News Daily Spot: Russia's Maneuvers Expose Weakness of U.S. Anti-ISIS Strategy

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Russia's Maneuvers Expose Weakness of U.S. Anti-ISIS Strategy

Source: U.S.News
The U.S. plan for Syria isn't working. International support is dwindling, and America has few options and even less influence over the major players in the region.
Enter a growing fleet of Russian fighter jets and other serious military hardware Moscow has dispatched to a new air base in Syria, its historic ally. To further twist the knife, Vladimir Putin addressed a world audience at the U.N. General Assembly in New York Monday as Russia revealed that ​it has also been able to secure an intelligence sharing agreement with Syria and Iran, as well as Iraq, which is supposed to be a U.S. ally.
These are a part of a series of shrewd and cagey moves by Putin that has forced President Barack Obama to face what observers consider a harsh truth: America's strategy has to change.
Russia's strategic buildup in Syria to support the brutal Bashar Assad regime came in the days leading up to this week's U.N. sessions in New York​. There, a collection of world powers regrouped after Obama's speech to the same body last year, when he challenged the world to back up the U.S. in its restrained attempts to defeat the Islamic State group, and to rally Muslims worldwide to reject the ideology of religious extremism.
The Islamic State group has lost territory, but shows no signs of weakening along its traditional strongholds. Recruits continue to flood toward its so-called jihad, while it continues to make money off international backers and internal sources of revenue. Meanwhile a civil war continues to rage in Syria, as rebels battle forces loyal to Assad in a concurrent ​war that has forced as many as 7 million people from their homes and another 4 million people to flee the country as refugees.
In remarks on Tuesday, Obama appeared to have shifted his tone.
"We face a grave challenge," he said a mix of scripted and impromptu remarks. "We have to be clear​-eyed about the fact that this is very hard work."
"This is not going to be turned around overnight, because this is not just a military campaign we're involved in," he said, adding that there are "profound changes" occurring now in the Middle East and North Africa.
This represented a slight departure from his rhetoric at a hastily organized summit in Washington, D.C. in February, when Obama lauded the coalition the U.S. helped build that organized an aerial war against the Islamic State group. Then​, he called on support from Muslims worldwide and stressed the importance of separating extremist zealots from the majority of peaceful believers.
"We are all in the same boat," he concluded optimistically. "We have to help each other. In this work, you will have a strong partner in me and the United States of America."
The president touched on these points at the address to coalition partners at the U.N., but dwelt on how complicated the conflict has become.
Indeed, observers question whether rhetoric is enough to continue leading any regional coalition, particularly after reports top war planners had fudged intelligence on the strength of the Islamic State group.
We don't have any internal leverage in Syria," says Gordon Adams, a regional expert and former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, who now teaches at American University. "We've been running a policy with nothing on the end of the stick."
"American policy has to change," he says.
The plan to train as many as 5,400 Syrian rebel fighters by the end of this year has so far completely failed, and that faction represents one of the weakest political forces in the country. The U.S. hasn't, likely won't and probably shouldn't deploy its own troops to wage ground warfare in Syria, and they would have to contend with the established regimes of other extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusrah and the remaining al-Qaida cells in the region. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have grown intensely dubious of U.S. interests in the area, particularly over its direct military support for some of the same Kurdish fighters that Turkey considers to be terrorists. And the U.S. has no control over Iran, which wages proxy warfare through its particularly potent patrons in Hezbollah.​
These realities likely forced Obama into another admission Tuesday, saying "we are prepared to work with all countries, including Russia and Iran, to find a political mechanism" for a transition process in Syria.
"The president and [Secretary of State John Kerry] are doing the best waltzing they can to play what is an extraordinarily weak hand," says Adams. "As much as anybody doesn't like Vladimir Putin, he's got a stronger hand."
And that reality may account for the evident beginnings of a shift from the Obama administration. Kerry said earlier in September that, amid a political resolution in Syria, the U.S. would not force Assad to step down "on day one or month one or whatever." The newfound leniency is a subtle shift from previous staunch rhetoric from Obama and his lieutenants that peace in Syria rests squarely on Assad's departure.
Now the U.S. must contend with a two-pronged crisis in Syria: It must alleviate a humanitarian crisis that has displaced as many as 11 million people from their homes, and it must bring together all the possible components that could defeat the Islamic State group.

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