- - Thursday, September 17, 2015

You have to hand it to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He really knows how to play the global game of chess with a weak hand and come out on top, always one step ahead of the Obama administration — although, this in itself is not saying much. He’s showing the White House how to lead from in front.

The global press is reporting how Russia’s moves in Syria has President Obama’s national security team “flummoxed.” Not bad for a regional power that, according to Mr. Obama, can’t project power beyond its borders.

The Kremlin has been bogged down in a very costly East Ukraine conflict in terms of money spent to prop up the Donetsk People’s Republic, military expenditures and in terms of loss of international respect for Russia as a beneficial actor on the world stage. Putting Russian boots on the ground in Syria has given Mr. Putin a way to take the pressure off and possibly a way to allow his moribund economy to grow once again — ie, sanctions relief. Russian actions in Syria make perfect sense to the Russians.

American efforts in the Levant and Iraq against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been pathetic. On Wednesday, military officials admitted that after approximately $500 million spent to train the “rebels,” there are only four or five left on the battlefield. What? Where is the media outcry on this?

So Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Obama need Russia to help defeat the Islamic State. Russia is only too happy to oblige, building a forward operating air base near Latakia, Syria, and in one fell swoop, protecting Russia’s access to the naval port at Tartus. In addition, mark my words, Mr. Putin will use this American need, or should I say weakness, to bargain for sanctions relief and access back to Western capital, which he needs badly. The price of crude oil is out of his control, but manipulating the West is one area he can take direct action and has in Syria.

In addition, Mr. Putin can support Syria’s Assad regime, a longtime Soviet and Russian ally in the Middle East. Associated Press quoted Mr. Kerry when asked about the real Russian agenda in the Levant. “Obviously, there are questions about that,” he said. “I am not taking that at face value.”

Sounds like another pink line in the sand.

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