PARIS -- The fact that U.S. President Barack Obama is putting hundreds of boots back onto the ground in Iraq to protect American interests is the result of some bad decisions and missed opportunities to correct course. Except that Russian President Vladimir Putin had already staked out the proper course -- and the Obama administration seems intent on turning every action into a political spitball aimed at getting Putin's attention.
The administration's preoccupation with economic warfare against Eurasia has evidently come at the expense of other priorities, like terrorism. As a result, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni terrorist group, is overtaking Iraqi cities and executing anyone in its way en route to overtaking Baghdad, threatening to undo nearly 10 years of American blood, sweat and tears.
The U.S. government had been funding various Sunni jihadists to make trouble for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- a primary ally of both Russia and Iran. Destabilizing Assad would help destabilize the Eurasian economic sphere. Russia's interest in Syria is economic -- arms, energy and a naval port -- and Iran's is ideological, given that the Syrian and Iranian governments are both Shia Muslim.
Putin understood that anti-Assad forces were largely comprised of Sunni Islamic terrorist groups, and he warned America against supporting them alongside their Sunni state-sponsors Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Putin defended Assad's right to exterminate these terrorist forces inside his own country. Obama responded by threatening U.S. military action in Syria -- until Putin stepped in to take responsibility for chaperoning Assad and getting any chemical weapons under control, provided that America would promise to stop flooding the place with "assistance."
ISIS was one of the terrorist groups in Syria that benefited from U.S. cash and equipment. Now, it has an army trying to overtake Baghdad.
Who is America's inadvertent ally right now in saving Iraq? Syria. No, really.
Agence France-Presse reports that Assad's Syrian army has already been attacking ISIS bases bordering Iraq at the behest of Baghdad, helping America save its investment in Iraq even before Obama could even determine how to help. Maybe it's a good thing Obama listened to Putin and stopped short of bombing Assad, now that the guy is doing America a favor.
Not that Obama stopped pestering Putin after the agreement with Russia on Syria.
Prior to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, earlier this year, America was freaking out about the safety of the world's athletes in light of regional Sunni Chechen terrorist attacks masterminded by Doku Umarov. Putin responded by making sure that Umarov was never heard from again -- until word of his death leaked in March. Russian intelligence sources tell me privately that Umarov was captured in a Russian Special Forces operation and subsequently transported to Moscow's Lubyanka prison, where he wrote out his confession in solitary confinement, reportedly implicating Persian Gulf region state-sponsors of his terrorist activities before he was executed.
So terrorism was a huge priority for Russia, just as Putin figured that it was for America.
Until recently, the Russian Defense Ministry had been so interested in counterterrorism cooperation with America that it had been participating in various joint exercises with U.S. forces -- not just the Special Forces joint exercise in Fort Carson, Colorado, in 2012, but also the "Northern Eagle" exercise in the Barents and Norwegian seas, which was devised specifically for the purpose of joint counterterrorism training.
The joint "Atlas Vision" exercise, which was scheduled for July in Russia's Urals region, was likewise supposed to be an annual ground exercise for U.S. and Russian forces. Russia didn't just throw a dart at a national map to decide where to hold "peacekeeping" practice with American forces. The Ural Federal District region of Russia is the same place where Russia held a joint 20-day counterterrorism exercise with neighboring China last year that was code-named "Peace Mission 2013." And why might China require such an aggressive deployment of "peace" that would necessitate Russian counterterrorism cooperation? Just this week, China executed 13 Sunni Muslim Uighurs convicted of terrorist attacks that killed police officers, government officials and civilians.
The terror problem doesn't end there. Indonesian and Malaysian Sunnis are known to be among the ISIS jihadists fighting in Syria and now slaughtering civilians Iraq.
Rather than capitalizing on the obvious value of the Olympics as a pretext for greater counterterrorism cooperation with Russia, the Obama administration instead saw the Sochi games as the ideal time to make Putin's life miserable by fomenting a coup d'etat in Ukraine to overthrow the democratically elected Ukrainian president and government and upset the pro-Russian economic status quo.
While Putin was obsessing over terrorists, Obama was obsessing over Putin. Now, given the situation in Iraq, Obama has no choice but to take his eyes off his favorite shirtless wonder -- and just as swimsuit season gets underway, too. Either that, or Obama will just pass the ball again. Maybe he likes watching Putin score.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. She appears frequently on TV and in publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)
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