In the strangest election year in recent American history—one in which the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson couldn’t even conjure up the name of a foreign leader he “admired” while Donald Trump remained intent on building his “fat, beautiful wall” and “taking” Iraq oil—the world may be out of focus for many Americans right now. So a little introduction to the planet we actually inhabit is in order. Welcome to a multipolar world. One fact stands out: Earth is no longer the property of the globe’s “sole superpower.”
If you want proof, you can start by checking out Moscow’s recent role in reshaping the civil war in Syria and frustrating Washington’s agenda to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. And that’s just one of a number of developments that highlight America’s diminishing power globally in both the military and the diplomatic arenas. On a peaceable note, consider the way China has successfully launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a rival to the World Bank, not to speak of its implementation of a plan to link numerous countries in Asia and Europe to China in a vast multinational transportation and pipeline network it grandly calls the One Belt and One Road system, or the New Silk Road project. In such developments, one can see ways in which the previously overwhelming economic power of the United States is gradually being challenged and curtailed internationally.
Moscow Calling the Shots in Syria
The Moscow-Washington agreement of September 10th on Syria, reached after 10 months of hard bargaining and now in shambles after another broken truce, had one crucial if little noted aspect. For the first time since the Soviet Union imploded, Russia managed to put itself on the same diplomatic footing as the United States. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented, “This is not the end of the road… just the beginning of our new relations” with Washington. Even though those relations are now in a state of suspension and exacerbation, it’s indisputable that the Kremlin’s limited military intervention in Syria was tailored to achieve a multiplier effect, yielding returns both in that war-ravaged, devastated land and in international diplomacy.
In August 2015, by all accounts, President Assad was on the ropes and the morale of his dwindling army at rock bottom. Even the backing of Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah had proven insufficient to reverse his faltering hold on power.
To save his regime from collapse, the Kremlin’s military planners decided to fill the gaping hole left by Syria’s collapsing air force, shore up its air defenses, and boost its depleted arsenal of tanks and armored vehicles. For this, they turned one of Russia’s last footholds abroad, an airbase near the Mediterranean port of Latakia, into a forward operating base, and shipped to it warplanes, attack helicopters, tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers. Russia also deployed its most advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles there.