The notion that the United States can lead from behind is pitiful, the sorry concoction of an Obama administration that mistakes dulcet passivity for a foreign policy. The view from behind now has to be awfully depressing. Where once Obama could see the gallant tails of the French, the British, the Italians and some others, there is now no one. The predictably indignant Nicolas Sarkozy has been replaced by the soullessly pragmatic Francois Hollande, who has other fish to saute. NATO’s warplanes have returned to base and Libya, a tribal society, was left to fend for itself. It has not fended all that well.

Until recent events offered a rebuke, the Obama administration treated its toe-in-the-water response to the threats uttered by Gaddafi as an unalloyed success. The dictator had been ousted (and subsequently killed), no Americans had died in the effort and the wisdom of doing as little as possible was proclaimed a sterling triumph. Had the United States taken the lead, however, someone might have been paying more attention to events there and trying to forge a government out of heavily armed militias. After all, it’s not as if all of Libya was sacking the U.S. legation; it was a well-armed few. Much of the rest of the country was appalled by what happened and the president of the national congress, Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, offered an apology and vowed to find the terrorists and, as always, bring them to justice. …

Another thing. Without U.S. leadership, nothing happens. Our allies are incapable of leading because (1) they do not have the military wherewithal, and (2) they have forgotten how. The French determination to bring Gaddafi to heel and avoid a massacre was a short-lived affair. We see what has happened in Syria. The French and British are outraged; the Turks are appalled. The Jordanians are anxious and the Saudis are indignant. Still, Bashar al-Assad remains in power because the United States will not impose a no-fly zone — and really no one else can do so. This cautious policy has resulted in many civilian deaths, a huge refugee crisis and the comfy feeling in the White House that we have ducked another quagmire. The situation may now be beyond remedy, and the chirpy forecasts that Assad is a goner are way past their pull date. Every president gets his foreign policy regret. Syria will be Obama’s.