The Mideast’s Front Burner Issues | The Cipher Brief – Outside of the Arab Spring, the most dramatic development has to be the civil war in Syria and the simultaneous emergence of the Islamic State for Iraq and the Syria (ISIS). After six years of conflict, the Syrian regime has managed to survive but at tremendous cost. Hundreds of thousands have died, cities large and small have been reduced to rubble, and half of the population has been displaced, either at home or abroad. The political-military map has also changed significantly: the “moderate” and not-so moderate rebels are on the defensive after losing Aleppo to regime forces backed by Russian aviation and militias aligned with Iran. This change and Turkey’s about face to join erstwhile adversaries, Russia and Iran, in negotiating a cease-fire are the telltale signs of Russia’s return to the region as an important player.
Russia’s primary objective is to prevent the U.S. from engaging in regime change; it is not interested in constructing a new order. The Obama administration, while pursuing a strategy of replacing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was more interested in limiting America’s role in the region by ending the Iraqi misadventure. This explains its cautious approach to the Syrian regime. Obama also sought to de-escalate the conflict with Iran by shepherding the nuclear deal in the hope that the Iranian regime would moderate itself or be transformed in the long run.