Iran will be the winner if Putin is victorious in Syria

The war is far from over, but winning it can spell disaster for Putin and for the West.

Mark Langfan,

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Mark Langfan
Mark Langfan

SOS: Putin’s Losing Syria as Iran’s Winning Syria

By Mark Langfan

Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be winning in Syria.  But, Putin is not winning in Syria. Syria is not the Crimea, or East Ukraine where Russia’s prizes are territorially and ethnically contiguous with Mother Russia.  Syria is disconnected territorially and ethnically from Russia.  Hence, Putin is strategically drowning in Syria because he has no Syrian end-game where Russia might exit after a Russian “victory” without ceding his hard-won Syrian trophy to Iran. 

With Iran effectively controlling the territorial contiguity of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, Putin, by "winning," will have turned Iran into an Islamic superpower that is a grave strategic danger to Russia itself.  And, while Aleppo has been reduced to rubble and the Syrian rebels are losing, they still have not quite lost.  Therefore, Putin still has much more massacres of Syrian Sunnis ahead before he blunders into “winning” and crowning Iran with its new empire at Russia’s cost.  Putin’s egregious error in Syria is beginning to make Bush’s stupidity in Iraq look like genius - in comparison.

But none of this wasn’t clearly predictable from the start.  On July 12, 2015, in an essay, “Putin has checkmated himself into a lose-lose Syrian debacle”, I wrote:

“Now, on the other hand, in the slim chance that Putin wins, how exactly does Putin still lose?  You have to think backwards from what a Putin end-game “victory” would likely look like.  On the current trajectory, if Putin “wins,” he will have to have bulked up his ground forces and airbase footprint so as to be principally occupying Syria.  Then what?  Whom is Putin going to hand Syria to after he wins?  Are Russian-Orthodox soldiers going to occupy Syria forever?  No.  The only entity Putin can hand Syria to is Iran.  So, for all Putin’s losses and future costs in terms of Russian lives and money, Russia will not have “won” Syria, Iran will own Syria at Putin’s cost.  

"You can think of Putin’s egregious behavior as the inverse image of Bush’s actions in tearing the Sunni-centric hierarchical government out of Iraq.  Bush destroyed the Sunni power structure in Iraq which ultimately empowered Iran to control Iraq. Putin is saving the Shiite power structure in Syria to ultimately empower Iran to control Syria.  Any way you look at it, Putin comes out of Syria with a terrible, perhaps fatal loss to Russia, and a waxing-hegemonic Iran.  Putin’s Syrian strategy has also incurred the enmity of 800,000,000 Sunnis in order to strengthen the Shiite Islamists who will then pose an existential threat to Russia.  Instead of learning from Bush’s mistake, Putin appears intent on repeating it.”

In defense of my 2015 characterization of the “slim chances” of a Russian Syria win comment, whoever thought the Sunnis Arabs would be so foolish as to continue to trust President Obama to defend them from Iran when Obama was an Iranian stooge from the start?  And, in the face of Obama’s clear betrayal of the Sunnis, who would have thought the Sunni Arabs would fail to robustly armed the Syrian rebels? Remember Bush’s Iraqi “Mission Accomplished” comment? 

A Russian end-game in Syria... if Russia wins...turns Iran into an Islamic terrorist colossus that is a catastrophic threat to Russia...that is about to acquire nuclear weapons.
And, as I wrote above, the Syrian war is far from over with huge areas still not under Assad/Iranian control.  Nevertheless, the time has now come to assess what a Russian end-game in Syria could look like if Russia wins.  On that score, as I wrote in 2015, Russia turns Iran into an Islamic terrorist colossus that is a catastrophic threat to Russia.  And Iran is a catastrophic threat that is about to acquire nuclear weapons.

The US Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki was right when he famously predicted in 2003 that the United States would need “several hundred thousand” post-Iraq war US troops to control an Iraq with a population of 40 million.  In Syria, devastated and with a population of 25 million, several hundred thousand troops will be required to control the country post-war.  Where are these occupying troops going to come from?  Iran? Iran’s Shiite militias?

All things considered, Putin should change his Syrian strategy ASAP before he turns his Syrian victory into an Iranian victory and  Russian loss, making him look like a fool. 

There is one person who holds the key to that winning end-game for Putin in Syria and that person is President-Elect Donald J. Trump.  Trump will defy convention, and prove that “The friend (Iran) of my friend (Russia) is still my enemy.” Stay tuned.