AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS – There is a monster on the Russian state coat of arms: The double-headed eagle. Traditionally, the unpleasant mutant had been watching over imperial possessions in East and West. Recently, its watch has extended to all cardinal points — not just Europe and Siberia-Pacific, but also the Arctic and the Middle East. This is not an eagle anymore; this is a cuckoo nest on steroids.
Russian expansionism cries “imperial overstretch” so loudly that the usual suspects behind any aggression, such as security concerns, struggle for resources, and consolidation at home, fail to explain it. Consider the latest strike in Syria. According to the Kremlin, in Syria it pursues two goals — first, to bomb Islamic State into the Stone Age, and second, to restore the authority of the “legitimate” regime of Bashar Assad. Neither is realistic, and both are charged with peril for the perpetrator.