“They all laughed when President Obama warned Russia about getting into a Syrian quagmire.
“They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.
“They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.
“They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother when they said that man could fly.
“Well check out Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria:
“For oh, ho, ho, who’s got the last laugh now.” (Apologies to George and Ira Gershwin.)
Of course what’s happening to nuclear-armed Moscow is no laughing matter.
Mired in an economic crisis at home, Russia is enmeshed in propping up a weak but vicious Middle East ally, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. And the Kremlin is straining to keep Assad in power and at considerable and unexpected costs. Russians are going home in body bags.
— A Russian airliner with 224 on board was brought down in Egypt by a bomb planted by the Islamic State in retaliation for Putin’s military action in Syria;
— A Russian fighter jet was shot down after it veered into Turkish airspace, in the first shoot-down by a NATO member of a Russian plane in 60 years.
— A Russian helicopter dispatched on a search-and-rescue mission for the surviving jet pilot was shot down by Syrian rebels.
Coffins highlight the costs of Putin’s unilateral and reckless military intervention in the Middle East where tensions are now at their highest.
Meanwhile, the Russiannews agency Tass reported that unlike previous economic crises, for the first time since the early 2000s, Russia is seeing a decline in real incomes. “Government measures to support the economy of the population are not enough” Alexei Kudrin, former finance minister and chairman of the Committee of Civil Initiatives told the third All-Russian Civic Forum in Moscow.
While Putin’s eyes are on Syria, inflation is rising in Russia, the economy is shrinking, poverty is rising, growth has flat-lined and the ruble is taking a fall. Western sanctions are squeezing the Kremlin, and Russia’s mother’s milk — oil revenue — is taking a hit because of weak prices.
As David W. Lesch wrote in Foreign Policy:
“Perhaps Putin’s intervention in Syria will result in something akin to Egypt’s Pyrrhic victory in 1957 or to the Soviet Union’s sudden expansion of influence in the late 1950s that was accompanied by an exponential increase in foreign-policy headaches. Fifty years from now, historians may identify Russia’s 2015 push in Syria as the beginning of the end of Putinism, just as the 1957 landing was the beginning of the end of Nasserism.”
That is no cause for cheering, not as long as Putin has pipe dreams of being a super-power. The Russian bear has been wounded. But his thirst for adventurism is not yet slaked by the Islamic State’s setbacks and military blunders. Fortunately the means to becoming a superpower equal to the United States are way beyond Russia’s reach.
If national success is measured by economic strength, Russia is way back in the pack. It trails the United States in economic and population growth, in troops under arms and in most weaponry. And the Russian government, wasting precious resources on Putin’s world-power aspirations, is in no position to meet its social obligations to its people.
Obama is correct to not give in to Putin’s desire to be regarded as more important than he is. Or to give credence to Russia’s imagined influence on the world stage. And Obama is also right to keep a cool head and to continue building an international coalition of heavy hitters to launch attacks on global terrorism.
As for desk-bound defense hawks such as GOP presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, who is calling for the deployment of 20,000 U.S. ground troops, the response is quite simple: Get Republicans who control Capitol Hill to pass a joint resolution of Congress demanding that the president place tens of thousands of Americans on foot in Syria and Iraq.
Every good wish, Mr. Graham.
Granted, Putin’s capacity to trouble the waters is huge. But Russia’s ability to rival the United States as a world power and dominate events in the Middle East is not — though some Obama critics appear to wish it were so, if for no other reason than to disable this president.
And that, too, is no laughing matter.
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