Obama's predecessor George W Bush and his hawkish administration were ‘believers' in democracy messed up in Iraq a decade ago, financially hurting his own country. The pre-emptive foreign policy of Washington did not care for the international law and with the backing of countries like the UK and Australia and regional powers like Israel, left Iraq, its one-time ally in West Asia in the ruins. Two years before that, it also decimated Afghanistan as a retaliation against the 9/11 attacks.
Late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was the target in the Afghanistan attack while dictator Saddam Hussein, who was executed later, was the target of the Iraq invasion. It was said that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction under him and hence he needed to be overthrown. Nothing of that sort was found, though.
Then why Obama, who has appointed some conservatives in top posts during his second stint as the president, refused to undertake another military adventure with an apparent aim of strengthening the American position in West Asia? How will his U-turn affect Washington's stand on the region?
First, Obama might have been discouraged by the humiliating loss of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron in garnering a democratic support for the military mission against Syria. Unlike Bush who had Blair, Obama would have been left without the support of the most-trusted ally.
The USA's move of announcing a pro-strike stand only to retreat could be a blunder.
France, however, has shown its willingness to back a military attack, something which had not done during the Iraq war, which suggests that the French leadership is trying to re-engage with international diplomacy. Previous French president Nikolas Sarkozy took great interest in routing the forces of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi while the current incumbent, Francois Hollande, sent his forces to Mali to push back Islamic militants and now, is looking to take on Syria, the former French colony. But given the bitter ‘freedom fries' experience of the past, has Paris yet succeeded to replace London as Washington's closest ally?
Secondly, the messy state of affairs in Egypt might have also left the USA in doubt. Egypt has always played the role of a balancer in West Asian affairs but after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the country has run into deep domestic crisis in the wake of a futile experimentation with democracy.
Thirdly, a military adventure in Syria could jeopardise the Obama administration's effort to divert Washington's foreign policy focus from West Asia to South-East Asia. The Obama administration has decided to pull out its forces from Afghanistan by the end of the next year, a decision which has earned praise but opening a new front in Syria now could spell disaster for the president, who is leading a nation that has been hurt by meltdown and expensive wars.
The US, after leading two successive wars in Asia, has actually lost its moral high ground today and even a genuinely humanitarian intervention will not convince its critics across the globe.
Fourthly, the intervention in Syria as a reaction against chemical weapons attack would have invited massive criticism for the American decision-makers. For the USA's moral policing is warranted by many, particularly when history shows that it did not intervene when its ally Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980s and also that the Americans had used such weapons in Falluja in Iraq in 2004.
Finally, the US has not succeeded to tackle Iran, a close ally of Syria, on the question of nuclear programme on the expected lines and ‘talk to Iran, attack Syria' policy could lead to nowhere. The involvement of Russia and China factors could also tilt the balance more against the USA in case a military intervention in Syria bore little fruit. In brief, the Americans can not afford to leave the complicated situation in West Asia in a bigger mess. Obama, perhaps, understood that.
But Obama committed a blunder by expressing his intent to attack Syria and then deciding to stop. This could lead to a number of problems:
A. The delay will only bolster the tyrannical Assad regime and baffle the American establishment. It will also give the Syrian forces that much extra time to prepare for counter-offensives and reduce the USA's lead.
B. Israel could feel that the Americans betrayed their cause. What could be more dangerous is that Israel might intensify its radical stand vis-à-vis its adversaries in the region from here on, raising the chances of a full-blown war. It will also put other allies of the USA in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and the UAE in a spot of bother.
C. Iran could see a potential diplomatic victory in the USA's indecision and provoke the west by choking the oil traffic passing through the strategic Hormuz Straits. This could escalate into another tension in the volatile region. Soon, the Shia factor could get involved, deteriorating the situation.
D. Russia could take a great opportunity to put counter-pressure on the USA, particularly after the recent fall-out over Edward Snowden. Moscow could push Syria in an effort to avenge Obama's stern stand on Snowden and end up gaining a strong grip in the oil-rich West Asia.
E. Terrorist outfits active in these areas could gear up for more attacks against the US establishments in the region.