For over four years Bashar Assad was incapable of putting down the rebellion against his regime. The most brutal methods including chemical warfare and targeting civilians were of no avail. Despite the help he received from Iran – from Hezbollah and units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – he was unsuccessful.
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Then came Vladimir Putin, using Russian fighter aircraft and long-range missiles, paying no heed to civilian casualties, and the tide turned in Assad’s favor. It was a game-changer. Assad’s survival seems assured, at least for the time being.
When did Putin make his move? When it became clear that the power vacuum that existed in Syria was not going to be filled by America. When he saw that Assad ignored the “red line” Obama had set against his use of chemical weapons without leading to American intervention. When the carnage in Syria, creating a human tragedy of monumental proportions, was allowed to continue as America and the rest of the world stood by. When Assad saw that Obama had no intention of using American power, in the air or on the ground, to put an end to the slaughter, he decided to step in.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and it should have been clear in Washington that they had left the door open for Putin to establish himself in the Middle East. Obama completely misread the situation, and in response to the Russian bombing campaign warned Moscow that it would be sucked into a “quagmire,” and offered to work with Russia to bring peace to Syria. But at this point Putin did not need Obama. Russia and Iran were going to settle the matter and shore up Assad’s rule in Syria.
Now Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided to join them. He’s putting his bets on what at the moment seems like a winning horse – Russia and Iran in the Middle East. He sees America abandoning the Middle East, and does not consider America to be a dependable ally. The nuclear agreement America reached with Iran has strengthened Iran and made it a dominant power in the area. If you can’t fight them, join them, Erdogan thinks. Now that Turkey has become a target for ISIS terrorists, in addition to the battle he is waging against the Kurds, he may yet regret his decision.
Obama entered the White House eight years ago and his mind regarding the Middle East was already made up. And he was not about to be confused by the facts as they flew in his face. Israeli building activity beyond the 1949 armistice lines including Jerusalem had to cease, and he was going to teach Israel a lesson. U.S. armed forces would have to be withdrawn from Iraq. He was going to stretch out his hand to the Islamic countries and acknowledge that Iran, run by the ayatollahs, should be a dominant power in the area.
The result was that Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority now found it impossible to conduct negotiations with Israel as long as all Israeli building activity in the territories including Jerusalem had not ceased – a policy no Israeli government was capable of enforcing. So he turned to the United Nations and when Obama refused to veto the latest anti-Israel resolution at the Security Council, won a pyrrhic victory there that can only serve as a further obstruction to the direct negotiations that can advance the peace process.
With the American withdrawal from Iraq it became the breeding ground for ISIS and Iran began to dominate that country. Strengthened and enriched by the nuclear agreement, Iran is making its weight felt throughout the Middle East. It controls Lebanon and will soon extend its control over Syria.
But the worst part of the Middle Eastern legacy Obama is leaving behind are the half a million civilian casualties of the fighting in Syria and the millions who have had to escape the area.