National Security

Putin Fills Obama's Vacuum

Russian military presence in the Middle East is reason for concern.

Robin Smith · Sep. 21, 2015

The cascading crises following Barack Obama’s abdication of America’s role in the Middle East are manifold. They include the expansion of the Islamic State into the vacuum Obama left when he abandoned Iraq, and the effective surrender of hundreds of billions of dollars to finance Iran’s sponsorship of worldwide terrorism. Meanwhile, a stroll down Memory Lane recalls moments that all point to the predictable and preventable chaos that is returning diplomatic and military influence to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

On March 26, 2012, a hot mic caught Obama reassuring Russia’s outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev that after the November presidential election he would have “more flexibility” for dealing with Moscow. Medvedev confirmed he would “transmit this information to Vladimir” Putin, Russia’s current czar. Putin is now taking advantage of that “flexibility” to avenge the end of the Soviet empire — which was brought about by the leadership of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. “Strength through peace” was not a poll-driven slogan as this dynamic duo engineered the end of the Iron Curtain.

We also remember George W. Bush’s July 2007 prophetic warning regarding the politically popular notion to completely removal of troops from Iraq: “I know some in Washington would like us to start leaving Iraq now. To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we’re ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States. It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al-Qaida. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”

Obama blamed Bush rather than heed his prescient remarks, and Obama now owns the Middle East failure.

That failure is increasingly including a resurgent Russia. Obama bowed to the wishes of the Kremlin to break previous promises made to the Czech Republic and Poland to fund the missile defense program, which set the stage for Russia to “annex” — make sure to use the word annex and not the term “invade” — the Crimean Peninsula and South Ukraine. That served as a pathway for Putin to control key energy facilities such as nuclear, coal and hydroelectric power plants, natural gas pipelines, Black Sea oil and a weapons pipeline that flows between Russia and its allies.

Of course, this “annexation” was actually a deadly military invasion with more than 10,000 Russian soldiers on the ground, and with a body count of almost 8,000 victims in Ukraine since April 2014 and a hidden tally of approximately 2,000 dead among the invading troops. Putin’s invasion is 18 months old, but with casualties that match the 2,154 Americans who perished in the 14-year involvement in Afghanistan.

Now, let’s take a peek at Syria. Obama’s early efforts involved a “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad ignored the line, so Obama denied it and then redrew it a little further back.

Next up was $500 million for U.S. training of Syrian forces to fight Assad and the “JV team,” a.k.a. Islamic State.

How’d that go?

Last week in a Senate Armed Forces oversight hearing, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of Central Command, hemmed and hawed until it was finally revealed the $500 million appropriation to train a projected 5,000 Syrian troops is a fraud. Austin reported that “four or five” U.S. trained Syrian soldiers remain in combat against the Islamic State.

With a return on investment like that, we should call it “Stimulus II.”

But Obama spokesman Josh Earnest had the temerity to blame Obama’s critics. “This was a more difficult endeavor than we assumed,” Earnest said. “[W]e need to make some changes to that program.” However, he went on, “I think it’s also time for our critics to ‘fess up in this regard as well. They were wrong.”

Wrong about what? That Obama’s philosophy and policies have failed in the Middle East? He created a vacuum that has been filled not only by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but will be filled by an Iran funded with sanctions relief and an emboldened Russia — the nation Mitt Romney rightly called our number one geopolitical foe. Obama’s answer is to call for talks with Russia.

Russia has begun to establish a military presence in Middle East, with planes capable of air-to-air combat to defend Putin’s longtime vassal Assad. Obama recently dismissed those deployments as “doomed to fail,” saying Moscow was “going to have to start getting a little smarter.” But the fact is Putin has accepted Obama’s surrender and is rising as a power broker in the region.

Weakness is provocative. Inaction added to weakness is the recipe for the toxic brew of unrest and war. And that will be the legacy of Barack Obama. No wonder the Nobel Committee expressed regret for his Nobel Peace Prize.

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