The war in Syria, started by locals, is now a regional conflict, the meeting ground of two warring blocs. On one side, the radical Shiite bloc led by Iran, which overflies Iraq to supply Bashar al-Assad and sends Hezbollah to fight for him. Behind them lies Russia, which has stationed ships offshore, provided the regime with tons of weaponry and essentially claimed Syria as a Russian protectorate.
And on the other side are the Sunni Gulf states terrified of Iranian hegemony (territorial and soon nuclear); non-Arab Turkey, now convulsed by an internal uprising; and fragile Jordan, dragged in by geography.
And behind them? No one. It's the Spanish Civil War except that only one side — the fascists — showed up. The natural ally of what began as a spontaneous, secular, liberationist uprising in Syria was the United States. For two years, it did nothing.
President Barack Obama's dodge was his chemical-weapons red line. In a conflict requiring serious statecraft, Obama chose to practice forensics instead, earnestly agonizing over whether reported poison gas attacks reached the evidentiary standards of "CSI: Miami." Obama talked "chain of custody," while Iran and Russia, hardly believing their luck, reached for regional hegemony — the ayatollahs solidifying their "Shiite crescent," Vladimir Putin seizing the opportunity to dislodge America as regional hegemon, a position the U.S. achieved four decades ago under Henry Kissinger.
And when finally forced to admit that his red line had been crossed — a "game changer," Obama had gravely warned — what did he do? Promise the rebels small arms and ammunition.
That's it? It's meaningless: The rebels are already receiving small arms from the Gulf states.
Compounding the halfheartedness, Obama transmitted his new "calculus" through his deputy national security adviser. Deputy, mind you. Obama gave 39 (or was it 42?) speeches on health care reform. How many on the regional war in Syria, in which he has now involved the United States, however uselessly? Zero.
Serious policymaking would dictate that we either do something that will alter the course of the war or do nothing. Instead, Obama has chosen to do just enough to give the appearance of having done something.
But it gets worse. Despite his commitment to steadfast inaction, Obama has been forced by events to send F-16s, Patriot missiles and a headquarters unit of the 1st Armored Division (indicating preparation for a possible "larger force," explains the Washington Post) — to Jordan.
America's most reliable Arab ally needs protection. It is threatened not just by a flood of refugees but by the rise of Iran's radical Shiite bloc with ambitions far beyond Syria, beyond even Jordan and Lebanon to Yemen, where, it was reported just Wednesday, Iran is arming and training separatists.