- - Friday, February 12, 2016

War is the continuation of politics by other means. If the leader is filled with high ambition and if he pursues his aims with audacity and strength of will, he will reach them in spite of all obstacles.
Carl von Clausewitz

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical goals are simple. He wants to make Russia great again. He also wants to diminish American influence and power across the globe, along with the rest of the Western world. He is not interested in peace as a goal. If it happens, great. He’ll take credit for it. However, it is not what drives him. Neither does human rights or Western “values.” Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was right: Russia doesn’t share Western values. Russia values power, military and economic.

So it’s with humor that I watch what is happening in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe. Time after time, the White House underestimates and misunderstands Mr. Putin. He is constantly five steps ahead of President Obama and the president’s foreign policy team. Just this Friday, after Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated another deal, this time for a Syrian ceasefire or something to that effect, Russian state news agency TASS reported comments from a prominent Russian senator saying that the ceasefire doesn’t apply to Russian air operations in Syria in fighting “terrorists.” It will be interesting how Russia decides who is a terrorist and who is not. I would guess that if any anti-Assad forces look threatening, they will again be deemed terrorists.

Obviously Russia has helped the Syrian army gain enough territory that they feel confident in allowing the Assad regime to agree to some type of peace deal to cement their current advantage. Now Russia can say to the world, we just want peace and to sing kumbaya. Mr. Putin, if anything, is a master of escalation and de-escalation. He has successfully used this strategy in East Ukraine where the Minsk peace deal is always in various stages of incompletion.

The White House will say, but look at Russia’s economy, it’s crumbling. Their people’s standard of living is collapsing. Millions more Russians are in poverty. What the Obama minions don’t understand is that the Kremlin simply doesn’t care, as long as it doesn’t threaten their grip on power. The Russian people will suffer in the name of the state; it’s what they do. Besides, the Kremlin has effectively, forcefully shut down the political opposition.

Think about the Middle East from a 30,000-foot level for a minute. Yes, the price of crude oil is fluctuating around $30, with many analysts believing it could go much lower, to the mid-teens. However, Russia now has a large expeditionary, military force in the Middle East. Forty percent of the world’s oil still goes through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran and Russia are now close allies. Russia is selling Iran all kinds of sophisticated, weapons. The Iranian-Russian-Syrian-Shia axis now stretches from the Levant to Tehran. No wonder the Iranians are not worried about parading American sailors around in humiliation for the world to see. If Mr. Putin wants to jack up the price of oil when the economic screws get too tight, he has the means to do so. A simple, little conflict with Turkey will do the trick.

Unless the West reverts to a policy of meeting Russian power with power of its own, in a serious way, and elects leaders to employ this power, Mr. Putin will achieve his objectives, no matter what economic or other obstacles that need to be overcome. The lack of this leadership or understanding in the West is what makes this situation so dangerous.

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