Having successfully misidentified a line from Plato as having been written by Aristotle, I am emboldened to offer an opinion about something I really know nothing about. That is, as I understand it, the raison d'ȇtre of blogging. Herewith, therefore, my take on the decision by Vladimir Putin to thrust Russian military forces into the complex Syrian civil war. I think it is only fair to point out that I have never set foot in any of the countries I shall be mentioning [save for the United States] and do not speak, read, or write any of the languages used by the residents of those countries. Caveat lector.
Since the end of the Second World War, the United States and Russia have pursued quite different imperial paths. Russia, dba [doing business as] the Soviet Union, expanded its empire almost exclusively by incorporating contiguous territories along its eastern, southern, and western borders. At its height, the Soviet Union spanned eleven time zones and bestrode the Eurasian land mass like a colossus. Not once during the entire post-war period did the Soviet Union engage its military forces anywhere that was not contiguous to its homeland. Only twice that I can recall did the Soviet Union commit major military forces in a foreign action. The first was the 1956 invasion of Hungary [one of whose many other consequences was bringing the Jesuit philosopher Zeno Vendler to Harvard as a graduate student], which took place by way of Ukraine, then a Soviet Socialist Republic. The second was the disastrous ten year Afghan War, launched through the contiguous SSRs Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The United States, in contrast, has not hesitated to send its military forces across the globe, to Korea, to Viet Nam, to Panama, to Grenada, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Syria, among many other places. At the present time, the United States maintains well over 200,000 Armed Forces personnel in nearly one hundred fifty countries.
Driven by a desire to reestablish some simulacrum of the Soviet glory, and eager to direct the attention of Russians away from a disastrous economy in deep depression, Putin first made characteristic Russian moves into Crimea and Ukraine. But now he has made the fateful decision to thrust Russia militarily into a region not contiguous to the homeland, even conceived in its most expansive Soviet moment.
I will offer a prediction [which, you must understand, is scarcely worth the corner of the Cloud that it occupies]: This will not go well for the Russians. They will begin with surgical air strikes, which will weaken the anti-Assad forces and thereby strengthen ISIL. Ineluctably, Putin will be drawn to supplementing his air force with "boots on the ground," first as target spotters, then as Special Forces, then as regular forces. Like Br'er Rabbit in Joel Chandler Harris' story The Tar Baby, Putin will become more inextricably entangled in Syria the more he struggles to extricate himself from an unsuccessful military adventure.
I suspect this is what Obama had in mind during his extraordinary press conference yesterday when he described the Russian move as having been made not from strength but from weakness.