With more than 10 nations actively bombing Syria, a country roughly the size of Oklahoma, one of the primary concerns is the possibility of spill-over wars–with entangled treaties creating a WWI-style political catastrophe.
This type of catastrophe is not out of the question, as all participants in the fight seem to have different objectives, conditions of victory, and exit strategies (if any).
With the Russian military now fully engaged in the fight, they have made one thing absolutely certain: they are there to blow things up and to show the West their upgraded military capabilities.
American intelligence was caught off-guard when Russia launched cruise missiles from the relatively small Buyan-M class corvettes in the Caspian Sea, demonstrating both a gap in intelligence and hardware that the West was not prepared to accept.
Western navies have similar firepower, but only when launched from significantly larger ships, typically destroyer-class vessels.
Then, on Dec. 8, Russia launched a series of cruise missiles from a submarine in the Mediterranean, yet another blatant show of force.
For the Russians, Syria has become a testing ground for their weapon systems and a diplomatic show of force to the P5+1 nations, especially those engaged in the fighting:
“We must analyze everything happening on the battlefield, how the weapons operate. The Kalibrs (sea based cruise missiles) and KH-101 (airborne cruise missile) have proved to be modern and highly effective, and now we know it for sure.” — Vladimir Putin, Dec. 8, 2015
All of this comes at a time when the 2016 presidential hopefuls tout plans to ‘deal’ with Putin — and by deal they mean ‘man-handle.’
Putin’s quest is almost complete, to restore the former glory of the Russian/Soviet Empire. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has warned many times that his objectives were much simpler than the West predicted — that consolidating the power that was once held is the ultimate objective.
So what’s next for Syria?
Unfortunately, Russia may be in it for the long haul — maintaining its access to its ‘naval base’ at Tartus is one of its few secure inroads into effectively patrolling the Mediterranean. Any regime change that might challenge this would definitely cause the Russians to balk.
But even more importantly, Islamic extremism is right at Russia’s backdoor. With Islam the predominate religion in southern Russia, radicalization has been a constant threat.
From an American standpoint, our administration, as well as the next should probably sit and watch the firepower display, knowing full well that the Russians cannot indefinitely support military action of this kind on their current GDP. It’s better that they run out of bombs on a target that we can all agree upon, rather than face a later diplomatic crisis if the next target is less-choice in nature.
In this instance, the best foreign policy decision is to wait and watch — carefully collecting intelligence as we go — but definitely allow the Russians to absorb some of the cost of cleaning up the ISIS mess.