Times are hard in today's Russia. At some point, Russians will expect their powerful leader to deliver better times at home. To delay that day of judgment a little longer, Putin needs victories -- particularly those that burnish Russia's image as a world power. Once again, he's getting them. For now, he's on a roll -- and an international force to be reckoned with.
If taking on some of the burden of fighting ISIS simultaneously allows Russia to maintain its single military base in the Middle East, more power to them. And if China wants to waste its money pouring sand onto reefs in the ocean off its coast, American taxpayers derive no benefit from trying to stop them.
While many hawkish observers in Washington demanded a more overt and energetic response from the Obama administration, the past six months can only be seen as vindication of President Obama's diplomacy toward Russia and proof of the abject failure of the shortsighted and domestically driven foreign policy of Vladimir Putin.
Obama has understood from the beginning that, in certain global situations, American power is severely limited. Despite the overwhelming US military arsenal, we cannot police the world as we wish -- unless we want to risk miring ourselves in new Iraqs and Afghanistans. Our best use of our power is to use our diplomatic skills to resolve disputes without resort to armed action. Obama is now trying to do this in Syria, Iran, North Korea, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in Ukraine. Obama's pragmatism may sometimes seem too cautious or too "small ball" -- but, so far, over six years he has kept the peace, brought our troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and saved our country from wars in Syria, Iran and Ukraine. Not a terrible record after all.