Russia, Iran Helped by Obama Policies

Mainstream media, and even some conservative commentators, have spent the weeks since the election obsessing on Donald Trump’s supposedly over-cozy relationship with Russia and speculating about whether he’ll be a hopeless weakling when dealing with Vladimir Putin. This view conveniently overlooks that Putin already has a patsy in the White House, Barack Obama.

Nothing demonstrates that more than the cease-fire in Syria negotiated by Russia and Turkey.

Cease-fires in the Middle East are notoriously shaky. This one went into effect on Friday, and within hours violations were reported. But those who focus on who’s violating the cease-fire and who’s not, or on who will show or not show up at the peace conference in Kazakhstan that Putin and Erdogan have announced, miss the point. The deal is one more extension of Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East. Whatever happens next, it’ll be Russia, Turkey, and Bashir al-Assad’s patron Iran that will be the main actors, while the United States sits ignored and impotent on the sidelines.

The Pax Putinica began the moment President Obama failed to enforce the “red line” he had drawn regarding Assad’s use of chemical weapons in the budding civil war in Syria. Obama’s lapse gave Putin the opening he needed to negotiate a deal with the Syrian dictator, who would give up the weapons — as Russia gained its first firm foothold in the Middle East since the 1970s.

Obama didn’t just open the door for Putin. He all but shoved him through, as he encouraged Russia’s role as intermediary in the Syrian conflict until it grew into full-scale intervention in 2015. While Obama stood by, Russian military operations became crucial to preserving Assad’s rule. Assad felt free to revert to using chemical weapons when it suited him, while Russian bombs that were supposedly aimed at “terrorists” wound up killing helpless civilians and targeting the Free Syrian Army and other groups that we once supported but that Obama had now largely abandoned.

So the new Syrian cease-fire represents much more than an attempt to stop the killing that’s left more than half a million dead in Syria, with millions more on the run as refugees. It puts the seal on a significant shift in the balance of power in the Middle East and confirms Russia role as the region’s new powerbroker, leaving the United States out in the cold.

Russia isn’t the only big winner in Syria. So is Iran, whose Quds Force has been propping up Assad since the civil war began. Once a pariah state, Iran now has a hegemonic reach extending from Iraq, where its militias have led the fight against ISIS, to the Gulf of Aden, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels are fighting for control of Yemen, to the shores of the Mediterranean — all on Obama’s watch.

Barack Obama has left his successor in a bad position in the Middle East. It’s worse than that inherited by any American president since the Second World War. That’s some parting gift.

That’s also some legacy for the man who, having said that “after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be,” has instead left it in desolation.