Is Putin the new king of the Middle East?
"Russia Assumes Mantle of Supreme Power Broker in the Middle East," proclaimed Britain's Telegraph. The article began:
"Russia's status as the undisputed power-broker in the Middle East was cemented as Vladimir Putin continued a triumphant tour of capitals traditionally allied to the US."
"Donald Trump Has Handed Putin the Middle East on a Plate" was the title of a Telegraph column. "Putin Seizes on Trump's Syria Retreat to Cement Middle East Role," said the Financial Times.
The U.S. press parroted the British: Putin is now the new master of the Mideast. And woe is us.
Before concluding that Trump's pullout of the last 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria is America's Dunkirk, some reflection is needed.
Yes, Putin has played his hand skillfully. Diplomatically, as the Brits say, the Russian president is "punching above his weight."
He gets on with everyone. He is welcomed in Iran by the Ayatollah, meets regularly with Bibi Netanyahu, is a cherished ally of Syria's Bashar Assad, and this week was being hosted by the King of Saudi Arabia and the royal rulers of the UAE. October 2019 has been a triumphal month.
Yet, consider what Putin has inherited and what his capabilities are for playing power broker of the Middle East.
He has a single naval base on the Med, Tartus, in Syria, which dates to the 1970s, and a new air base, Khmeimim, also in Syria.
The U.S. has seven NATO allies on the Med -- Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Albania, Greece and Turkey, and two on the Black Sea, Romania and Bulgaria. We have U.S. forces and bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Djibouti. Russia has no such panoply of bases in the Middle East or Persian Gulf.