Among other revelations in the seven-page contract dated Aug. 26, 2015, the Kremlin has made an open-ended time commitment to its military deployment in Syria, and either side can terminate it with a year’s notice.
Russian military personnel and shipments can pass in and out of Syria at will and aren’t subject to controls by Syrian authorities, the document says. Syrians can’t enter Russian bases without Russia’s permission. And Russia disclaims any responsibility for damage caused by its activities inside Syria. Since Russia’s bombing campaign started at the end of September, [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad’s forces have been able to recapture some territory from rebels, and much of the humanitarian aid to the country has come to a halt. A war that already looked intractable now seems more so.
Among all of the Obama administration’s strategic errors — and Hillary Clinton’s personal blunders — our Russia policy is high on the list. Recall that President Obama invited Russia to broker the chemical weapons deal with Syria, while Clinton cheered from the sidelines. And it has been downhill ever since.
In his State of the Union address, Obama astonishingly referred to our independent democratic ally Ukraine as a “client state.” (“Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria — client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.” Swell, and Russia’s troops are planted in both.)
Talk about putting the welcome mat out for Russian President Vladimir Putin and further unnerving our already shell-shocked Eastern European allies. As we cede chunks of Europe and the Middle East to Vladimir Putin, he loses the fear that his aggression will be checked. This president is afraid to confront him. Donald Trump wants to be his pal and also has welcomed Putin’s presence in Syria. And Clinton was the one to give him the reset button to begin with. What does Putin have to fear if he invades another former Soviet state and turns Iraq and Syria into two more “client states”? The next president must be the one with the strength and skill to put Putin back in his box.
The irony is that we have all the leverage in the world as energy prices, the source of his power and wealth, plummet. If the United States were to rebuild its military, repair alliances, draw clear lines and not immediately erase them, and put a spotlight on human rights abuses in Russia and elsewhere, Putin would be in a tough jam. Instead, we’ve given him permission to run rampant, repress his people at home and put Russia right back into the Middle East as a dominant power. If Obama declares that the Cold War is over, it is only because we are conceding to Russia –one “client state” after another.
One of the GOP presidential contenders might make the case that the next president cannot be either Trump or Clinton, neither of whom understand Putin or know how to stop him. You see, making America great again does not mean we cozy up to brutal dictators, abandon friends, concede spheres of influence and refuse to use our economic might to our advantage. Whoever does that may break Trump’s spell on the party and distinguish himself as a credible commander in chief.
UPDATE: It is tempting to blame the State Department for approving “client state” language, but it is very possible this was the creative writing at the White House. A State Department spokesperson told me, “Over the past two years, the United States has worked closely with our European and international partners to help Ukraine defend its democracy and territorial integrity, and the United States remains firmly committed to helping the Ukrainian people build a country that is peaceful, prosperous, and free to chart its own destiny.” Maybe someone should fill in the president.