Russia is seeking to fill power gap

Published on Thursday, 3 October 2013 22:03 - Written by

President Barack Obama’s refusal to lead — indeed, to reject America’s leadership role in the world — has led Russia to step up and try to fill the vacuum, particularly in the Middle East. That’s a dangerous and potentially disastrous development.

“Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union affirmed the United States as the dominant power in the Middle East, a resurgent Russia is seeking ways large and small to fill the vacuum left by the departure of American troops from Iraq and the toppling of U.S. allies in the Arab Spring revolts,” the Washington Post reports. “The recent diplomacy that averted a U.S. strike on Syria underscored the extent to which Moscow’s steadfast support for its last remaining Arab ally has helped reassert Russia’s role. Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as the world leader with the single biggest influence over the outcome of a raging war that is threatening the stability of the wider region…”

Let’s be clear. “Leadership in the Middle East” doesn’t necessarily mean military action. There was no compelling reason to get embroiled in Syria’s civil war, just as there was no reason to get involved in Libya. There are brushfires throughout the Middle East all the time, and some of them turn into significant conflicts.

“Leadership” means having a clear vision of what America’s interests in the region are, and staunchly defending them.

It’s not going off the teleprompter to talk about a “red line,” then equivocate on that, then threaten military action, then walk even that back.

“If Obama wanted to show strength, he could have used his address last week to deliver an ultimatum to Assad,” the Washington Post’s Marc Thiessen wrote last month. “He could have laid out what Syria needed to do to avoid military action, declared that his demands are not subject to negotiation, set a clear deadline for Assad to comply and made clear that failure to do so would result in a devastating military response. Instead, Russia and Syria were the ones issuing the demands. Russia has elevated its standing on the world stage at America’s expense, with President Vladimir Putin lecturing the president in a New York Times op-ed about the dangers of American exceptionalism.”

But Russia’s intervention in Syria resolved nothing.

“Forget that Assad called Obama’s bluff, used chemical weapons on his people and got away with it,” Thiessen wrote. “The president had avoided a crippling defeat in Congress. Crisis averted. Time to move on.”

That’s Russia’s attitude, as well. But Putin’s not moving on, he’s moving in — into the Middle East.

“Russia has been nurturing new alliances and reviving old friendships further afield, reaching out to countries long regarded as being within the American sphere of influence in ways that echo the superpower rivalries of the Cold War era,” the Post reports.

The obvious problem is that Russia’s interests are, in many cases, diametrically opposed to our own. The Cold War may be over, but the Russians don’t seem to care.

They’re still seeking influence in the very areas we’ve left a vacuum.