His approach in the Middle East was simple, even elegant, says Walter Russell Mead in a trenchant analysis in The Wall Street Journal. The president's policy was well-intentioned, carefully crafted, consistently pursued, and a colossal failure. "The U.S would work with moderate Islamist groups like Turkey's AK Party and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to make the Middle East more democratic," he argues. "This would kill three birds with one stone."
This would narrow the gap between the "moderate middle" of the Muslim world (such as it might be) and demonstrate how peaceful, moderate parties can achieve results and isolate terrorists and radicals. The democratic gains that would be achieved would improve economic and social conditions to the point of reducing the appeal of fanaticism that drives people into terrorist camps. It seemed so simple.
The clarity of hindsight exposes many errors in the president's thinking about the world and America's place in it, but no error is so clear now as his refusal to aid the Syrian rebels before their ranks were swollen with radicals and terrorists nobody can trust. The cost in human life from chemical warfare rather than politics inevitably drives us toward getting an involved, unhappy result. Though that may be, many of the rebels are neither friendly nor inclined to learn democracy. The president in failing to win what once appeared to be an easy victory over a dictator backed by Russia and Iran now looks weak and uncertain. President Vladimir Putin in Russia and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran are entitled, from the evidence the president himself furnished, to think Obama is dithering, indecisive and irresolute. We can expect them to act accordingly.
But if an Assad victory would be awful, a rebel triumph might eventually be worse. In the sixth year of his presidential odyssey, Obama is poised to sail through Scylla and Charybdis, anarchy and despotism. Rough seas lie ahead.