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Guess who just popped up in the Kremlin? Bashar al-Assad, Syrian dictator and destroyer, now Vladimir Putin’s newest pet. After four years holed up in Damascus, Assad was summoned to Russia to bend a knee to Putin, show the world that today Middle East questions get settled not in Washington but in Moscow, and officially bless the Russian-led four-nation takeover of Syria now underway.

President Obama says Russia is doomed to fail in the Syrian quagmire. But Russia is not trying to reconquer the country for Assad. It’s consolidating a rump Syrian state on the roughly 20 percent of the country he now controls, the Alawite areas stretching north and west from Damascus through Latakia and encompassing the Russian naval base at Tartus.

It’s a partition. It will leave the Islamic State in control in the interior north and east. Why is this doomed to failure?

Putin’s larger strategy is also obvious. He is not reconstructing the old Soviet empire. That’s too large a task. But he is rebuilding and reasserting Russia’s ability to project power beyond its borders.

For Obama, of course, these things don’t matter. “In today’s world,” he told the U.N. last month, “the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory.” That he clearly believes this fantasy was demonstrated by his total abandonment of Iraq, forfeiting U.S. bases from which we could have projected power in the region (most notably preventing, through control of Iraqi airspace, the Iranian rearming and reinforcement of Assad’s weakening regime).

While Obama counts on the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice, Putin acts. As soon as the ink was dry on the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s Qasem Soleimani flew to Moscow (a sanctions violation that we blithely ignored) to plan the multinational Syria campaign he is now directing.

They are pounding non-Islamic State rebels, many equipped, trained and allegedly supported by the U.S. and Obama’s vaunted 60-nation coalition. What a comfort to be pulverized by 60-90 Russian airstrikes each day but to know that Belgium is with you.

The immediate Russian objective is to retake Aleppo, the eastern part of which is the rebels’ last remaining urban stronghold.

Russia is not fighting the Islamic State. On the contrary. Its attacks on the anti-government, anti-Islamic State rebels have allowed the Islamic State to expand, capturing rebel-held villages north of Aleppo, even as the Shiite expeditionary force approaches from the south.

Apart from the wreckage to Obama’s dreams of a “reset” with Russia, think of how these advances mock Obama’s dreams for Iran, namely that the nuclear deal would moderate Iranian behavior.

Charles Krauthammer writes for the Washington Post.

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