The notion, advanced by more than a few commentators, that U.S. President Barack Obama is somehow responsible for such chaos emerging under his watch cannot be taken seriously. For it assumes that Washington has far more influence than it actually has on the ground in disparate, populous and complex Islamic societies. Just as the Eastern Bloc collapsed largely from internal stresses, rather than from any decisions taken by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the Arab world has evolved likewise largely on its own, not because of any decision taken by Obama. Of course, Libya was an exception: American humanitarian intervention there actually contributed to the chaos.
But couldn’t Obama have prevented chaos in Syria had he intervened there early? Perhaps, though no one will ever know. Still, the idea that somehow an American-led military intervention in Syria in 2011 would, within a few short weeks, have set that country politically to rights may itself be naive. (And a few short weeks would have been all the American public had patience for.) Ironically, in years to come, Obama may be praised by historians for precisely what he is now under attack for: staying out of Syria.