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From Russia with Poisonous Love

Craven American leadership harms the cause of peace and stability, and only benefits the world’s dictators and aggressors.

by George C. Landrith & Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi

ObamaPutin copyVladimir Putin is a gambler. He has a weak hand. But he will bluff, pretending that he holds a good hand, until someone in power calls him on the ruse. While President Barack Obama’s hand is not weak, he behaves as if he holds no cards at all. Thus, Obama plays into the hands of Putin who is pleased at his good fortune to have an anemic and spineless American president unwilling to call Putin’s bluff or reveal his untenable position.

Putin’s willingness to bluff despite his weak hand is at least in the long run quite risky. But given Obama’s consistent and demonstrated weakness, why would Putin do anything else?

Putin is devoid of sentimentality. He is pragmatic in the extreme. Some say he longs for the days of Soviet power and prestige. No doubt power and prestige are of interest to a vain and ambitious poser like Putin. But his main objective is to rescue his rule at home by diverting attention from the near bankrupt Russian economy. By giving his countrymen the impression that he is restoring “Russia’s greatness” abroad, he hopes to neutralize the total failure of his economic policies and the financial pain that Russia is experiencing.

Historically, Russia has been a poor country, because the ruling oligarchies — whether they were Czars or Communist Party leaders — embezzled all the monies that they were able to lay their hands on. Little was left for the populace. The relative prosperity Russia has enjoyed in the last decade was due primarily to high commodity prices and Western investments providing cash. However, little was invested in industry, agriculture, or even in the oil and gas industries. Instead, the oligarchs pocketed billions, and pointless billions were spent on the Sochi Olympics, soccer stadiums, and other things that gave the appearance of success, but produce no real economic benefit.

The truth is, in the world marketplace, Russia does not offer anything that most of the developed world wants to buy — except petroleum. They do not manufacture cars, phones, computers, watches, medicines, or clothing that the rest of the world desires. Thus, as petroleum prices have collapsed, Russia’s financial state has also collapsed.

Because of this fundamental economic weakness, and because Obama allows Putin to pretend he leads a robust, powerful nation, and because Obama does nothing to pull back the curtain to reveal the charade, Putin is left free to temporarily bluff his way out of his current difficulties and engage in risky gambits around the globe.

While Putin’s masquerade will ultimately fail, the sad truth is that because Obama allows the pretense to play out as if it were real, the world is less stable than ever before. We are on the brink of an arms race in the Middle East and a so-called JV team of terrorists have rolled back most of our military victories in the last decade. Our allies are beginning to question the value of being our allies and considering realigning their loyalties.

None of this promotes world peace, or builds a more stable global environment. And of course, none of this advances America’s vital interests. And sadly, it harms the dreams of millions around the globe for more freedom and opportunity. So while Putin will not be successful in the long run because of his extraordinarily weak hand, Obama’s craven response will weaken America further and will strengthen the hand of those who foment violence and instability around the globe.

Putin allying himself with the mullocracy in Iran is risky. But given his poor hand, it may be all he can do. First, Shi’a Iran comprises only 7% of the world’s Muslim population. In addition, Shi’ism as a minority sect within Islam is hopelessly fragmented into multiple sects that disagree with the main tenants of the Iranian Mahdism, namely, the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi. Thus, the vast majority of Muslims reject Iran as a country to be emulated, or led by the Mullahs.

Second, the Iranian mullahcracy itself is unstable. The gradual lifting of sanctions and the participation of Western companies in the Iranian economy will not yield the advantages hoped for by the middle class and the bazaar. This, coupled with the erosion of religious devotion, and a growing youth population that is increasingly pro-western, will further weaken the Mullahs hold on power.

Thirdly, Iranian losses on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria will have negative effects on the population’s mood at home. The average Iranian won’t be excited to support the Mullah’s adventurism once things get rough.

Even in Syria, Putin is gambling and bears huge longterm risks. First, Syria is not Afghanistan, Crimea, or eastern Ukraine. Most of the Syrians are Sunnis and despise the Alawites, an offshoot of the Shi’a sect. The almost half century rule of the Assad clan has been vicious and bloody and has failed to modernize the country. The civil war that has been raging for almost five years has devastated Syria with no peace in sight. The Russian-Iranian intervention will not lead to peace. It will only preserve Russia’s naval base in Syria. That is likely all that Russia seeks. A world in turmoil suits Putin’s interests.

Furthermore, Russia controlling the airspace over Syria does not guarantee success on the ground. The strategic objective seems to be the elimination of the pro-Western opposition to Assad which is clearly anti-Russian, and the pushing of ISIS out of Syria and into Iraq. That isn’t a longterm plan for peace or stability in the region. It is simply sowing the seeds of even greater hostilities.

Russia appears to be imposing an embargo the Syrian coastline by stationing warships in the Mediterranean. They’ve  done the same thing in the Caspian Sea. The objective is to prevent the supply of aid and arms to the rebels by sea. With the blockade in place, aid can reach the rebels only from Jordan and Israel.

We also should analyze the qualities of the Russian army. It is poorly trained, abysmally educated, and devoid of motivation. Educated draftees can avoid the military by going to universities, leaving Russia, or bribing officials. What is left is mostly poorly educated peasant boys who cannot handle sophisticated technologies. The officer corps is also generally lacking training, education and motivation. Equipment is often outdated. Keeping up with replacement needs will be miserably deficient given Russia’s weak economy. Thus, the Russian army’s endurance will be highly problematic no matter how motivated Putin may personally be.

In the long run, Syria will be a catastrophe for Putin — not because Obama has played his hand well, or provided prescient leadership, or even implemented a plausible strategy. The real reason Putin will fail is because he is playing a weak hand and is over extended. It will be Afghanistan all over again, a redux.

The problem is that while Putin is sowing the seeds of his own defeat, he is convincing many of our former allies that they should begin to listen to him and take him seriously. Many will. That will weaken the United States on the world stage and place many of the world’s most vulnerable at risk for war, deprivation and violence. We have seen this play out over the past seven years during Obama’s presidency.

The United States must forge an alliance against Putin’s expansionist ambitions. NATO, Israel and all the Sunni countries in the Islamic world should be included. If we do that, the Russian-Iranian axis will be defeated and Russia again will be laughed out of the Middle East — as it was after its defeat in Afghanistan.

Putin will not survive a defeat of that magnitude. The good news for the Russian people will be that Putin’s grip on power will finally be released, real economic reforms can finally be implemented, and Russia can develop a real, modern, and well-balanced economy.

Showing strength not only serves America’s interests, it benefits all who seek stability and peace in the Middle East, and it benefits the Russian people who desperately need to be free of the reincarnated communist leadership that Putin and his oligarch allies impose upon them. The flight of record numbers of refugees shows the great harm done to the powerless when America refuses show leadership. Obama’s profound failure of leadership harms the world at-large as well as America’s interests, and only benefits the world’s dictators and aggressors.