Syria has also changed. Assad is no longer losing. Iran and Hezbollah have upped the ante. The insurgents seem morally compromised. Their connection with the “Arab Spring” is ancient history, and so is the Arab Spring itself. Iran is now talking directly to the American people in Putinesque fashion. Despite the mounting death toll, doing nothing in late 2013 will earn Obama far less condemnation than did doing nothing in 2011 or 2012. Syria is now either already lost, or impossible to sort out, or relegated to secondary consideration after all the diversionary talk about WMD.
So Obama’s inaction is now more attuned to political realities, here and abroad. His interventionist trial balloon exploded; the result will be that he probably won’t float one again. As far as the politics go, looking weak and confused is damaging, but perhaps not as damaging as acting weakly and confusedly, which was the likely result of an “unbelievably small” sort of “shot across the bow.”
But if Americans are relieved to let Syria be Syria, others crawled out of the woodwork at the sound of Obama’s loud empty bluster about bombing. Why the sudden Iran charm offensive, if not that the theocracy believes it can now follow Assad’s model, but by focusing on a nuclear bomb or at least the lifting of sanctions? And why is Putin suddenly in the news, as if to remind the world that he can prevent not just a reckless U.S. from doing real harm to others but, he feigns, to itself as well?
Obama is probably not too concerned with any of these worries. After all, he pulled out all the troops in Iraq, after a brilliant two-year surge that by January 2009 had led to a stable, consensual government. Apparently, such a legitimate constitutional Iraq was not as valuable to Obama as a reelection slogan that he had “ended the war” in Iraq.
Ditto Afghanistan. The once good war that candidate Obama promised to win is pretty bad; for Obama, leaving Afghanistan seems far more important than saving it. Again, “Bush did it” is all ye need to know about the looming defeat. Let us hope the Taliban does not play the role of the North Vietnamese in 1975. (How will there be boat people, with no boats and water? Airlifts to mountaintops for mountain people? Beheadings in lieu of reeducation camps?)
Who, Obama assumes, cares what Libya has become? “We came, we saw, [Gaddafi] died,” Hillary chuckled, as if she had been Caesar on a white horse at Zela taking out Pharnaces II of Pontus.
So what difference at this point does it make? Who, Obama assumes, cares about what happened later in places like Benghazi or the current status of events on the ground in Tripoli? Like the stuff with the Russians and Assad, to the extent these are even problems, they exist down the line for someone else. If Obama retired early during the Noche Triste in Benghazi and played 15 rounds of cards with Reggie Love on the night of the Osama bin Laden hit (“I’m not, I’m not going to be down there, I can’t watch this entire thing”), why would he get too worked up about Syria?