In the five years since the inauguration of this president — who claimed to have understood the “Muslim world” (his use of the term, a misnomer, should have been the first clue he didn’t) — the Middle East has experienced a calamitous  descent into chaos, instability and mass murder. President Obama’s assertion that 10 years of war has “ended” was a cruel delusion (self-delusion, perhaps), ignoring the bloodbath in Syria, Iranian terrorism and the heyday for jihadists, which now characterize a grim portrait of the perils of American retrenchment. Obama has ended not wars, but an effective U.S. role in the region, as the mainstream media are now recognizing.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry boards a flight to Saudi Arabia at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool) Secretary of State John Kerry boards a flight to Saudi Arabia at Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan on Sunday. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Spiraling violence and advances by al Qaeda-linked fighters in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are underscoring the cost of Syria’s civil war as it increasingly spills over the country’s borders.

The rise of the Islamist forces in Iraq is particularly worrisome to the Obama administration. In response, U.S. officials said Sunday they were seeking to boost military support—though they emphasized no troops—for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to help in his campaign to push back al Qaeda. U.S. officials are also considering new military aid for Lebanon, which is plagued by rising sectarian violence.

Resurgent al Qaeda-allied forces battled Sunday in both Iraq and in neighboring Syria. Fighters in Iraq’s Anbar Province pillaged American weapons from armories after taking control of the town of Fallujah and skirmished with Iraqi government troops on the road to Baghdad, said residents and officials there.

Consider that the Iraq war was won and al-Qaeda crushed when President George W. Bush left office. Obama merely needed to perform one task to help lock in the gains achieved by thousands of dead Americans — execute a status of forces agreement. This he could not (or chose not to) do. The report continues: “This broadening instability, according to Middle East diplomats and experts, is placing the White House in a growing diplomatic quandary as its regional allies fall into competing camps amid a intensifying proxy battle between regional powerhouses Iran and Saudi Arabia.” That quandary is one of the president’s own making, the natural consequence of his notion that we could withdraw and “nation build at home” without undermining U.S. security and interests.

The administration protests too loudly and ineffectively that it does not bear responsibility for this mess. (“‘Even if we had a small number of troops in Iraq, it’s not like they should be fighting in Fallujah to deal with this issue 10 years after the U.S. invasion,’ said Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy National Security Adviser. ‘U.S. troops on the ground would not, in our judgment, make the situation better.'”) This is akin to the administration’s argument that there is nothing to be done in Syria — after nearly three years of inaction and empty words. The point of an effective American foreign policy is to influence and shape events before they spin out of control  and leave us with no viable options.

The Post reports that Secretary of State John Kerry offered nothing but empty words: “Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that the United States is ready to help Iraq in any way possible as that country began a major offensive to wrest control of two cities from al-Qaeda-linked militants. But he made it clear that no American troops would be sent in.”

Even worse, Kerry is suggesting that Iran might join Syrian peace talks in Geneva. Having backed the mass murderer Bashar al-Assad, Iran then gets invited to a diplomatic meeting to determine the outcome of its handiwork. Talk about rewarding bad behavior (not to mention sending a message on nuclear weapons that we have no will to check Iranian hegemonic ambitions in the region).

Nearly as disturbing as the disintegration of the region and the loss of gains in Iraq achieved through considerable blood and treasure is Kerry’s utter cluelessness. He is, of course, forever chasing a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, something few sober observers think is remotely possible. It may not be coincidental that his fixation on the peace process increases as his inability to affect other events becomes more acute. He says, “The path is becoming clearer. The puzzle is becoming more defined. And it is becoming much more apparent to everybody what the remaining tough choices are.” Good grief; they’ve been saying the same mush for decades.

The confusion and disarray in our Middle East policy (if we have one) are not solely Kerry’s fault. Foreign policy in this administration has been run out of the Oval Office. It is the president, whose shocking inability to understand events and determination to avoid projecting U.S. power, who is responsible for American retreat from a region that has gone from bad to horrible in five years.