Another View -- Fred Hiatt: Disengage from the world, and this is what happens
• All U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq. Whether this was at the insistence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as Obama’s defenders argue, or because Obama offered so few troops, and so half-heartedly, that Maliki was bound to reject the offer matters less than this: Obama was content with the zero option and, as he made clear at the time, sanguine about Iraq’s prospects without a U.S. presence.
• Obama declared that Assad, in gassing 1,400 civilians to death, had violated civilized norms and crossed his, Obama’s, red line. He asked for congressional approval for a military response; then he shelved that request in favor of a deal, brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, for Assad to hand over his chemical arsenal.
Obama’s determination to gear down in Europe and the Middle East, regardless of circumstances, guaranteed that the United States would not respond strategically to new opportunities (the Arab Spring) or dangers (Putin’s determination to redraw the map of Europe). When ordinary citizens in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world unexpectedly began agitating for democracy, the West might have responded as it did after World War II (with the Marshall Plan) or the fall of the Berlin Wall (with a commitment to a Europe whole and free). If the United States had taken the lead, Europe and America together could have offered trade, investment, exchange and cultural opportunities to help bring the region into the modern, democratic world.But for Obama the tumult in Egypt and elsewhere was a distraction, not a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The West responded timidly and inconsistently, and the moment was lost.
Syria did hand over the chemical weapons Assad acknowledged possessing, but the dictator was strengthened in the transaction. Even in Asia, the supposed pivot notwithstanding, allied leaders express doubts about U.S. commitment — and the reason they cite most often is Obama’s retreat from his red line in Syria.
Even with different U.S. policies, the Arab Spring might have fizzled and the Iraqi army might have crumbled. No one can say for sure what would have happened if the United States had not signaled its exhaustion with foreign affairs, downgraded its interest in Europe and the Middle East, abandoned Iraq and stayed aloof from Syria.
Fred Hiatt is editorial page editor of The Washington Post.
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