June 30, 2014 was a day in which the decisions of the United States Supreme Court dominated headlines. June 30, 2014 was also the day that both the Wire and the Scotsman reported that Russian military equipment, including long-sought fighter jets, and Russian military advisors had arrived in Baghdad.
This is just the latest victory in Vladimir Putin’s campaign to exploit the weakness of American foreign policy and undermine the credibility of the United States. After twenty-four years of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and Eurasia, Russia has finally decided to assert itself in defense of its sphere of influence—chipping away at the sphere of influence of the United States in the process is just the “cherry-on-top” for Vladimir Putin.
The trajectory of Putin’s deft international maneuvering can be seen going back to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Russia publicly and unapologetically funded and armed the Assad regime. The United States responded by increasing the rhetoric and intimating that there would be consequences if the Assad regime crossed President Obama’s “red line on Syria.”
Assad crossed the line and employed chemical weapons against his own people. In a conflict where the United States should have been the power broker of peace, it was Vladimir Putin who entered the scene and pressured Assad into surrendering his chemical weapons stockpile. It was Russia, not the United States, which came out looking like a superpower capable of shaping global events in 2013.
After bruising the U.S. in Syria, Russia decided to start flexing more muscle close to home. In the winter of 2013, Russia tried to wrest Ukraine away from the influence of the West through economics. On December 17, former Ukrainian President Yanukovych accepted Vladimir Putin’s $15 billion offer to purchase Ukrainian debt and reduce the price of Russian gas by a third. The Ukrainian people responded with some of the largest protests Europe had ever seen.
The protests and subsequent deposition of President Yanukovych presented a golden opportunity to both reassert Russian dominance in Eastern Europe and force the United States to renege on another commitment—this time the 1994 Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia all came together to guarantee the integrity of Ukraine’s borders on the condition that Ukraine surrender their nuclear arsenal.
Nothing the United States has done—diplomatically or economically in the form of sanctions—has been able to dislodge Russian forces from Crimea. The message this projected to the rest of the world was loud and clear: the United States is no longer reliably capable of robust, decisive action in the international arena.
The recent onslaught of ISIS in Iraq has only served to further drive home this point. The United States spent eight years fighting to create a stable, pro-Western democracy in Iraq. That democracy crumbled within three years of the final withdrawal of United States forces.
Once again, the United States has dithered in forming a response to a crisis in the Middle East. Once again, Vladimir Putin is stepping in to fill the void. By arming the Iraqis in a rapid, decisive manner, Putin has positioned himself brilliantly. Putin will use the arms to purchase Russian influence in Iraq with the Maliki government. This will only serve to push Iraq into the Russian orbit. Putin will also continue to solidify Russian influence in Syria and Iran by funding and equipping them in their fight against ISIS. If the United States continues to remain on the sidelines, ISIS will be defeated by subtle Russian intervention and Vladimir Putin will have brought three key nations in the Middle East into Russian sphere of influence.
The present incoherence and indecision of American foreign policy is a catastrophe in the making. By failing to proactively project power, we passively project weakness—and the world is watching.
Projection of power by the United States is absolutely essential to global security. The time for half-measures has passed. ISIS must be quickly eliminated through a combination of Special Forces “force multiplier” operations to train and assist the Iraqi and strategic airstrikes—both in Iraq and Syria. Vladimir Putin must also begin to see American power at work before Russia will once again play by the rules. The missile defense shield scrapped in 2009 in the “reset with Russia” must be installed. However, the Russian sphere of influence must also be respected: Ukraine and its neighboring countries must not be brought into NATO. This would prompt further Russian backlash as it sees its national security threatened.
It is time for the United States to rouse itself, get off the bench, and back into the game, because our credibility is in tatters.