Amid the daily reports of clashes and killings in Syria, a subtler message is emerging: America is increasingly irrelevant.
Inside Syria, opposition fighters complain that the United States is doing little to help them, according to intrepid reporting by correspondents for Reuters, the New York Times and Foreign Affairs. Instead, funds and arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia are turning jihadists into a growing presence. Among international observers, Washington is seen as insignificant.
“On the ground, really, this administration has been essentially irrelevant, locked into its own perpetual debate on what to say and what to do,” said Peter Harling, Syria analyst for the International Crisis Group. “I think generally this administration in the Arab Spring has spent a huge amount of time trying to analyze events instead of shaping them.”
Those comments, of course, may thrill many Americans — and White House staffers. In the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans want nothing more than to get out of the Middle East. One of Obama’s primary pitches to voters this year is that he gets America out of foreign entanglements, not into them.
There are ways, though, to aid the Syrian opposition without becoming militarily entangled. One of the many tragedies of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is that they distort our views of how we can have influence in the region. Our options go far beyond whether to bomb or not to bomb.