- - Wednesday, September 30, 2015


President Obama was full of talk this week, declaring that as the world’s greatest military power the United States will defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. No argument here. The United States can defeat any enemy it seriously sets out to defeat. Vladimir Putin sent his first bombers into the fray this week, dispatching his planes to deal with what he called ISIS fighters near a Russian naval base in Syria. The United States says the fighters were actually “moderates” opposed to the Bashar Assad regime, which Washington opposes and the Kremlin supports.

If those Russian pilots were actually able to locate and bomb a significant moderate rebel force, they managed to find more moderates than the Americans have after years of searching, working with, and training them. The United States has spent millions to train “moderates” who opposed both the Assad regime and ISIS, and the generals at the Pentagon and the wise men at the White House ran for cover when it was revealed that after all those spent millions, only five or perhaps six fighters stand ready for action.

Adding insult to insult, one of the Russian generals officially asked the United State to vacate Syrian airspace, to get out of the way so the Russians can do what they came to do — prop up the Assad regime, the longtime ally, protect Russian installations in Syria, and destroy ISIS to reinforce Russian influence in the region. President Obama says he wants to destroy ISIS, too, on the ground as well as on social media, but he wants to work with his new friends, the mullahs in Iran, and not the Russians.

If this embarrasses Mr. Obama, as it embarrasses the rest of us, he can only thank his feckless foreign policy, and for the plight of the refugees flooding into Europe, too. Red lines and wistful effort has produced only an anti-Assad, anti-ISIS force that exists only in the addled minds of U.S. policymakers. There’s no evident way to resolve this dilemma that was “Made in the USA.”

Mr. Putin has bested President Obama at every opportunity in the Middle East, the Arctic and along the Russian border. He made it clear at their United Nations meeting that he considers Mr. Obama little more than a nuisance incapable of stopping him as he pursues his interests in almost every region of the world. He is winning with a weaker hand because the president blinks whenever he faces a challenge.

The Russians have their reasons for backing Bashar Assad and for wanting to put ISIS out of business. The Russians stand by their allies. The United States, having abandoned Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and others in the region, demands perfection in its friends and allies. The Russians demand only support. This gives them an advantage in a region dominated by thugs, cutthroats and assorted other killers.

Moscow has more to fear from radical Islamists than Washington does. Many of the Chechens fighting alongside ISIS in Syria will return to Russia, where they can turn their wrath on the regime in the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin regards Mr. Assad not only as a friend but as the man in Syria with an army and a mutual interest in destroying ISIS. He regards as fantasy the idea that the Assad regime can be toppled in the hope that “moderates” will emerge to lead a new Syria. We’ll know soon who put down the winning bet.

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