Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to ramp up Moscow’s military presence in Syria to support President Bashar Assad caught the Obama administration flat-footed and complicates its stated goal of simultaneously ousting Assad’s regime while degrading and destroying ISIS.
“Russia has played a horrible hand brilliantly. We folded what could have been a pretty good hand,” retired U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker and Middle East expert told the Washington Post on Tuesday. “The Russians were able to turn a defensive position into an offensive one because we were so completely absent.”
Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, echoed Crocker’s sentiment while appearing on MSNBC Wednesday with Andrea Mitchell.
“What we should be doing and saying to the Russians is that we’re going to fly anywhere, anytime, anyhow we want to in order to stem the flow of ISIS. … Instead, we’re talking about trying to have some accommodation with Russian aircraft. Again, an incredible sign of weakness. … Isn’t it clear yet that Putin is going to do what he wants to do because he believes he can do it with impunity?” asked the Arizona senator.
McCain also took time to explicitly blast Kerry.
“John Kerry and his spokesperson said it is not clear what Russia’s intentions are. It was perfectly clear what Russia’s intentions are!”
The senator said Putin is asserting Russian military might in a way not seen since 1973 to protect his military base in Tartus and prop up Assad.
Kerry’s speech Wednesday also asserted U.S. warplanes would continue to operate in Syrian airspace despite Russian requests to cease all flights.
“The United States and the coalition will continue our ongoing air operations as we have from the very beginning,” Kerry said.
“It did not have to be this way,” McCain said earlier in the day from the U.S. Senate floor. “This is the inevitable consequence of hollow words, red lines crossed … and a total lack of American leadership. … This is a very, very, very sad day for America and the world,” Fox News reported.