Home/Daniel Larison/The Panic Over a U.S. Syria “Loss”

The Panic Over a U.S. Syria “Loss”

Jonathan Tobin is very confused:

The guiding principle of Russian foreign policy is twofold: annoy, humiliate, and defeat the United States every chance they get and thereby help rebuild the lost Soviet empire whose fall Putin still mourns. Russian adventurism in Syria won’t stop there. It will extend into Asia and cause havoc and diminish American influence there and everywhere else.

As Scoblete notes, this is a very dated and flawed interpretation. There is no rebuilding of the Soviet empire going on. This isn’t possible, but more to the point Russia isn’t trying to do this. Russia also has a strange way of expressing its supposed desire to “annoy, humiliate, and defeat the United States every chance they get” when it opts to cooperate with the U.S. on those issues where our interests converge. Russian leaders exploit anti-American sentiment at home, and from time to time they stoke it for reasons of domestic political advantage, but they are not always and everywhere working against the U.S. When the U.S. seeks Russian cooperation, hawks dismiss the attempt because Russia is supposed to be opposed to everything the U.S. wants, and then when Russia cooperates they dismiss it as insignificant because Russia is merely acting out of self-interest.

When a patron acts to support its client, is it engaging in “adventurism”? It is possible that a patron can enable reckless behavior on the part of a client, but we usually mean something very different when we refer to a state’s “adventurism.” Is it really “adventurism” to make a diplomatic proposal that potentially averts an illegal attack by another government? I don’t think so. What would future Russian “adventurism” in Asia look like? What would be the goal? What could that even conceivably mean under the circumstances? There aren’t good answers, because this is just so much lazy fear-mongering.

As Scoblete mentions, there is a remarkable similarity between fears of decreasing U.S. influence because of a “loss” in Syria and the old domino theory. Why should it be the case that “a loss of influence in one area of the world will lead to a loss everywhere”? It is doubtful that Russian influence has increased anywhere because of the recent deal on Syria, and it is certainly not true that the entire region has been “lost” to Russia. (The region isn’t really “ours” to “lose,” either, but that’s a topic for another post.) It is even harder to believe that the outcome in Syria will have any effect on the U.S. or Russian position in other regions of the world. Most of these claims are being advanced in spite of how implausible they are because they make U.S. and Russian maneuvers in relation to Syria seem much more important for the rest of the world than they are.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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