Right Hooks

A Bad Week in Syria

A quick survey of the terrible news.

Publius · Oct. 9, 2015

The news out of Syria continues to go from bad to worse. A survey of the news yields these stories:

The Washington Post reports, “Islamic State militants advanced against rival insurgents in wide swaths of Aleppo province Friday … as Russia ramped up its campaign to recapture rebel-held territory for the Syrian government. In a surprise advance — marking some of the Islamic State’s biggest gains in recent months — jihadists routed Syrian rebels from at least five villages and threatened the outskirts of Aleppo city, Syria’s second-largest city.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports, “The Obama administration has ended the Pentagon’s $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels, administration officials said on Friday, in an acknowledgment that the beleaguered program had failed to produce any kind of ground combat forces capable of taking on the Islamic State in Syria.”

As for Russian involvement, CNN notes, “U.S. officials tell CNN that American pilots are under new, strict rules. If Russian aircraft come within the 20 mile limit, for their own safety the Americans must move away. The U.S. doesn’t think the Russians will shoot them down, but commanders don’t trust Russia not to make a mistake.” Translation: Russian pilots can fly wherever they want.

But maybe, like foreign policy expert Donald Trump said, we could just “let Russia fight ISIS!” Only Moscow evidently isn’t interested in that. See the map below — the first map is Russian airstrikes; the second is U.S. airstrikes. The red areas are Islamic State controlled, yellow is Syrian rebels and blue is Assad’s territory. Think Russia is interested in fighting ISIL? Nope, Vladimir Putin wants to prop up Assad as the reasonable alternative to a terrorist caliphate.

So we have the Islamic State advancing, Moscow striking (formerly) U.S.-backed rebels in support of Assad, Russia in total control of the skies, and Obama canceling the only meager (if costly and foolhardy) effort he was making. And he says Putin is the one acting “out of weakness.” If weakness is becoming the dominant power in the Middle East, Putin will take it.

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