Putin now strides the world stage, having caught everyone’s attention. But what of fundamental significance did he actually deliver?
Moscow has, with its Syria campaign, demonstrated a degree of tactical competence embarrassing and worrisome to the plodding, divided, and ideologically-bound Washington. In six months, Putin has shown that he can go anywhere, take the battlefield initiative, and wreck havoc…and he did it so well (tactically) that he walked away calmly leaving behind a solid little imperialist military base. Americans should really not mind that the next time a wave of U.S. imperialism blows into town there will be an adversary around to calm the Potomac fever.
Strategically, however, the Russian performance leaves much to be desired. Indeed, aside from demonstrating that Putin has the professional competence to leave town in time to save his own tail (not, in itself, by any means a valueless skill), what Putin really did in Syria was little more than copying the neo-con disaster in Iraq. What the world needs, in stark contrast, is a better answer. The world now has two powers that are very good at smashing stuff, possibly better than just one, since the existence of a second player may serve to minimize hubris, but smashing stuff is precisely the addiction that got us into this mess in the first place and certainly is not going to get us out. Putin deserves no credit for simply repeating the imperialist mistakes of the past.
Putin also merits the world’s condemnation for choosing to support a local bully who deserves to be headed for a World Court trial. Whatever else one says about Bush and Cheney, at least they targetted a truly evil criminal, whereas Putin supported one. Saddam and Assad are prime examples of why the concept of state sovereignty (holding that states are above the law) needs to be modernized.
Putin has consolidated Russia’s global position somewhat, but he certainly has not made the world a better place: he has not resolved any conflicts. Does he have a solution to the Syrian refugee problem? Has he figured out a way to put a less criminal team into place to rule in Damascus? Does he have a plan for defeating the Islamic State and, more importantly, replacing it with something that can offer civilians acceptable governance? Putin has surprised the world several times now, at a tactical level, starting with his barbaric onslaught on the city of Grozny. Where is the leader who can surprise the world with a morally acceptable strategic vision?