The West’s great problem is the paralysing legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan, exacerbated by a weak economy in Europe and, in America, vicious partisan politics. Everyone knew that Western citizens were tired of fighting, but until Mr Obama and Mr Cameron asked them, nobody knew just how tired.
Now every tyrant knows that a red line set by the leader of the free world is really just a threat to ask legislators how they feel about enforcing it. Dictators will be freer to maim and murder their own people, proliferators like North Korea less scared to proceed with spreading WMD, China and Russia ever more content to test their muscles in the vacuum left by the West.
The West is not on an inexorable slide towards irrelevance. Far from it. America’s economy is recovering, and its gas boom has undermined energy-fuelled autocracies. Dictatorships are getting harder to manage: from Beijing to Riyadh, people have been talking about freedom and the rule of law. It should be a good time to uphold Western values. But when the emerging world’s aspiring democrats seek to topple tyrants, they will remember what happened in Syria. And they won’t put their faith in the West.Me: That hint of optimism at the end is appropriate, as is the surrounding pessimism. I suspect the malaise (carefully chosen word) we're now experiencing is going to help bring about a foreign policy president next time around, as I've mentioned. It might seem like libertarian non-interventionism is on the rise, but by 2016 the consequences of the current mishmash of interventionism and non-interventionism will likely make a compelling case for someone who knows what she or he is doing; and that won't be Rand Paul or Ted Cruz.