The war in Syria combines a major regional crisis with international terrorism and a potential confrontation between the two largest nuclear weapons states. In such circumstances, the first requirement of sound policy is to be honest with ourselves. This means acknowledging that while Putin’s interference in Syria is unwelcome and contrary to U.S. national interests, it is now a fact of life. It also means recognizing that Moscow’s actions were not unpredictable in a situation in which Russia has significant interests of its own. Furthermore, the Obama administration is trying to weaken Russia’s economy and isolate its leaders, while the Kremlin sees Russia as a sovereign great power able to act despite U.S. preferences to the contrary. If we want to reject working with governments that have their own agendas in Syria, our list of partners will be quite short and will certainly exclude Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
U.S. leaders should respond to Moscow with a combination of strength and pragmatism rather than weakness and inflexibility. By contrast, railing at the world and stalking off like a global King Lear ill befits the sole superpower.
Dimitri K. Simes is publisher & CEO of The National Interest. Paul J. Saunders is executive director of the Center for the National Interest. He served as U.S. State Department Senior Adviser during the George W. Bush Administration.
Image: Creative Commons/Flickr.