Monday, December 24, 2018

Washington Melts Down Over Trump’s Syria Withdrawal

He’s a wily one, that Vladimir Putin. Consider all that he’s managed to accomplish over the last 24 hours, according to the geopolitical wizards on Twitter. At Putin’s behest, President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a withdrawal of American troops from Syria. That’s now cleared the path for Russia to exert control over Damascus, the Middle East, indeed the world itself, because Moscow has at last secured the jewel in its neo-Soviet empire…a strip of chaotic desert in northeastern Syria.

If that’s actually Putin’s thinking, then he’s not playing checkers or chess so much as 13 Dead End Drive right before the chandelier falls on his head. Yet that was the gist of the analysis from America’s smart set yesterday. Think tank functionaries and journalists and right-wing radio hosts were all united in furious opposition to Trump’s Russia-influenced absconding from Syria. Somehow they’ve yet to muster similar unanimous outrage over our massive national debt or our loneliness-cum-opioid crisis, but I’m sure that’s just a matter of time. Until then, the Syria page of Washington’s mad-lib book yields all the usual buzzwords: “adversaries,” “strength,” “surrender.”

So far as Putin goes, he isn’t trying to flip Syria behind some newly hung Iron Curtain. His aim is a return to the pre-civil war status quo: a friendly Assad regime, a safe Russian naval base in Tartus, and an end to jihadist-fueled instability across Syria. That latter one is especially important to understanding the Russian psyche. Putin fears nothing more than a weak state besieged by armed rogues, a result of his formative experiences in chaotic Dresden after the Berlin Wall came down and later amid uprisings in Chechnya. Hence the desire to protect Assad, who will keep the mob from the Tartus door. The real disruptive change, then, won’t come if Putin “wins”; it will come if the United States were to somehow realize its original delusion of overthrowing Assad, which would (further) tear open a power vacuum that would be filled at least in part by jihadists.

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