Today the usually perspicacious David Ignatius in the Washington Post declares in a column labeled "Don't hand Syria over to Putin," that"simply acceding to Moscow...would be significant mistake." Funny thing is that he follows up this statement with the probably accurate observation that "the Russians can't defeat the Islamic State." But, escalation by Russia to bomb in Syria (as the US has been doing for some time) might "may fuel the Sunni insurgency even more." Maybe, but the more serious problem here is that the US has not "had" Syria ever.
The hard fact is that Russia has "had Syria" for a long time, far more than the US ever has, basically ever since the Ba'ath Party came to power in a military coup more than half a century ago over the immediate successors of the French rule after WW II, although, of course, prior to 1991, it was the Soviet Union that "had" Syria, not Russia. But we know that there has been a lot of continuity in terms of global interests from the old Soviet Union to the modern Russia in many places. The Soviets and then Russians also supported Saddam in Iraq and his branch of the Ba'ath Party, Arab nationalist socialist in its ideological orientation, even as those two branches and the Assads and Saddam became enemies of each other. Indeed, in Putin's speech to the UN General Assembly, he complained about the US overthrow of Saddam noting that what has followed has been chaos, along with the beginning of Daesh/ISIS/ISIL/IS, the collapse of pro-Russian Libyan regime into chaos (with the division into its historically distinct eastern and western parts as I frequently forecast here on Econospeak), and the mess in Yemen.
So, Putin has been very traditional in his approach to many parts of the globe. In this regard, he has focused on military bases, especially naval ones. One can argue that Russia as a major land power should not be so focused on its navy, but this is an old concern, dating at least to Peter the Great three centuries ago when he grabbed the land from Sweden that he build Saint Petersburg on to provide a naval "Window to the West"(with this emphasized by the fact that the radial roads of the city emanate from its Admiralty Building). A little noted aspect of Putin's seizure of Crimea is that its naval base at Sevastopol is located there, and although generally Ukraine had been "reasonable" continuing to allow Russia to hold it and use it, Putin simply got tired of having to worry about unfriendly governments in Kyiv giving him a hard time about it.
So, the fact that few note as they bark about this awful cave by Obama is that Russia has its only naval base in the Mediterranean Sea in Syria at Tartus, a base dating well back into the Soviet period. The US has never had a military base in Syria and has pretty much always been opposed to the Assad regime, both the current one and that of his even nastier dad. Putin also seems to be establishing an air base in Latakia in the heart of Assad Alawite territory in the northwest of Syria near the Russian naval base, possibly laying the groundwork for defending its base even if Assad loses power in Damascus to whomever.
Now the big difference between the US and Russia now is indeed over Assad, who has without question been brutal, dropping barrel bombs on civilians and previously using chemical weapons. Of course lots of people are angry with Obama did not bomb Assad for doing the latter after he declared a "red line"on that issue. That in fact he worked with Putin to get Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons (or at least the worst of them) is barely noticed by any of these complainers. So, when Putin argues that Assad is all there is to stand against Daesh, Obama may be taking this seriously in private, if not in public.
So, Obama's critics, including a pack of VSPs, are full of the claim that Obama should have supported earlier and more fully a "moderate" third force. But, he did support these people pretty substantially, and all they have done is lose every battle they have fought and have a bad record of handing over their weapons (given by the US) to either al Qaeda-related al Nusra or to Daesh itself. But VSPs, including Hillary Clinton, say things would have been great if we had done more, but I think Obama's skepticism on this was and has been proven right.
I note one more point. Russia has a more immediate concern about Daesh than does the US. Chechens have joined Daesh, and while I do not approve of how Putin crushed the revolt in Chechnya, it is also true that Chechen Islamists have carried out major terrorist attacks in Russia. Russian citizens are not supporting Russian troops going to Syria, but the hard fact is that Daesh is a more serious immediate threat to Russia on its homeland than it is to the US on its homeland. Given what has happened after the removal of Saddam and Qaddafi in their nations, one can appreciate that Putin has a strong desire to "prop up Assad," and even more given their long presence in Syria with their naval base in Tartus. The general ignoring of this fact by such generally "realist" observers like Ignatius is somewhat disturbing (and, yes, the situation in Syria is plain awful, but anybody putting forth an easy or straightforward "solution" obviously has not figured out just how complicated and messed up the situation there is).