Claiming to target ISIS, Russia conducted its first airstrikes in Syria, while U.S. officials expressed serious doubts Wednesday about what the true intentions behind the move may be.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions, including arms, transportation, communications and control positions.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter countered that claim.
“I want to be careful about confirming information, but it does appear that they (Russian airstrikes) were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces,” he told reporters. ISIL is another acronym for ISIS.
This isn’t the only place in the Middle East where the Russians are moving. They are also disputing our authority to act and trying to forge ties with Iraq. When the nuclear deal with Iran was struck, I noted that, while it wasn’t great, it did advance an important objective: trying to keep Iran from falling into the Russian orbit. But whatever Obama has gained there, he’s rapidly pissing away elsewhere. The Russians are now fighting or forging alliances with Iran, Iraq and Syria — basically that Shia half of the growing Sunni-Shia regional conflict. This potentially gives them access to even more oil as well as warm-water ports. It also makes the situation much more dangerous.
For a long time, Obama’s been dithering on Syria, Iraq and ISIS. There’s a reason for that, of course: it’s not clear what we can or should do. But it’s possible to avoid protracted entanglements while not looking weak and indecisive. Putin is moving into the vacuum Obama has created. And we may be paying for it for a long time.