The Syrian Civil War is winding down, and Bashar al-Assad is still running the show. Saudi Arabia may be the latest country to give up on regime change in Syria and fall in line with Russia’s plans for the region. The dropping of a weapon called the “Father of All Bombs” on ISIS leaders in Deir ez-Zor in Syria might have played an intimidating role.
As the eyes of the world largely left the Middle East this year, Assad consolidated his position. Things like Brexit, North Korean nuclear testing, and the election of Donald Trump proved distracting to the West,
Throughout the conflict, Saudi Arabia has worked closely with the United States, giving backing to the anti-Assad rebels that have been trying to topple the dictator with our help since the 2011 Arab Spring protests began. But the situation has changed. What was once unthinkable has all but happened. It is likely that sometime in the near future, Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson will be learning just exactly what a Leppo is.
The motivations of Trump in doing this favor for Putin have raised questions of a possible quid pro quo. An exchange for the help Trump received in fighting dirty against Hillary Clinton from Wikileaks and other Kremlin propaganda outlets. They remain a large part of the reason for the Mueller investigation into Donald Trump’s connections and activities leading up to 2016. This investigation had former Chief of Staff, Reince “Fly-Killer” Priebus, lawyering up as of Sunday.
The Russian military intervention in the Syrian conflict began in September 2015. The entire civilized world stood in universal condemnation of Assad’s civil rights abuses. His hold on Syria’s government seemed increasingly tenuous. Deciding his situation had become at last untenable, Assad asked Russia in an official capacity for military help against the rebel groups funded by America since 2012, and Russia answered his call.
Sending forth its forces against the enemies of Assad’s regime gave a boost to Putin’s foreign policy standing. Damien Kingsbury, in The Drum on Thursday, speaks of Moscow as “positioning itself as a critical actor in the future political shape of the region, just as France and Britain were in 1916 when they developed the Sykes-Picot Agreement.”
Shortly after the operation began, Russian officials were cited as saying that Russia′s goals included helping the Syrian government retake territory from various anti-government groups that were labelled by the United States and its coalition as ″moderate opposition″, a broader geopolitical objective being to roll back U.S. influence.
The Russian intervention in Syria launched a new and even more complicated phase in the Syrian civil war. We were backing different sides, and fighting right next door to one another.
The Russians claimed that they wanted to be part of a new international coalition in Iraq, where we were all going to fight ISIS together. Reality did not end up supporting those claims. Russia rarely did much to target ISIS in Syria. What it did do was to prop up Assad while undermining the rebels . The goal was to prolong the conflict until Obama had been forced out of office by term restrictions, something neither Putin nor Assad has to worry about.
Russia’s military campaign allowed Assad’s forces to recapture rebel strongholds, a task they did with terrible viciousness and incalculable human suffering. It barely dented ISIS, whose recent territorial losses have largely come at the hands of Kurdish militias backed by a US-led coalition.
The stated Russian purpose was to shorten the war, but they succeeded in doing just the opposite. Ironically, it was this very Russian- enabled savagery that sent yet more waves of refugees flooding into Turkey and Europe, possibly leading to the Paris attacks that year.
The Syrian Civil War was a test lab for Putin in many ways. It allowed him to test the resolve of the West, which he found wanting. It opened the possibility of an entirely different type of proxy war, one with a virtual battlefield. It provided one of his first opportunities to practice the use of disinformation directly against his enemies in NATO. The entire Russian narrative, that they were over there to lend a hand in a global anti-ISIS coalition was one enormous exercise in state- sanctioned lying, and they got away with it.
The Kremlin did legitimately view ISIS as a security concern. But Russian troops usually did little to engage with them, instead focusing their air campaign against the anti- Assad opposition groups that America had been financing during Obama’s tenure in office.
Russia’s anti-ISIS rhetoric served it well as a pretext to pursue its larger strategic objectives. They conjured an excuse, entered the fray, and used their military power toward the goal of preserving Assad’s control over Syria. Although President Obama showed understandable reticence at the idea of being drawn “into a proxy war between the United States and Russia,” he was not able to avoid it.
