Strategic Horizons: Syria and the Road to American Retrenchment

The extent of history-altering decisions often isn’t evident until after the fact. Who could have guessed, for instance, that George H.W. Bush's decision to oppose Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 would lead the United States into a global war with al-Qaida and a second, even costlier conflict in Iraq? On rare occasions, though, the importance of a decision is apparent even before it is made with finality—the big picture clearly lurking behind the closer, more immediate one.

Deciding whether to attack Syria's Assad regime for the large-scale use of chemical weapons against civilians is just such a choice, one imbued with symbolism that exceeds its immediate impact and puts its long-term importance in clear view. There may be no epiphanies on this road to Damascus, but there are vital indicators of America's future, signaling whether the nation seeks strategic retrenchment or to sustain its global leadership as long as possible.

Syria is a "wicked" problem with no good options. The Obama administration feels compelled to punish the Assad regime for what are widely seen as unconscionable actions. Today, when every cell phone is a video camera with global access, the depth of Bashar al-Assad's wickedness is shockingly obvious to everyone except Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. But Washington does not want its punishment of Assad to help extremists affiliated with al-Qaida control all or part of Syria, and thus the Obama administration is walking a very thin line.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.