Russia in Syria Reminds us of Soviet Actions in Cuba

Russian/Iranian actions in Syria represent a major gamble based on the perception of American weakness. An initial strong and swift response now will prevent the need for a riskier response in the future.


By Jaime Suchlicki | October 26, 2015

U.S. response to Russian actions in Syria has widespread significance. A weak, or perceived weak response, could embolden Putin to take other adventurous actions in the Middle East or in other parts of the world. It could encourage other leaders to take actions inimical to U.S. interests. It could result in a more unstable world.

Leaders of countries friendly and unfriendly to the U.S. watch and evaluate U.S. policies. They react and take initiatives on the assumptions of U.S. response. Their calculations may lead to risk-taking and unpresented behavior.

Take, for example, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s action in Cuba following the Bay of Pigs fiasco. U.S. failure to act against the Castro regime encouraged perceptions in the Kremlin leadership that they could act with impunity in Cuba and that the Kennedy administration would not react against the Soviet Union. The introduction of nuclear missiles into Cuba and the Missile Crisis of 1962 brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Threatened with a major strategic challenge the U.S. ultimately reacted decisively and forced the withdrawal of Soviet missiles.

Yet, the crisis could have been prevented had President Kennedy shown some determination to oppose the Castro regime and to forestall Soviet expansionism in the Western Hemisphere. Kennedy’s weakness or perception of weakness encouraged the Kremlin to try to change the balance of power in the world.
A weak U.S. response to the Russian takeover of Crimea seems significantly similar to the weak U.S. response during the Bay of Pigs. Putin’s incursion into Ukraine and the lack of a decisive U.S. response shows once more that there are anti-American leaders willing to take unprecedented gambles to fulfill their political ambitions. Castro and Khrushchev and now Putin belong to this group.

Russian/Iranian actions in Syria represent a major gamble based on the perception of American weakness. An initial strong and swift response now will prevent the need for a riskier response in the future.


Jaime Suchlicki is Professor and Director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami.  He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to NAFTA, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba. Prof. Suchlicki is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.