The nature of world politics has changed so much in the last 12 years, isn't it? In 2001, the then American President, George W Bush, and his hawkish administration had cared little before embarking on an aggressive foreign policy doctrine while pursuing a war on terrorism. Afghanistan faced a deadly retaliation a month after the 9/11 attacks while two years after, Iraq was reduced to rubble. By the time the war-monger Bush had left office, his administration had messed up things in West Asia and put the US economy in a spot.
In 2013, another American president, a Nobel Prize winner in peace, expressed his eagerness to attack another west Asian nation to teach its dictator a lesson on how to value human life. But he made a disastrous U-turn at the last moment, pushing the ball and with it the pointed figure of the anti-war protesters towards the Congress. One attack made the US target an entire geopolitical region in 2001 while it has struggled to take a unanimous decision to intervene, even on humanitarian grounds, in 2013.
The foremost reason is that the nature of international relations has changed considerably today. From the unipolar world with weak multipolar tendencies of the 1990s and early 2000s, the world today has become a strong uni-multipolar system. This democratisation of the world system has been facilitated by the USA's aggressive foreign policy postures during the reign of Bush Junior. The post-Blair United Kingdom and post-Mubarak Egypt have also left the USA with few allies to carry out its aggressive agenda, particularly in West Asia.
US finds it difficult to do today what it did in the immediate post-9/11 period
The volatile situation in West Asia has also made it an uphill task for the USA to impose its will on the region at will. The disastrous Iraq policy has eroded Washington's credibility to such an extreme that not even a Nobel-winning President can hope to win back the confidence of the region even if he expresses a genuine reason to intervene on humanitarian grounds.
The very idea of intervention in another country to save its people under attack from its own government is not beyond contest. Every sovereign country has the authority to dictate its own terms just like the USA decides when to bomb somebody and whether the tyrannical power-holders can be overthrown, depend on the people of the nation themselves, who much resolve and determination they can show. But no outside power can willfully enter and banish a regime and leave the entire nation with an uncertain future. Both Afghanistan and Iraq have faced this crisis.
The ordinary citizens of the USA have learned this harsh truth and this is also another reason why the current regime remained indecisive to launch a military strike against Syria. Far from its isolationist policy, the USA's over-engagement with world affairs had seen its ultimate consequence when the twin tours in New York City and with it the nation's traditional isolationism were razed to ground.
The impact of the horrendous incident that killed several thousands on the American psyche was so deep that the successor of George Bush Jr was looked upon as a messiah, even before he had done anything special.
'Yes, we can' looked like a instant medicine to revive a wounded nation but what is unfortunate is that the leader himself forgot the pain of his countrymen when facing an irresistible temptation to flex the military muscle. But it is too much of an ask for the White House incumbent to ignore the public opinion anymore. 'We can but we can't' seems to be the new mantra of the White House officials. Even the USA had to learn some pending lessons in democracy which is good to know.