Hannah's critique -- the first of many, I suppose, in the renewed "who lost Syria" debate -- is somewhat overwrought. That is perhaps consistent with the understandable and emotional urge to have prevented the thousands of lost lives, undermine Iran, and reverse America's declining relevance in the Middle East -- the most common knock on the president's foreign policy.
But it's no substitute for a workable plan. The critique really does lack context: Hannah blames the White House for "put[ting] its faith in Vladimir Putin" and engaging in the "indulgence" of U.N. diplomacy, but nobody I know in the administration ever believed that these steps would actually solve this thing.
There were never any good or easy options in Syria. All involved risk, and there was no guarantee any U.S. moves would stop what became a civil war -- or even ameliorate the situation. What's more, they all held the very real prospect of a slippery slope into military intervention, as failed half-measures would have required additional steps to preserve U.S. credibility.
Nor did our supposed allies in the region -- the Turks in particular -- seem particularly interested in a muscular response. (Turkey was always ambivalent about a more active policy, including a no-fly zone. That it's taken the Turks this long to request Patriot missiles from NATO -- for defensive purposes only -- reflects that ambivalence.) Iraqis worked actively against us, and the Israelis rightly watched from the sidelines. We sell sophisticated aircraft to the Saudis and others -- where were they when it came to organizing a coordinated Arab military response? I think I know the answer.
Let's face the facts: The United States can't determine the outcome in Syria -- at least not at a cost that makes any sense. Syria isn't Libya, where Muammar al-Qaddafi's weakness, along with regional and international circumstances, made an effective and relatively-cost free NATO intervention possible. It also isn't Egypt, where, even though we send a billion dollars plus a year to Cairo and enjoy a long relationship with the Egyptian military, we can't seem to influence the course of its political future.
And thank God it isn't Afghanistan or Iraq where, despite years of effort, billions of dollars, and thousands of lives lost, we have not achieved anything commensurate to the level of the sacrifice.
Yes, Syria is important. But like the Arab Spring itself, it was never ours to win or lose. We may yet be drawn in, but our caution and reserve there -- given its complexities, the limitations of our leverage, and our own priorities -- was warranted. We aren't the world's top cop nor its primary case worker. And it's about time we realized it.