Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
Wishful thinking is the essence of Barack Obama’s Syria policy. In lieu of decisive action, the president opted for brave words. He has drawn red lines that he wasn’t willing to enforce. With no strategic interests at stake, he saw no reason to expend resources on mere humanitarian concerns. In an explicit break with the past decade’s neoconservative interventionism, he has chosen a policy of “realist” restraint.
This amoral policy of malleable principles and unsentimental reserve should warm the heart of any “realist.” But a recent issue of The New York Timescarries a curious indictment by two luminaries of the “realist” school: Stephen Walt of Harvard and Gordon Adams of the American University. The authors deride Obama for basing his Syria policy on a wish and a prayer: “A wish that President Bashar al-Assad would leave and a prayer that the ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition would be more than it is.”
It would be brave for “realists” to admit that their prescriptions yielded a disaster: absent a deterrent, Assad bombed his opponents with impunity; the repression and slaughter precipitated a mass exodus; and with the US a mere spectator, Russia and Iran stepped in to shore up their ally. Meanwhile ISIS remains entrenched and blowback has reached Western capitals.
But “realists,” like their neoconservative counterparts, rarely admit error. They can, however, be relied upon to compound mistakes.
Walt and Adams are not concerned that Obama’s actions failed to match his rhetoric; their concern is that his words failed to live down to his inaction. They seem unsure, however, whether Obama is a dithering Hamlet or an intransigent Coriolanus.