Children warm themselves around a fire in the besieged area of Homs on Jan. 27. (Thaer Al Khalidiya/Reuters)
Children warm themselves around a fire in the besieged area of Homs on Jan. 27. (Thaer Al Khalidiya/Reuters)

Critics of President Obama’s Syria policy — or what passes for one — are not surprised the Geneva talks have hit an “impasse,” according to news reports. The rebels want Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go; he refuses. Assad is more than holding his own on the battlefield. Hence, there is no diplomatic solution. Assad mocks the opposition and the West by claiming he’s the legitimately elected leader of Syria. So the conference devolves into “a setting for each side to jockey for tactical advantages back on the battlefield.”

Keep in mind that this useless exercise was, in the eyes of Secretary of State John Kerry, a credible — the only credible — way to end the conflict. That his judgment could be so badly off base tells you much about the dream world in which he and the president operate.

They refuse to recognize the obvious: Once they abandoned the rebels, allowed Russia and Iran to aid Assad and made a U-turn on a military response to the use of weapons of mass destruction, any hope of a negotiated deal in which Assad was going to leave went out the window. Kerry seems oblivious to the most basic principle of negotiations: He who gives up leverage loses.

For those congressmen and senators who inveighed against a U.S. military strike after Assad used chemical weapons, this should be a wake-up call. In order to promote U.S. interests, they must stiffen the president’s spine, not multiply the reasons for inaction. If they want foes to relent (in Damascus, Russia or Iran) they need to be the bad cop in the negotiating scenario; otherwise the United States will be ignored and mocked.

There really isn’t any doubt the United States has helped Assad. That’s the administration’s own analysis, as The Hill reports:

President Obama’s decision to call off a military strike against Syria was a good deal for Bashar Assad, the intelligence community concluded in a report released Wednesday.

The worldwide threat assessment from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Syria’s willingness to instead give up its chemical weapons “adds legitimacy” to the Assad regime. Obama signed off on the deal negotiated between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart after lawmakers balked at approving military action.

“Moscow has hailed its CW initiative in Syria as a major foreign policy accomplishment,” the report to Congress states in its section on Russia. “It positions Russia to play a major role in any future settlement of the Syrian conflict and adds legitimacy to the Syrian regime.”

In other words, the president — facilitated by anti-interventionists in Congress — made things a lot worse.

If not for the even greater disaster — Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capability — Obama’s actions on Syria would be the greatest foreign policy and humanitarian debacle since we ceded Vietnam to the communists. Syria is now overrun by jihadists. Hundreds of thousands are dead. Millions are refugees. Use of weapons of mass destruction has gone unpunished. Russia has become the most influential player in the region. Hezbollah’s hand has been strengthened, and it gained access to new weapons. Iran has been emboldened by our fecklessness.

It’s hardly unreasonable to demand an independent review of the entire mess and an accounting of what was and wasn’t done. This occurred after Sept. 11, 2001, and during the Iraq war. A Syria review is essential not only to see what could be done at this point, but to understand the enormity of the catastrophe and how we got here. The end result, we hope, would be to avoid future calamities and to make certain no one responsible for this disaster holds an influential foreign policy post in the future.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.