Shoring up Assad was a core Russian objective. Its purpose was to allow them to keep intact one of their most reliable regional allies. Russia planned to cement its foothold in the Middle East, while simultaneously expanding its influence through its partnership with Iran, and their network of regional proxies.
Backed by Russia, Assad has regained control of much of the country in the past two years. His continued presence atop the Syrian apex is looking more like a fait accompli all the time. And since the United States has done nothing to help them since Obama left office, long time enemies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been forced to start coming around to working with the Russians. There has been no alternative.
The nature of today’s interconnected society means all these issues impact not just the countries involved, but the entire world. And make no mistake- what is at stake here, is nothing less than the entire order of global alignment. Americans have enjoyed the view from atop it ever since the end of World War Two. Russia would like nothing better than ascending to the number one spot.
Putin is exerting pressure everywhere. His manifested ability to disrupt the electoral processes of Western powers has allowed him a leverage over us that the Soviet Union never came close to having. His aims of destabilizing his enemies have undoubtedly been realized.
The same disinformation machine that misled so many in Syria, has now interrupted our national harmony as well. We have proven unable to effectively respond to his maneuvers in the Middle East or Ukraine, since Trump refuses to do anything against Putin without being forced. His presidency has thrown our domestic affairs into complete turmoil, and that was Putin’s reason for giving him aid.
This has also allowed Putin to start gaining influence in North Korea, a staunch ally during the days of the Soviet Union. Their nuclear testing recently has made them a scourge and a threat to the entire Pacific region, and has caused a great deal of unrest everywhere. Common sense would dictate that Putin turn these happenings to advantage.
Recently, Japan was forced to negotiate a “special system” for joint economic activity on the disputed Kuril Islands, a bone of contention for their countries for decades. This hardly seems coincidental. In August Russia flew nuclear-capable “Bear” bombers near Japan. One U.S. official described the Russian bomber flight as “clearly meant to send a message.”
Until Democrats are back in power, this order of business will likely continue all but unabated.
Having been given a free hand all over the world, Putin has been using his time with tremendous skill and vigor. If we don’t find ourselves a leader capable of successfully competing we’ll be flat on our backs within a few years. He put everything on the line to try and hamstring Hillary Clinton, and the scenario we’re seeing now is why.
Were it not for Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, things would likely be even worse.
Recently, Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone said that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was “Treating Donald Trump like a mushroom. Keeping him in the dark, and feeding him sh*t.”
After the staff of Millennial Democrats finished dying with laughter, they were born again, thinking about the nature of mushrooms and how they spread. A look at this might help us to illustrate our issue. Putin and Trump are behaving like mushrooms and cows in a pasture. They work in symbiosis. The chaos left in the wake of Trump’s passing scatters Putin’s spores to release and start spreading out, thus forming new colonies.
Putin is an invasive species, meaning that he has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health. The best way to deal with him is to learn to identify and effectively remove the tendrils he puts down. This means learning to identify and prevent the spread of fake news. In this matter we can look to Ukraine and find there a useful frame of reference.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the Ukrainians have fought the Russian disinformation machine more often than anyone. The first site to directly tackle and refute Russian propaganda was StopFake.org, and they have scored many notable successes. Not only have they proven that Russia’s lying machine can be defeated, they have proven all you need to do it is your common sense.
Ultimately, the responsibility for beating back the fake news plague belongs to us. Our own critical thinking skills are the most valuable weapon we have. Every one of us must strive to educate ourselves with each passing day. We’re running out of time in which to prepare.
The geopolitical chessboard is an ever-shifting entity. Empires collapse all the time. The Syrian Civil War has done much to shape the new reality, that being that the side we were supporting lost. This will need to be carefully observed in the times ahead. The United States has entered perilous waters.
There’s still a lot we can do, however. The Democratic National Committee has coined the hashtag #RiseAndOrganize, and that option is very much open to us. There is nothing in the world right now so crucial as the Congress returning to Democratic control next year. It is only by way of this that we’ll get a group of guys in there who will impeach Donald Trump, who is the single biggest asset Putin has. To stabilize the global order, we will first stabilize our backyard.