Putin unifies the rebels…against Russian intervention
For all his faults, Vladimir Putin has managed to do the impossible: by ordering rogue airstrikes on non-ISIS strongholds in Syria, he has united the various rebel factions vying for power in the region, and forced Barack Obama and Donald Trump to agree on something.
During a press conference last Friday, President Obama told the pool that he was willing to work with Putin in Syria, but only if the resulting plan includes removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. He went on to say that Putin’s strategy of attempting to unite forces in support of Assad’s regime—which directly contradicts US strategy in the region—will result in Russia being stuck in a “quagmire” with no easy exit strategy.
This isn’t just an easy talking point. Administration officials close to the situation see nothing but disaster:
Two U.S. officials told The Daily Beast they more or less hoped that Russia did dive into what they called the “quagmire” of Syria, a conflict that the U.S. has kept at arm’s length by limiting its involvement to airstrikes directed exclusively at ISIS and al Nusra forces.
“If he wants to jump into that mess, good luck,” one official said, noting that Russia had become bogged down in Afghanistan a generation ago in a fight against Islamic radicals.
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told reporters that the Russians may be “making a terrible strategic mistake” by deepening their military involvement in Syria. He also warned of the “risk of running into a quagmire.”
“I think they remember Afghanistan. That knowledge or that concern may have some limiting governor on what they do themselves,” he added. “Their relationship in Syria is nothing new. It’s been their one foothold in the region for a long time. And it’s a foothold they are trying to hold on to.”
Russia’s desire to maintain their client state in the Middle East is a powerful factor in Putin’s decisionmaking process, but even Donald Trump—who has made a point to highlight the strategic value of ruthless relationship-building—is ready to “sit back” and and let Putin get himself good and stuck:
In comments aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Trump said he would not establish a no-fly zone over Syria, as several other candidates, including Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, have suggested.
“I think what I want to do is I want to sit back and… see what happens,” Trump said, before suggesting that the Soviet Union’s war in the 1980s against Afghan mujahideen rebels “destroyed” the communist bloc.
“Now they’re going into Syria, there are so many traps, there are so many problems. When I heard they were going in to fight ISIS, I said, ‘Great, let them,'” the billionaire real estate mogul told the show.
Of course, for what it’s worth, Trump appears to back a stronger Assad, signaling a sharp divide between himself and the president.
Still, in terms of quagmires, both men may have a point. Putin’s belligerence has prompted the more than 40 Syrian rebel groups currently vying for power to unite against Russian “occupiers.” They argue that Putin interrupted what was about to prove a successful campaign against the brutal Assad regime, and charge that Russian airstrikes have not targeted ISIS strongholds, but rebel ones.
Via The Times of Israel:
“This new reality requires the region’s countries and the allies in specific to hasten in forming a regional alliance to face the Russian-Iranian alliance that occupies Syria,” the 41 factions said in a statement released by Ahrar al-Sham. It was apparently referring to backers of the opposition such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The Syrian militant and rebel factions, including the US-backed Division 101 and Tajammu Alezza, said “the Russian military aggression on Syria is considered a blatant occupation of the country even if some claim it was done with the official request of the Assad regime. Those who lost legitimacy can’t offer it.”
“All Syrian armed revolutionary factions must realize we are in a war to push an aggressor, a war that makes unifying ranks and word a duty on all brothers,” the factions said in the two-page statement posted online. “Any occupation force to our beloved country is a legitimate target.”
Earlier in the day militant websites report that Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood declared that jihad against the “sheer Russian occupation of Syria” is a legitimate duty for everyone capable of carrying weapons.
If this keeps up, we’re going to need a flowchart to track who has declared jihad against whom. We’re now looking at a two “front” shootout between rebel groups, Assad, and Russia, with no one focused on ISIS and no workable solution to address the growing humanitarian crisis.
In this case, Obama and Trump may both be right—and that says a lot about the state of international politics in the Middle East.
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