Syria and the Putin Option

I have been reluctant to post my feelings about this because I’m sure it will be an unpopular view on both sides of the political aisle. But I believe it is the truth and have decided to add my 2 cents.

The Middle East is in total chaos. I don’t think there can be any dispute about that. Nor can there be any serious argument that this has created the single biggest refugee problem since the Holocaust.  The primitive and brutal version of Islam that is ISIS has taken over large portions of Syria where most of these millions of refugees are from.

It is no secret how ISIS came to power. It was the mistaken belief by Western democracies – most notably the United States – that toppling dictators in the Middle East would result in democracies similar to ours. When Iraq was attacked by the US, the goal was to remove the brutal  regime of Saddam Hussein and replace it with a democratic government.  The result was a power vaccum filled by the religious fanatic savages of ISIS.

They moved into Syria quite easily after Syrians, (inspired by other Arab countries that successfully removed dictators in Egypt and Libya) tried to oust their own brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. Those other countries were successful, so why not Syria? It didn’t take long for chaos to ensue in that country. Unlike those other countries, Assad decided to fight hard for his regime by any means necessary – brutally killing many of his own civilian citizens in the process.

Now the world has to deal with the millions of refugees  – the largest portion of which are fleeing Syria, their once peaceful country.

ISIS Jihadists are not the only group fighting Assad. There are pro western militias fighting there too. The US supports them. Ironically those groups and ISIS are fighting a common enemy in Assad.  In essence the pro west militias and the US (and its western allies) have identical goals in defeating Assad. But so does ISIS. Iran on the other hand supports Assad. So too does Russia. They too want to destroy ISIS. But unlike the US and its allies, they want to see Assad in power.

How’s that for a complicated situation?

One has to wonder what would be the case now, had the US not attacked Iraq. I think the answer is well known to all – even if some of us don’t admit it. Saddam Hussein was a feared man. Using chemical weapons – he slaughtered tens of thousands of his own people (Kurds) that opposed him.  As long as he was in power, ISIS did not have a chance. That all changed when Hussein was overthrown by the US.  Our good intentions ened up paving this hellish road. We stirred up a hornet’s nest. No one could have predicted ISIS.

I don’t blame President Bush for his decision to invade Iraq. He was clearly wrong in my view. But hindsight is always 20/20. He believed in the power of democracy. But the Middle East is not ready for a western style democracy.  They are a religious culture dictated by the rules of Islam. The same rules that govern every Jihadist terrorist group. Even though theirs is  the most extreme and violent interpretation Islam, it is a legitimate one in the eyes of every Jihadist butcher. They are absolutely convinced they are doing the will of God – and they have many clerics that will back them up.

This is what we are fighting.  An idea based on religious beliefs. An idea where one can sacrifice his life more willingly – knowing that he will reap an instant reward in heaven. An idea that is picking up steam and many converts via slick internet campaigns on social media.

What to do…

I hate to say this, but I believe that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is on the right track on this particular issue. President Obama is on the wrong track. Putin’s goal is to put Assad back in power. They need to rid Syria of ISIS in order to do that. In this they are on the same page with the US.

So for the first time since World War II they are sending their military into Syria to get that job done. They seem to be doing what’s necessary. Air attacks and –it appears – boots on the ground.  They have attacked the pro western militias in the process as part of their goal of restoring Asaad. Much as I hate to see Assad back in full control in that country, it is better than the violent chaos we have now.

I have no illusions about Assad. He hates Israel as much as ISIS does. That was true about Saddam Hussein too. If he could he would annihilate Israel in a heartbeat! But based on the stalemate of 3 years of civil war in Syria and an ISIS that has taken over large portions of that country, that is the best option we have right now. Under Assad’s regime (and that of his father before him – and even before that) Syria lived in relative (and I emphasize relative) peace with Israel (except for 6 day war in June of 1967 and the Yom Kippur war of 1973). There were no refugees fleeing the country.

ISIS is the most dangerous group of people in the world. By far. They must not be allowed to succeed. They must be defeated. Russia seems to be the only one serious about it.

The US is upset by Russia because they are undermining the pro western rebels there. But the US has done nothing to help them other than a few air strikes. One of which has recently hit a hospital – killing volunteer doctors and their patients. The bottom line for the US is that there is no leadership. Our President is afraid to act in ways that would be effective. Iran knows that. ISIS knows that. Even the pro west rebels know that.

True the US public does not want to send its sons into the Middle East inferno. But if that is the only way to defeat this monster a true leader would bite the bullet of public dissatisfaction and do what’s necessary. Instead of just standing by for 3 years and watching ISIS take over.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think sending in US troops to support the pro west rebels would be a good idea anyway. Even in the unlikely event that they would succeed in overtaking both ISIS and the Assad regime, the resulting democracy might not look any better that Iraq does. Which would leave a power vacuum for a resurrected ISIS to once again take over. Just as they did in Iraq.

Unfortunately the best option among a group of bad options is to allow Assad to retake control and rule Syria with an iron fist, just the way his father did and the way Saddam Hussein did in Iraq.

If I were President Obama, I would let Russia do its thing right now.  Putin is showing leadership where Obama is not! They want Assad in power, in order to achieve that, they must destroy ISIS. I feel bad for the pro western rebels fighting Assad. I agree with them in principle. But they are not a realistic solution to the problems of the Middle East.

Putin may be a thug and a bully. But when he’s right – he’s right. If Russia succeeds and ISIS is destroyed, the world will be a safer place.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.