Barack Obama’s plainly stated dim view of American leadership in the world has run up against a cold reality: what the world looks like without it.
The president may have thought his oratory, charm and often unbecoming deference, as well as his upbraiding his country for having been “arrogant” and “dismissive,” would’ve changed the behavior of people such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. Surely it was Bush’s patriotic certitude that was the problem, right?
But a funny thing happened on the way to hitting the “reset” button with Moscow. After promising the Russians he’d have more “flexibility” in dealing with them following his re-election, perhaps even Mr. Obama now sees the depth of his naïveté. Putin is not one to be trusted or trifled with, and if he cares a whit about Mr. Obama’s charisma it’s only for the purposes of exploiting its own smug certainty.
Mr. Obama was never going to talk Mr. Putin out of Syria or his support of the despotic Assad regime, and until now – until too late – he hasn’t exhibited any stomach for using force.
Autocrats like Putin eat doubt for dinner and dithering for dessert, and Obama has served up a veritable buffet of it.
The United Nations is even more feckless, watching Russia and China veto a measure last year that would’ve tried to trim Bashar al-Assad’s sails. It was the last, best hope that Assad could be stopped by peaceful means from slaughtering his own people and throwing matches on a powder-keg region.
Some 90,000 people have died in the so-called Syrian Civil War, half of them civilians.
You might check Putin’s hands for signs of blood. Assad is Russia’s guy, but more importantly Putin will not let go of his only naval base in the Mediterranean. He has happily sacrificed 90,000 lives to keep it.
Reset button? Mr. Putin pushed it long ago. The Cold War is back on.
And at this point, Putin is having his way.
This is what arrogant and dismissive really look like. And what the world looks like with the United States at full ebb.