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Russia is Playing a Losing Hand like a Winner

Neither Secretary of State Kerry nor the president he serves seem to understand Russia's goals in the Middle East.

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Never mind, if it can’t be President Bush’s fault, best it be Nixon’s or Reagan’s fault.

But if Putin appears to be on a roll, how is he holding a losing hand?

The Russians have planted their red line for the United States, Israel, and the West on the Syrian border. The line is deep but thin, and they have alienated large swaths of Arab and Sunni Muslim (not even close to the same thing) opinion. The reason countries have imperial allies is to keep things from getting out of hand. Putin may think he’s got a reputation as an ally who will do anything for his client — a presumed good thing — but he’s actually developing a reputation as one for whom no amount of killing of his allies or by his allies is too much.

No one wants to be Russia’s friend except Iran, and Iran’s stock is falling rapidly in a region that was already skeptical about Persian, as well as Shiite, hegemony. It was one thing for Arab countries plus Turkey to form at least a rhetorically united front with the Mullahs when Iran proclaimed the battle against “The Great Satan” and “The Little Satan.” But Iran is battling Sunni Muslim Arabs now and that’s something else.

Furthermore, the war in Syria won’t end in Syria. Even if Assad regains control of every inch of territory (not likely), the ongoing Sunni-Shiite expansionist war will continue. Even if Assad kills or exiles every single Sunni Islamist (even less likely), they will migrate to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf States, the Stans, and yes, back to the Caucasus where they represent Putin’s greatest fear.

Israel’s red lines are the transfer of weapons systems, representing a broad understanding of the transnational nature of the war. The Obama administration has sort of pinkish lines that support Israel’s maintenance of its lines, but serve mainly to keep the U.S. out of another war in a Muslim country. Russia has the worst of red lines: like King Cnut, Putin is trying to stop the tide of Sunni-Shiite fighting within the borders of Syria, where he plans to control the outcome.

In 1982, Hafez Assad killed perhaps 40,000 Syrians in Hama in an attempt to bury the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Brotherhood emerged like cicadas 30 years later. How many remain in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ossetia, waiting for an opportunity to rise?

Originally published at The American Thinker.

Shoshana Bryen

About the Author: Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center. She was previously Senior Director of JINSA and author of JINSA Reports form 1995-2011.


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