Moscow now has a bigger conflict to prosecute, one in which the United States cannot decline to engage. Russia had spent the better part of the last two months paving the way for intervention in the Syrian civil war. Last Monday, that campaign began with a dramatic attack on CIA-armed and trained rebels under the guise of airstrikes on the Islamic State. The United States immediately scrambled to pursue “deconfliction” talks with Moscow, with the singular purpose of establishing military-to-military contacts so that Russian and NATO forces operating in the Syrian theater wouldn’t accidently start shooting at each other. But Russia’s aim is to ignite conflict. Its desire is to prop up the ailing Assad regime and to force NATO assets and its proxies out of Western Syria (and, eventually, out of the country entirely). It is a farce to pursue “deconfliction” when triggering conflict is the whole purpose of this exercise.
[. . .]
In a sense, Obama was correct when he insisted that a new Cold War was not in the offing. The Soviets would have been far more cautious about inviting confrontation with the West and fomenting wars in unpredictable caldrons like Syria. Unlike the Soviets who for much of the country’s existence believed that history’s arc bent resolutely in Moscow’s direction, Putin does not believe that time is a commodity he can afford to spend recklessly. The Russian public is restless and dissatisfied, an extraordinarily malleable American president will soon leave office, and financial pressures have compelled the Kremlin to scale back its already unsustainable military expenditures. All these factors make Russia an even more dangerous actor. It would rather risk a major confrontation with the West now than allow this window of opportunity to close unexploited.
The last paragraph is key. The Obama window of national vulnerability closes in January 2017. Putin and other foreign thugs are all calculating how far they can go in exploiting our current submissiveness without risking a prohibitively severe response from Obama’s successor. The cumulative damage to our interests will be enormous and long lasting and we have not seen the end of it.
Rothman’s piece is worth reading in full.