Participation by Russia in fighting ISIS was demanded by Obama and Kerry as some type of foreign policy power play but the results have not been what Washington hoped for. Russia not only participated but brought overwhelming force causing Washington to look even weaker. But there is even more to learn.
Russia was able to strike targets deep in Syria and Iraq without the benefit of several strategic bases or 13 years of pre-positioning. The Russian military is no longer a slow moving behemoth from the old Soviet days and in fact has show as great, if not superior, ability to use US developed tactics such as cruise missile strikes launched from ships with greater accuracy and range than American strikes.
The sheer volume of firepower brought by Russia in such a short time has secretly caused much panic amongst US military planners. US forces have grown accustomed to having the advantage when it comes to long-range deployment of forces, benefitted by the numerous bases built as part of the global war on terror.
In contrast, Russia has not built up bases yet was able to bring an astonishing amount of firepower to the war with ISIS. True, Russia is closer than the continental US but even so the range of Russian aircraft and missiles has greatly increased.
The Russian navy has undergone the most dramatic change. Instead of relying on Cold War style carrier task forces, which the US still clings to, Russia has developed state of the art cruisers with long range missiles. The range and accuracy of these missiles have surprised US military experts and has caused Navy planners to re-assess their opinions of Russian naval might.
The kinetic strikes of Russian Navy and Air Forces have been impressive but it begs the question of what else has Russia improved? Cyber and energy directed weapons are much harder to assess against an enemy such as ISIS but given the overall improvement of Russian military, it is logical to assume improvements have been made in this realm as well.
Russia has obviously repurposed their military to fight in the 21st Century while US forces seem to be stuck preparing to fight the next Desert Storm. For example, the prohibitive costs associated with the F-35 means there won't be enough tails to support any major air campaigns. The British has just discovered the staggering costs of replacing their Trident class submarines with many now calling for Britain to abandon the program all together. Nuclear deterrence just doesn't mean what it used to.
Given all of this, the current gamesmanship the US is playing with China seems unnecessarily foolhardy. China has not, as of yet, denied any sea lanes around the contested islands yet the US has sent a destroyer to "test" the Chinese resolve to enforce their claim to the islands. China, like Russia, has been building up their military as well but unlike Russia, we have not seen Chinese military technology deployed. It seems ridiculous to send a destroyer to test the resolve of China when we aren't certain what we may encounter.
Obama seems to be setting a course for the next President to have a conflict with either Russia or China (with an able assist from ISIS).