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Vladimir Putin Is the New Bismarck

And Washington's ideologically-driven fantasies in the vein of Woodrow Wilson are doomed to fail

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

There is a revealing way to assess the contrasting US and Russian strategies in the Syrian conflict: Otto von Bismarck is beating Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson, US president from 1913 to 1921, wanted to redraw the entire map of Europe after World War I. He was convinced he could banish the endless wars that had swept the continent and bring in a new long-lasting golden age of peace, security, justice and reason.

Wilson’s attitudes eerily prefigured those of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama and their top advisers a century later.

Washington has pursued its Wilsonian policy in Syria for four years now, eagerly supported by the neo-conservatives of the old George W. Bush administration who previously tried – and failed – to “remake” Iraq. Its bankruptcy is now evident to all.

Assad continues to cling to power. Almost all of Syria has been ravaged by civil war. Close to a quarter of a million people have been killed, four million more uprooted as impoverished refugees while the Islamic State and Nusra Front,  closely associated with al-Qaeda have carved out areas of Iraq and Syria comparable in size to area of Britain.

Now Russian President Vladimir Putin has entered the fray.

Putin harbors no fantasy of creating perfect justice or happiness among the long-suffering peoples of Syria. He is determined to protect Russia’s national security which he believes is directly threatened by the rise of the Islamic State. He clearly also sees the opportunity to humiliate the United States and reestablish Russia as a key power-broker in the region.

He is also determined to preserve the Assad dynasty in Syria that has been a loyal ally of Russia and the Soviet Union for 45 years.

American policymakers have sleepwalked in the footsteps of Woodrow Wilson, but Putin’s guiding angel is Otto Von Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor” who united Germany 150 years ago.

Bismarck waged carefully controlled limited wars to knock out targeted enemies, one at a time.

He only struck when he had isolated his targets and secured diplomatic and strategic protection for his own country, the Kingdom of Prussia.

Putin is pursuing a similar strategy today. He has secured the support of Iran, a formidable regional power. The Shi’a Hezbollah in southern Lebanon supports him too. The Shi’a dominated government in Iraq, increasingly responsive to Tehran and contemptuous of Washington, is eager to side up with him.

Even the Kurds, who would be helpless without hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid and endless air strikes, look on him to rescue them from the Islamic State.

Putin is not trying to create brand new armed forces out of thin air the way the US military has tried and so conspicuously failed to do in Iraq and Syria. He is seeking to restore and support the existing Syrian army.

US air strikes have proved useless against the Islamic Front without any worthwhile ground forces to take advantage of them. The Iraqi and Syrian opposition “armies” created by the Americans have repeatedly proven their uselessness and the hyped-up Kurds are really marginal.

But the Russian air force is making much better progress because it is working closely with a still effective and long-established ground combat force – the Syrian army. Bismarck would have approved.

American policymakers with the exception of Henry Kissinger have never liked or admired Bismarck (It is no coincidence that Kissinger, though Jewish was also born German). Bismarck’s practical success never won their hearts and minds the way Wilson’s dreamy stupidities did.

But today Putin is playing the Ace of Bismarckian strategy in Syria. And it is trumping all the Jokers in the hands of Obama and his Neo-Wilsonians.

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