time before you go getting too "righteous and certain."