The slow American withdrawal from world affairs has been apparent for a long time, but has never been so glaringly evident as this week in the Middle East.
Hamas is at war with Israel, the brutal struggle in Syria frustrates the world, the terrorists of ISIS are making serious progress in Iraq — and now another attempt to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons has, so far, been thwarted.
The United States has a position of sorts in each of these arenas, but it’s not powerful in any of them. American influence has faded.
The world’s governments no longer worry as much as they once did about what Washington wants, partly because Washington doesn’t know what it wants. U.S. policy has become erratic and half-hearted, subject to arbitrary change without notice.
Barack Obama, who apparently distrusts American power, personifies this approach. He moves capriciously from subject to subject. One week he’s furious about Syria and announces that Bashar al-Assad has to go. When Assad doesn’t go, Obama loses interest. He seems always to be making a fresh start. When he’s not doing that, he’s “pivoting,” shifting his interest from one continent to another. He seems detached much of the time, then committed, then detached again.
On Libya, for instance, Obama opposed taking part in the UN strike to oust Muammar Gaddafi. Then suddenly he decided to join the French and other participants. The American bombs he sent became the key to destroying Gaddafi and his reign, but Obama claimed America had played only a peripheral role.
An Obama adviser famously described Libya as a new model for American intervention, “leading from behind.” Whatever it was, the allies didn’t follow through and Libya was left in chaos. Terrorists gratefully inherited a huge cache of weapons.