For a year now, the people of Syria have been in the midst of a heroic struggle against a tyrannical regime, but no American help has come their way. Moral considerations aside, Syria is now a strategic battleground, a place where Iranian power challenges, by proxy, the moderate order of nations in the region. For three decades, the Iranian radical theocracy has waged campaigns of terror away from its soil.
In Syria, the mullahs are determined to prevail in the face of the moderate Arabs and Western democracies. Much of the order of the region hangs in the balance. Were the Iranian bid for regional hegemony to be broken in Syria, the Middle East would change for the better.
As the noted scholar of strategy Charles Hill put it, Syria is the ideal place to rattle the turbans. Were the Assad regime to bite the dust, the stranglehold of Hezbollah over Lebanon would come to an end. In "the East" there is that age-old instinct for reading the wind and riding with the victor.
It had taken some five months for President Obama to call on Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power, but once that call was made we were reduced to mere spectators of the Syrian calamity. We exaggerated the might of the Assad killing machine, belittled the opposition, and doubting their purpose and cohesiveness, refrained from arming the defectors.
American intelligence and policy statements could never get it right: Assad was, alternately, a dead man walking or firmly in the saddle. When a measure of ambiguity about American intentions could have aided the Syrian rebellion, the Pentagon and State Department went out of their way to reassure the despot in Damascus that there was nothing to worry about in Washington. No wonder the suspicion has grown that the Obama administration is content to see Assad ride out the storm.
From this great contest, the administration wishes to be spared. Were Assad to fall, the claim could be made that the Obama wisdom had been vindicated, that an "organic" Arab rebellion had prevailed. In the meantime, the agony of Homs and Hama, the popular upheaval against a monstrous tyranny, is left untended.
Mr. Obama has never owned up to the fact that the cruel regimes in Tehran and Damascus were the ones he had been eager to court at the dawn of his presidency. Read the Wikileaks from Damascus in early 2009-they are full of false hope that the olive branch extended to the Damascus dictatorship had altered its ways.
History is perhaps forgiving nowadays, the Syrian rebellion could be crushed without Mr. Obama paying an appreciable political price. It is a sad truth that the president has become the embodiment, and the instrument, of our retreat from distant shores-and concerns. He trades away strategic American assets in the hope that the American people will not care or notice. On the face of it, he exudes a sublime confidence that the world could be held at bay-at least until November, past that last election.