Obama's new war czar: Vladimir Putin

All of this fits with Russia’s broader interest, which is about building influence far beyond Syria. The message of this intervention is to show that America is dithering and uninterested and won’t act to tip the balance of any conflict or contest. But Russia will. So if you’re considering who should be your ally, the Russians are a better bet. Like I said, we’re back to playing by the old Cold War rules. And we’re losing.

This debacle is about more than just the administration’s indecisiveness or incompetence. President Obama was brought up, literally at his mother’s knee, with tales about American intervention and imperialism as the cause of all problems in the world, which will be solved if we stop being such bullies and disengage. As an anti-Vietnam War protester, John Kerry made that worldview the foundation of his political career. So the dismantling of America’s global influence is an ideological goal of this administration.

But the lesson of the last wave of anti-imperialism—the dissolution of the British Empire in the middle of the 20th Century—is that when one major power stampedes precipitously toward the exits, it often just creates an opportunity for another, less benevolent power to take its place.