Leon Aron makes another overstated case for enormous Russian influence in the Near East:
Out of a geostrategic nowhere, Russia has rocketed to the position of global powerbroker, capable of preventing a U.S. military action. It is now the dominant diplomatic power in the Middle East [bold mine-DL], akin to the Soviet Union before Egypt’s Anwar Sadat switched from Moscow to Washington in 1973.
This wasn’t true last week, and it’s still wrong now. Russia “prevented” U.S. military action because it provided a face-saving option that allowed Obama to avoid being voted down by Congress. It would be more accurate to say that Putin is taking and being given credit for the result when Congress wasn’t going to authorize the use of force against Syria anyway. The lack of U.N. authorization didn’t concern Obama. He was prepared to attack without it. Had Russia done nothing, the attack would have almost certainly been prevented by political opposition here in the U.S. There is no evidence that Russia is “dominant” as a diplomatic power on any other issue besides Syria. Even in Syria Russia is doing what it has been doing for the last two years: shielding Syria’s government from intervention as much as possible, and trying to keep its client in power. Moscow has had some success in doing both, but this has depended greatly on the fact that there is no political support anywhere in the West for intervention or regime change. Russia has successfully “blocked” actions that were not very likely to happen without Russian interference. That is the extent of Russia’s new “dominance.” After unsuccessfully opposing Western intervention and/or regime change several times over the last twenty years, Russia has “won” because no Western government has enough political support to attempt either one in Syria.
Brent Sasley makes some useful related observations:
The connection to Syria can thus help Russia play the role of regional spoiler. But the United States has not tried very hard to influence events in Syria or control its behavior, so that Russia is pushing on an open door. And given that Syria is separated from the rest of the Arab world by its ties to Iran and Hezbollah, and its vicious crackdown on the protests/uprising (and the latter highlights the former), Russia’s close support for the Assad regime has not earned it any new friends.
It can’t be emphasized often enough that Assad’s patrons and allies have been losing ground over the last two years, and their regional influence has diminished compared to where it was just a few years ago. In absolute terms, Russian influence in the region is not very great, and its support for Assad has soured its relations with most other regional governments.