What Russia Wants, and Has Always Wanted, in the Middle East

“Nothing is stranger,” writes the historian Robert Service, “than the notion, widely held, that Russia is a newcomer to the Middle East.” Tracing the development of Russian interventions in the region from Catherine the Great’s 18th-century conquests, which brought her empire to the borders of the Ottoman empire, to Vladimir Putin’s current involvement in Syria and Libya, Service calls attention to the constant themes of hostility toward the Turks and competition with the Western powers. But he also notes an ideological component:

For Moscow, the Middle East constituted a testing ground for its thinking on foreign policy. Putin became an advocate of “multipolarity” in global politics. The essence of this orientation is the idea that America had lorded it over the world for too long. Russian leaders complained that American power had been uncontested in the last decade of the 20th century and that the result was chaos and distress in many countries. The Kremlin, apart from objecting to Washington’s alleged goal of continued “hegemony,” declared that the West made fundamental mistakes by blundering into the Middle East and toppling regimes in Iraq and Libya.

It is needless to stress [that] the Putin administration was not acting in a spirit of altruism by racing to rescue Bashar al-Assad in Syria in 2015. Russia is seizing its chance to fill the vacuum left by the U.S. presidents Obama and Trump. Here the Russian leadership has walked through an open door. In shoring up Syrian authoritarianism, moreover, it is acting to dampen the worldwide movement for democratization. Examples of new democracies are not welcomed by the Kremlin because they could set a precedent for Russia’s electorate to emulate.

In the early years of the current century the prospect of a free society on the Russian doorstep was stirred by the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, and Putin’s policy was to destabilize democratic administrations by fair means or foul. Usually foul. Both Georgia and Ukraine have experienced invasion by forces of the Russian Federation, and the annexation of Crimea and on-going war in Donbas shows the constancy of Putin’s determination.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Middle East, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy