It is sometimes said that in negotiations with foreigners, American leaders play checkers, while their wilier opponents play chess. There is perhaps some truth to this, as American leaders sometimes chase short-term political results, a consequence of democratic governance and constantly changing leadership. By contrast, despotic Persians are credited with inventing chess, and in modern times autocratic Russians have been its master, and so it is tempting to say of President Obama’s dealings with those two countries that the analogy holds.
But that is way too charitable. As Vladimir Putin skillfully reasserts Russian power and influence in the Middle East with Islamic Persian Iran as a willing partner, a more apt analogy might be that while the Russians and Iranians move their chessmen, isolating and threatening opposing pieces, Obama is not even at the table, but rather childishly looking on, as he pushes diplomatic dirt around the Middle East sandbox.
For over 150 years, a primary objective of Western diplomatic and military strategy was to keep the Russians out of the Middle East and Southwest Asia. In the 1850s, the British and French went to war in Crimea to protect the Ottomans from Russian predation and to preserve the balance of power. Later, the so-called “Great Game” centered on similar British efforts to frustrate Russian domination of Iran and Afghanistan. A century later, the United States took up the task, offsetting Russian influence in newly socialist Arab dictatorships by backing Israel and more traditional Arab monarchies in the Middle East, while openly and successfully opposing the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan.
Today, one can’t even say there remains any Western strategy regarding Russia. Western Europe has mostly forfeited its military and political influence overseas to support decadent welfare states, even as it is being progressively and deliberately overwhelmed by millions of Islamist migrants. Under Obama, who supports and admires Europe’s demise, the United States has increasingly joined in the decline. The laughable Libyan campaign, “fought” by Europeans while the U.S. led from behind, set an example of pursuing a feckless, feel-good military campaign without regard for consequences or traditional strategic concerns. Obama’s encouragement of the so-called Arab Spring and its Islamist provocateurs almost lost Egypt and did lose Syria, with catastrophic humanitarian and geopolitical results.