Wishful Thinking

Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking for an exit strategy from Syria already? That’s what the AP thinks….

Putin certainly realizes that some 30 Russian combat jets won’t be able to change the course of the war, and allow Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces to win.

As an aside, AP is commenting, whether it understands it or not, on President Barack Obama’s “commitment” to changing the course of the war in Syria with the tepidly applied occasional potshots he’s authorized our own Air Force to take.

More to the point, though, the AP has misunderstood Putin and forgotten Russia’s long-term relationship with Syria and why that relationship exists. Russia needs Syria for a couple of reasons: seaports on the Med and to limit our influence in the Middle East. To those ends, Putin needs Bashar al Assad to stay in power in Syria; a western oriented replacement, or no replacement at all and the attendant chaos do neither of those reasons any good.

There is, too, the use to which those 30 combat jets are being put. Their combat tempo is much higher than ours, the targets much more carefully and coordinatedly selected to take out forces that are explicitly anti-Assad (and so more or less allies of us for the moment), and they’re being used in coordination with Assad’s ground forces against those anti-Assad forces.

Yeah, they can change the course of the war, especially given the fractured nature of those opposition forces.  And Putin is in Syria to stay; he has no exit strategy because he wants no exit.

The AP does have the right of it on a couple of other Putin goals:

to show all players that they will not be able to unseat Assad by force;…to foster political talks that could allow Moscow to protect its interests in the region.

Another key task for Putin is bring Moscow and Washington together in a security dialogue, which he hopes would make Russia appear as an equal….

In these, Putin also has a willing partner in Obama. Obama’s behavior in Syria can’t possibly be intended to unseat Assad, no matter Obama’s chit chat to the contrary. Obama, too, already has engaged in the beginnings of a security dialogue, initially to keep our aircraft out of Putin’s way, and after that to accede to a Putin security arrangement.

Thinking that 30 combat aircraft are insufficient to accomplish anything meaningful on the ground, though, is wishful thinking, a hope that Russia will fail and leave. The proper and determined application of airpower in coordination with ground forces will demonstrate otherwise.

One thought on “Wishful Thinking

  1. Air power essentially consists (IMO) in providing 3 functions:
    1. Extended range, highly accurate artillery, especially with PGMs. (And artillery is traditionally known as the King of Battle, for its raw power in deciding outcomes.)
    2. Faster logistics for critical needs.
    3. Denial of the use of air by the other guy for #1 and #2 above.

    The Red Army, through bitter, bitter experience, believes in the power of artillery. Directed use can indeed make the difference for roughly equal ground forces and turn the tide. When the tide accelerates into a rout, artillery can make it really ugly for the losers. Which lesson tends to last … and Putin knows it.

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