The age of American impotence

Now Mr. Snowden may be on his way to Havana, or Caracas, or Quito. It’s been said often enough that this so-called transparency crusader remains free thanks to the cheek and indulgence of dictatorships and strongmen. It’s also been said that his case illustrates how little has been achieved by President Obama’s “reset” with Moscow, or with his California schmoozing of China’s Xi Jinping earlier this month.

But however the Snowden episode turns out (and don’t be surprised if the Russians wind up handing him over in exchange for an unspecified American favor), what it mainly illustrates is that we are living in an age of American impotence. The Obama administration has decided it wants out from nettlesome foreign entanglements, and now finds itself surprised that it’s running out of foreign influence.

That is the larger significance of last week’s Afghan diplomatic debacle, in which the Taliban opened an office in Doha for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”—the name Mullah Omar grandiloquently gave his regime in Kabul before its 2001 downfall. Afghan President Hamid Karzai responded by shutting down negotiations with the U.S. over post-2014 security cooperation. …

“America can’t do a damn thing against us” was a maxim of the Iranian revolution in its early days when America meant Jimmy Carter. Under President Obama, the new maxim could well be “America won’t do a damn thing.”