By Michael Scheuer
From this distance, Mr. Putin, it appears that when you unleashed the Russian air force on 30 September 2015 you expected to save Bashir al-Assad’s regime and bring order to Syria and Iraq in a relatively short period of time. Well, the application of Russian air power is continuing, but only a month after its start, the Islamic State’s (IS) fighters responded by executing a superbly professional operation that destroyed a Russian airliner flying over the Sinai, killing the 224 people aboard.
Damn tough luck, Mr. Putin. It is clear that Russia has a serious strategic problem with the Islamists, but in the past six weeks you behaved as a reckless, ignorant, and really rather dumb jackass, as have Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush. Mr. Obama, Senators McCain, Graham, Rubio, and Cruz, former-Secretary Clinton, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Blair, Mrs. Merkle, Mr. Hollande, and sundry other lesser European leaders.
You have behaved as if your air force would be sufficient to deliver victory, that it would intimidate the mujahedin into quitting, and that Russia would suffer few casualties as you unfolded in Syria a Russian version of the Cheney-Rumsfeld “cakewalk” in Iraq. The odds also are enormous that you never bothered to read a word of what the mujahedin have said and written since Osama bin Laden declared war in 1996, and so you were entirely ignorant of the kind of enemy you were facing. Frankly, Mr. Putin, these are very bad grades for a man that history will assess as aspiring to be “Tsar of all the Russians.”
Since the year of 1996, Islamist leaders, sub-leaders, theologians, field commanders, and fighters-in-the-trenches have said U.S./Western interventionism had motivated them to wage war, that they would kill as many of their enemies as was necessary to rid the Islamic world of Western military interventionists, and that they were waging a religious war, one that their faith required them to fight until they won or were eradicated.
The Islamists also told their foes that they intended to geographically expand their war as quickly and as far as possible, and that they believed that, while victory could only be granted by Allah, they could assist the divinity by inflicting casualties on their sophomoric, casualty averse-enemies. They also explained that, Allah willing, they would cause a steadily increasing drain on Western nations’ treasuries — especially that of the United States — which had already been bankrupted by the devastatingly destructive spendthrifts who govern them. Allah, it seems clear, has delivered in spades to those on whom his favor falls.
Whatever response you come up with to avenge the avenging IS attack on the Russian passenger aircraft, you must do it with hard but clear-seeing eyes. If you respond only with more intense aerial attacks, you will be playing into IS hands because a war that was caused by tepid Western military interventionism can hardly be won by more of the same tepid military interventionism. Such attacks will have little impact on the Islamists’ capabilities and manpower, will strengthen mujahedin morale because your reliance on air power will signal that Russia does not intend to win, will increase popular sympathy and clerical support for the mujahedin across the Muslim world, and will further drain your treasury, which is in even worse shape than the U.S. treasury. Moreover, such under-achieving but Muslim-killing aerial attacks will further anger the lethal and growing domestic Islamist forces you confront in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, and probably will hasten the large-scale attack those fighters are now planning to stage inside Russia. That attack is the post-Sinai shoe that has yet to drop, and when it does, Mr. Putin, you will look as much the bewildered ninny as those other “leaders” mentioned above.