Please be advised the following may be offensive to many readers. Those who should be wary of going further include American patriots, especially those Cold Warriors still anti-Russian, proponents of high moral virtues, individuals squeamish with the use of force, or who view collateral damage as the worst of evils.
After great accomplishments with post-war Europe, Japan, and South Korea, the US record in foreign affairs has been problematic. So far, the 21st century has been especially worrisome.
- George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, at least partly for making its regime democratic, or at least more humane, has produced estimates in excess of one million deaths, plus unknown numbers of uprooted Iraqis made refugees in their own country or elsewhere. The catastrophe appears not only in Iraq's continuing civil war, but the spurt to Islamic extremism that came at least partly as a result of American intervention and subsequent bumbling, including Barack Obama's pullout against the advice of his military personnel.
- Obama's 2009 Cairo speech calling for democracy and equality in a region not fit for either. His Nobel Prize seems more the result of Swedish sycophants than any serious assessment of his contribution to peace. Initial celebrations of Arab Spring and the onset of democracy are somewhere in the dusty archives, overcome by chaos in Syria as well as Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, Yemen, the continued festering of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, and however you want to describe Egypt.
- Obama's speech about Syria's use of chemical weapons began with threat and ended with appeasement. Along with all of the above, it sent a message through the Middle East that the President should be ignored, and contributed to the lack of American successes indicated below.
- American efforts to recruit Muslims to fight against Muslims, so far having limited success, as should have been expected, among the countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey) which have been funding the extremists and facilitating their recruitment.
- A major effort to push Israel and Palestine to peace, despite the evidence of several decades. Initial comments among both Israeli and Palestinians should have cautioned the President and his Secretary of States. The appointment of Martin Indyk, an activist among left wing Jews suspicious of Israel (i.e., JStreet), to be the front man was yet another blunder, made clear by Indyk's obsessive blaming of Netanyahu for all that went wrong.
- Seeking rapport with Iran on its nuclear program, so far without results, along with Iran's criticism of the US for meddling in the Muslim Middle East, and a lack of cooperation in dealing with Islamic extremism.
A long article circulated by Reuters is a devastating criticism of Obama, his White House staffs, and their handling of Syria and Iraq. It describes a combination of naive aspirations about the development of "responsible" alternatives to the Syrian regime in a setting of numerous ethnic, tribal, and local gangs fighting Assad and one another, along with the President's aversion to war, and an extreme centralization of decision-making among political appointees in the White House and by the President himself, tending to ignore advice from professionals in the State Department and Pentagon.
The Russia of Vladimir Putin and his predecessors has no great claims to success in international politics. The Soviet Union did not reshape any significant part of the world during the Cold War. Russia's adventure in Afghanistan was no more praiseworthy than the US experience in Vietnam. One can argue as to the costs and benefits of Putin's brutal dealing with Chechnya, measured by relative quiet but several bloody events directed at Russians in Moscow and elsewhere.
A story about a brutal; response to the kidnapping of Russians during the Lebanese civil war that brought an end to violence against them.
Whatever has been Putin's role in Ukraine is not yet done. One can guess that Russia will emerge with Crimea, as well as close ties with a Russian-speaking region of Eastern Ukraine. The regime anchored in Kiev--not commendable by any imaginable perspective-- may have to rest with supportive statements and economic aid from the US and the European Union.."KGB agents ran the name of a prominent Hezbollah leader through their computers and came up with the name and address of one of his closest blood relatives. They then kidnapped the kinsman, castrated him, and sent his severed organs to the Hezbollah honcho."
Could Putin do better than Obama with ISIS?
There is no reliable answer to this question, except that he would most likely not do worse.
He would be less hesitant, and less concerned about collateral damage. He has sided with Bashar Assad, without dithering about civilian deaths or which of some 60 organizations fighting in Syria are worthy of encouragement. With Russian support, as well as that of Iran and Hezbollah, but without the carping of the White House, Assad might be able to regain control. So far, Turkey, the US, and other claimants to the moral high ground have looked on while the estimates of Syrian dead have approached 200,000, and refugees in the millions.
Moral judgments are best made along with the assessments learned in economics of benefits and costs. American pride in ridding the world of Saddam Hussein must stand with much greater carnage and dislocations that came after him. Likewise, American dithering about finding appropriate opponents to Assad have been associated with continued killings best described as everyone against everyone else. Obama's refusal to make a serious investment in a military effort (i.e., boots on the ground and the likelihood of US combat deaths) along with his demands for the cooperation of those disinclined to cooperate, are likely to produce years of killing by those who evade American bombs.
Nothing is certain in the complex games of international politics where the players have their own agendas, many of them hidden from public view.
Giving Putin a free hand with respect to ISIS may come up against his greater concerns for Ukraine or his reluctance to inflame his domestic Muslims in Chechnya and elsewhere. And it might add to the international weight of a government that is inclined to advance the political maneuverings of the Palestine Authority.
But it may be worth the gamble in a dangerous situation where the American leadership is reluctant to play, or does not know how.