How did this come to pass? How did it happen that adversaries like Iran and Syria are able to shape US strategy, so that we have failed to win in Iraq and will fail in Afghanistan and have deterred ourselves from taking action against the Iranian nuclear program, and have jammed up our strategic alliance with Israel? It is because American leadership of the last two administrations failed to act against those states that have attacked our troops, allies and interests. We did we not win in Iraq because states like Syria and Iran did not pay a price for the acts of force they used to shape political effects to their own advantage; when we failed to do so we abandoned our Middle East policy to the mercy of our enemies, who, as we are repeatedly told, can ruin Iraq and Afghanistan whenever they decide to take off their gloves. We did not win because our leadership, abetted by Washington policy intellectuals, is more interested in political effects in Washington than strategic victories in the Middle East. Seen in this light, the only American victory in the region is a pyrrhic one, the bitter harvest of which we may well be reaping for many years to come.
(There’s more commentary at Belmont Club.)
Smith’s argument applies also to some extent to our dealings with North Korea, where China and North Korea have used our reluctance to confront the Kim regime to control us.
Bush erred by not bringing the war directly to the Syrian and Iranian regimes. Maybe he thought we were stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan or that he couldn’t pull it off politically, or maybe it was a failure of vision. Either way we are going to pay for this mistake by continuing to suffer Iranian-backed attacks on our forces, or in a future war with Iran or its proxies, or by being forced to accommodate a resurgent Iranian empire armed with nuclear weapons. Obama is compounding the error by doing nothing and pretending that everything will be OK if we pull the covers over our heads. Sitting back while gangster regimes arm up, or (at best) attempting to delegate our defense to third parties whose interests do not entirely overlap ours is going to get us attacked, repeatedly, until we decide to confront our enemies and make them pay a price for their aggressions.