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Strategic Gambles: The Diplomatic Stakes of American Retrenchment

Nikolas Gvosdev Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013

In early September, the U.S. executed a stunning volte-face in its declared policy on dealing with the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. Backing away from enforcing a self-imposed presidential “red line” with an already announced military intervention, Washington instead embraced a Russian-developed diplomatic plan that turns Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from a military target into an essential partner in ridding Syria of its WMD stockpiles. The reversal may not have marked “the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began,” as one retired British diplomat saw it, but the shift definitely raised questions in world capitals about the reliability of U.S. statements and commitments.

Exactly one month later, another disturbing picture was released to the world: The official portrait of the Asia-Pacific Summit bleakly highlighted the fact that the U.S. president was absent to deal with a political crisis at home that had literally shut down the government and called into question America’s ability to pay its bills and meet its commitments. The absence of President Barack Obama allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping to take center stage, with the U.S. secretary of state relegated, quite literally, to the sidelines. ...

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