A number of opponents of U.S. intervention in Syria, either by arming non-jihadi rebels or by taking action ourselves, disclaimed any interest the United States might have in Syria. However, when Vladimir Putin stepped in to fill the void (thereby rescuing the dictator our president said must go and preventing any negative consequences for WMD use) these same opponents decried President Obama’s willingness to cede influence to the Russians. Well, they can’t have it both ways.
And this is the dilemma that true isolationists and rhetorical internationalists (who nevertheless opposed Syrian action and whose rhetoric is entirely divorced from their votes) must face up to. It was their conviction that the United States had no interest in Damascus and could take no action. When the United States does not do exert influence bad actors fill the vacuum. That is the lesson Obama and anti-interventionists from the left and right never fully learn. We have a huge Russia problem and a broader issue of credibility because we did not bother to assert ourselves.
Forget for a moment the effect on Iran. Forget that despots around the globe now look at the United States with a mixture of delight and contempt. Forget that we have encouraged every country in the Middle East to start arming themselves and running their own strategies independent of or in conflict with the United States. Look what the president has created in Syria itself:
He has retreated on his call that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go.
He has failed to prevent or deter further use of WMD’s.
He has shown Syrians that it is better to have Saudi Arabia and Qatar (which arm the jihadis) or Russia and Iran (which arm Assad) as allies than the Americans. The canard that we don’t care about the fate of Muslims is given new weight.
He has tolerated the arming of Hezbollah in violation of U.N. resolutions and opened the possibility that these terrorists will have access to WMD’s. They pose a greater threat to Israel than ever before.
He has allowed Putin to get the better of us.
It’s a shabby and humiliating defeat on many levels. But frankly, the anti-interventionists on the right and left didn’t want to arm the non-jihadi rebels or intervene ourselves. Their preferred course of conduct would have led us to exactly the same fix in which we now find ourselves.
Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies counsels: “Even with a policeman, the world will not be crime-free, nor will all criminals be brought to justice. But a world in which even the most fundamental laws go unenforced will soon devolve into a Hobbesian state of nature — a jungle. Actually, it will be worse than that — because, while those battling the West will commit the most terrible atrocities with impunity, enormous pressure will be exerted to force America, Israel, and other targeted nations to fight under Marquess of Queensberry rules.” Welcome to the post-American world.
In short, if the American people are aghast and dismayed that the Russians have pushed us aside and that the United States is being marginalized in the world, they’d better choose leadership that will put us on a different path. Trading one incompetent non-interventionist president for another is not a formula for success.