Sunday, October 18, 2015

Russian and Iranian Misadventures in the Middle East

The Russian and Iranians are pouring in military resources into Syria with their version of “shock & awe” in a joint coalition to neutralize anti-Assad forces which have been armed by the Americans for several years. It’s the 21st century version of the Cold War using proxies in global hotspots. Although many are lambasting the Obama administration for inaction in the Syrian campaign the US has learned the bitter lessons through multiple surges, the training of the Iraqi military and the furnishing of materiel with no positive results.

For years Iran has had a military presence in Syria furnishing the Assad regime with materiel and military advisors. Now it upgrades this support with combat troops which can operate more effectively because of Russian air power. This could establish a deeper Iranian (aka Shiite presence) in Iraq, making it almost a de facto region of Iran. Iraq would serve as a sort of offshore banking account because Iraq produces considerable oil (aka revenue producing) and serves as an insurance policy in case there are sanction snapbacks.

Russia uses their military as political cover by rescuing their long-time Syrian ally. Interestingly the Syrian regime has been steadily shrinking and on the brink of collapse for 4 years defended by an undermanned and dispirited military. Through these high-profile and audacious military operations, Russia probably intends to gain significant influence in the Middle East with respect to any future agreements.

Overseas military adventures are shockingly expensive and become a drain on the invading nation’s treasury the longer these wars continue. Iran is counting on the west to lift sanctions and unfreeze their assets so that they can affordably finance their immediate ground support efforts. Russia, for the moment, is limiting their participation to an air campaign with operational support staff and a large security contingent. Yet servicing, maintaining and protecting high-end equipment in a war environment is expensive. Neither Russia nor Iran has the deep financial pockets to militarily assert their influence beyond the short-term.

It’s a rarity that brief military campaigns neatly obtain their objectives. Historically they always last far longer and become far messier than anyone projected which drags the invading nation, politically and militarily, into a quagmire. Eventually they arrive at the inevitable crossroads when they either must choose between two regrettably unpalatable choices: double down or withdraw.

In the not too distant future, both Russia and Iran will pay a heavy political price domestically. I’m sure that neither the Iranian nor Russian citizenry is excited about these overseas adventures particularly when these respective countries’ resources can be dedicated domestically in their weak economies. The result may be anti-war protests and possibly civil unrest that will alarm their leadership.

On the other hand you can be sure that privately the Obama administration and Pentagon brass are chortling about Russia’s Middle East misadventure that will only weaken Putin.  With far greater firepower, the US failed to win the peace in Iraq in over a decade. For this reason that is why Iran and Russia will fail miserably.

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