The crisis in relations with Russia, and in particular Russia’s behavior in the Syrian war, has become an unusually prominent theme in the U.S. election campaign. That means that a new administration could start with a set of tough pledges, rather than with a clean slate. Campaign trail rhetoric is worth only so much, but a new president would still have to demonstrate both readiness to contain Russia’s experiments in power projection and commitment to rebuild Syria in the wake of the catastrophe it has experienced.
Moscow can try to act as a spoiler in Syria, but it is already over-stretched, and the limits of its capacity for sustaining the Assad regime will be soon exposed. The United States, already taking the lead on defeating ISIS, will also have to lead a broad coalition to rehabilitate the devastated Syrian war zone after the conflict ends. Russia cannot be a part of this, and rather must be treated as part of the problem. There will be no more illusions about Mr. Putin’s character, and his attempts to test the will of his fourth U.S. counterpart need to be answered convincingly—in Syria and elsewhere.