Testing Putin in Syria

There has been no shortage of scrutiny of what Russian President Vladimir Putin is up to in Syria and why. Much of the analysis, though, has been narrowly focused on the short term and overly negative in assessing the likely consequences.

NEW YORK – There has been no shortage of scrutiny of what Russian President Vladimir Putin is up to in Syria and why. Much of the analysis, though, has been narrowly focused on the short term and may be too negative in assessing his actions’ likely long-term consequences.

What we know is that Putin has decided to come to the aid of Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime. Russian bombs and missiles are now raining down on an array of armed groups that have been fighting Syrian government forces, which has given the regime the breathing space that Russia’s intervention was intended to provide.

As bad as the Assad government is, and as much as it has to answer for, this outcome is arguably preferable in the short run to the regime’s collapse. The painful truth in Syria today is that a government implosion would most likely lead to genocide, millions more displaced people, and the establishment of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in Damascus.

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