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Why We Can’t Ignore Russia’s Expanded Role on the World Stage

When the Syrian people began protesting the injustices of Bashar Assad’s regime back in 2011, President Obama talked strongly about standing hand-in-hand with them. When the Assad regime turned to violence to quell the protests and the conflict began in earnest, the President stepped up diplomatic pressure on Assad. When the Assad regime began using chemical weapons and a campaign of war crimes against its own people, President Obama disappeared.

For all his tough talk in the beginning, President Obama has done very little to stabilize the region as it continues to spiral out of control. The Obama strategy of sporadic airstrikes, half-hearted military assistance to rebels and belated attempts to reduce the appeal of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has done nothing to drive Assad from power and stop the conflict. It has done even less to stop the campaign of terror ISIS is carrying out.

President Obama’s disconnect has left a void filled by the world’s worst actors. ISIS is running wild throughout Syria, Iraq and now Libya. Russia and Iran are eagerly taking advantage of the absence of U.S. leadership in the region. These are two nations that clearly do not share our values and are seeking to build their power on the world stage. The administration’s tone-deaf response is letting them do just that.

The presence of Russia in this particular Middle East conflict is further evidence of President Vladimir Putin’s desire to extend his reach far beyond Eastern Europe. It should sound a loud alarm, yet the Obama Administration is failing to heed it.

Russia has been expanding through force, annexing smaller neighboring countries and instigating tensions in others. Not content with just causing chaos in Eastern Europe, Putin has injected his forces into the Syrian conflict, going all-in to back Assad, creating a frightening new dynamic that threatens to drag even more nations into the chaos.

Putin’s aggressive actions, paired with its nuclear arsenal and proxy wars, has led many of our top military officials—including Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley—to name Russia as the top threat to U.S. security. Earlier this year, the commander of U.S. Air Force operations in Europe and Africa described the buildups of complex Russian missile defenses as “very serious” and said these activities increasingly threaten NATO military access to air space in parts of Europe.

Yet the administration is doing nothing to slow Putin’s aggressive actions. The President still treats the Russian threat with the same dismissive attitude he displayed during a debate four years ago.

The relentless air campaign that Russian bombers are carrying out on behalf of Assad has allowed the once weakened regime to recapture areas near the Turkish border, one of Assad’s top priorities. By targeting rebels and sparing ISIS fighters, Putin is propping up the regime while trying to orchestrate a “cease-fire” that will no doubt keep Assad in power and do little to restrain the growth of ISIS.

This is what happens when American leadership is absent. By chasing diplomacy at all costs and staying as far away from the mix as possible, the Obama doctrine has created a vacuum that has allowed Russia to flex its muscle. This is a prescription for disaster. We must change course and engage in the world again if we are serious about our nation’s security.

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