Russia, as is well known, has deployed an expeditionary force to support the regime of Syria’s Bashar Assad, with a secondary mission of degrading Islamic State forces operating in the country.
To date, the Russians have been successfully prosecuting that agenda. Since declaring “Mission accomplished” before the March 18 election, when Vladimir Putin secured a fourth term as president, the Russians have drawn down the level of troops in Syria and the Kremlin has shifted its priority to social spending to bolster the long-neglected economy.
Yes, Moscow is leaving behind permanent facilities at Hmeimim Air Base near Latakia and the onetime Soviet naval port of Tartus on the Mediterranean. The most serious threat to American forces are the air defense networks protecting those facilities, along with a naval missile strike capability from the Caspian Sea or the Mediterranean.
That’s it. Russia simply does not have the robust offensive force needed in the Levant to threaten U.S. special operations forces or America’s ally Israel.
Iran, however, is another story.
Tehran has used much of the billions of dollars from the misguided 2015 nuclear deal to shore up its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its forces are also working for the Assad regime in Syria. Iran also has proxy forces operating in Iraq. The Obama administration’s decision to pull out of Iraq prematurely is directly responsible for allowing the mullahs to build up such a formidable presence.
Iran’s military capability — from Baghdad to Beirut — is very real, very dangerous and on the rise. Israel is rightly concerned about this burgeoning offensive capability and has attacked Syria when Iranian weapons that threaten Israeli forces are moved into position near the border. If chemical weapons were used by Mr. Assad against his own civilian population outside Damascus, Iran most certainly was involved in ordering that strike. Bashar Assad does nothing these days without his Iranian benefactor’s approval — and most likely secured Russia’s approval as well.
The Trump White House must not look at this Middle Eastern problem solely as an issue of Mr. Assad’s use of weapons of mass destruction. The greater problem is Iran’s malevolent influence in the region and Russia’s support of that influence. We are looking at a joint attempt involving Iran, Russia, Syria, North Korea and probably China to limit President Trump’s efforts to make America great again.
Of course we should have expected such a reaction. These dictators enjoyed the Obama years, the years of not having to worry about an American response to their evil deeds or expansionist agendas. They got used to it, and they found that way of operating quite pleasant. Now the world’s policeman is back, and they are not happy.
I believe recent incidents we have seen around the world are all directly related to the Trump ascendancy and the resurgence of American power. Rivals have resorted to asymmetric warfare: nerve gas attacks in London, the chemical attack in Syria, the flying of Syrian drones into Israeli airspace, the rockets flying again from Hamas in Gaza. They are all are part of an effort to remind Washington that our adversaries can strike in other ways — ways that are harder for us to defend against.
Mr. Trump will soon remove the United States from the horrible Iran nuclear deal, which paved the way for Tehran’s mullahs to threaten the world with nuclear weapons along with Kim Jong-un. Iran and Russia are unhappy about that. It was a sweetheart deal for both of them. Iran got weapons, and Russia got money from the sale of said weapons.
The chemical weapons attack in Damascus — and the U.S. response that Moscow and Tehran must know is coming — can be understood only with that backdrop.
Mr. Trump will be tested, and tested again. Soon our enemies will realize he is serious, and only then do we have a chance at real peace.
⦁ L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.