There couldn’t have been a more striking juxtaposition of diametrically opposed leadership styles than the split screen of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin in their respective remarks to the UN General Assembly on Syrian and Middle Eastern policy.
This administration has orchestrated a disaster in foreign policy that will require decades to overcome if at all. Obama thinks that there will be some kind of settlement of the civil war in Syria on favorable diplomatic terms (a “managed transition away from Assad”); Putin knows that there hasn’t been a civil war settled by compromise in at least three centuries. His plan is being backed by force; Obama thinks Putin will get bogged down as the Soviets did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. My prediction, and I hope I’m wrong: Putin and Russia will win in Syria and, combined with the Iran/Iraq/Russian deal to defend Iraq, will be dominant in the Middle East for the first time since the Soviets were forced out of Egypt in 1973, relegating the U. S. as a fringe player; what a legacy.
Meanwhile, the “how did we get here?” crowd both in- and outside the Beltway (including Donald Trump) continues to reference the Iraq war initiated in 2003 as the decisive disruptive moment that ultimately led to ISIS, the mess in Syria, and the migrant and refugee crisis we now face. Granted, many mistakes were made by the Bush administration after victory in Iraq–the occupation was botched there and in Afghanistan as well. But it was bailed out by the surge of 2007 and Obama was handed an Iraq and Afghanistan that represented victory.
One of the organizing principles of progressivism is the notion that history is inexorably relentless in its evolutionary movement and that we must be on the “right side of history”, a phrase that Obama has used many times in a variety of contexts. He obviously believes that this principle is at work in the Middle East and that he is on the right side. Putin isn’t buying it.
Pounce on me as a discredited neoconservative if you will, but I agree with former Russian dissident Natan Sharansky that the disruptions of freedom and struggling democracy are preferable to the so-called stability of the “strongman” authoritative regime. That was the core of the Bush Doctrine, which I believe was the correct approach to the Middle East after all these years of support for the strongman and various proxies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and, at one time, Iran. Our victory in Iraq set the stage for the further disruption in Egypt, Lybia, Syria, and spawned the Arab Spring. Contrary to the view of both Putin and Donald Trump, these were positive developments, albeit messy, as revolutions always are. But the U. S. under Obama lacked the vision and leadership, not to mention the sympathy for the spirit of the Bush Doctrine, to take advantage of our victory across the region and we pursued a doctrine of retreat resulting in a vacuum reversing 70 years of U. S. Middle East policy which has directly led to the disruption we have today–total chaos without the hope of freedom or democracy for the oppressed in the region.