Has Vladimir Putin shown Obama how to do it?

Democracy has always been a rare thing on the world scene.  The Athenian and Roman democracies did not last.  Its only lasting base of support has been in North-Western Europe and its derivative societies.  Even Southern Europe has a poor record of democracy.  I mention Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal the Colonels in Greece, Tito in Yugoslavia and Petain in France.  That's the whole of S. Europe and all those ruled at various times during the C20.  Contrast that with Iceland's Althing, a parliament with a continuous history going back over 1,000 years.  And we all know about King John and the Magna Carta of 1215.

So the idea that democracy should be encouraged everywhere is laudable but seems unrealistic.  It just has no roots in most of the world and certainly does not in the Middle East.  "Choose your dictator" seems to be the only choice in the M.E.  The current chaos in Iraq, the rest of the M.E. and North Africa is surely ample testimony to that.  Where one dictator is not promptly replaced by another, great chaos, not democracy, seems to result.

And American foreign policy used to recognize that.  Conservative Latin American dictators were routinely supported as a preferable alternative to a Communist insurgency. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza—“He may be a bastard, but he's our bastard”.

But Obama's "fundamental transformation" of America includes ditching as much of America's traditional wisdom and values as possible and we now see the results.  America should have supported Assad in Syria but instead undermined him -- and offered nothing as a replacement other than pious hopes.  The world can therefore probably be grateful that Vladimir Vladomirovich has shown more sense.  Only his intervention seems likely to eliminate the totally foul Islamic State -- an outcome hoped for among people of goodwill worldwide

RUSSIA’S power play in Syria appears to be paying off with the superpower making inroads against Islamic State and other extremist groups, leaving its American rivals looking ineffective and highlighting US failures in the region.

When Russia decided to involve itself in the war in Syria, American officials accused it of “pouring gasoline on the fire” in Syria and being “unprofessional” for only giving the US an hour’s notice of its intention to launch air strikes.

But just weeks later, Russia’s provocative move seems to be paying off.

Professor Clive Williams of Macquarie University’s Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism told news.com.au that Russia’s support had helped Syrian armed forces make advances in some contested areas and “clearly it has made a difference for them”.

Earlier this year, commentators were writing off the Syrian army and suggesting that the government’s days were numbered.

With Russian air support, Syrians have been able to hit back against Islamic State in central and north-western regions, in a war that has stretched out for four years under the US’s watch.

The US is opposed to the Syrian regime headed by brutal President Bashar al-Assad and has so far refused to help its troops, but Prof Williams said it was better for the Assad regime to be in power, than for the likely alternative of jihadist groups Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra to prevail.

“We know what Islamic State is capable of, they are obviously ruthless and clearly have an agenda to dominate other opposition groups,” he said.

He said Russia’s success highlighted the US’s lack of strategy.

“America doesn’t really have a strategy but Russia’s is clear cut,” he said, adding that Russia aimed to support Assad’s regime and its own strategic interests.

While the US’s aim was to support Iraq and counter Islamic State, Prof Williams said what it was doing “was not really making much of a difference on the ground”. This was partly because the US did not want to put American boots on the ground and was limited in what it could achieve through air strikes.

Iraqi forces backed by the US had corrupt leaders and were poorly motivated, and seemed to be militarily incapable of making advances against Islamic State.

“They rely mainly on the Kurds to do the ground fighting and they are really only interested in establishing their own state,” Prof Williams said.

Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama admitted that his efforts to help resolve the Syria crisis had so far failed, but defended his strategy and dismissed assertions that Russian President Vladimir Putin was now the dominant world leader.

But this week former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger argued in The Wall Street Journal that Russia’s military action was the latest symptom of the “disintegration of the American role in stabilising the Middle East order”.

He said the geopolitical alliances in the region were now in “shambles” and that four countries — Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq — had ceased to function.

“American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events,” Kissinger wrote.

“The US is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights, with Saudi Arabia over Yemen, with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives.”

He said the US wanted to remove Assad but had been unwilling to generate effective political or military leverage to achieve that aim, or to put forward an alternative political structure to replace him. This had allowed Russia, Iran, Islamic State and other terrorist organisations to move into the vacuum.

Overall if you looked at American involvement in the Middle East since the 1990s, Prof Williams said: “it has all been pretty disastrous in terms of long term outcomes”.

He said that America’s best move to combat Islamic State could actually be to withdraw from the conflict and let regional countries sort out what is essentially a regional problem.


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