Four reasons why Obama's critics on Syria have it wrong

Critics who say Obama lost foreign-policy ground to Russia, Assad, and Putin on the Syria crisis have it just plain wrong. Here are four reasons why the critics are mistaken.

3. Not see that diplomacy reinforces American power, not decline

The critics wrongly concluded that diplomacy over chemical weapons in Syria just reinforces American decline. Their biggest error is a profound misreading of power. Power is not absolute but shifts according to conflicts, interests, and public opinion. Moreover, the use of military force itself is not linear or black and white, and is significantly affected by strategy, the nature of a conflict, the training and equipping of military forces, and the political character and aims of the governments involved.

For example, the United States was unable to win militarily in Korea in 1950. This was the case even when it was the only country in the world with usable nuclear weapons, China was prostrate after decades of war and revolution, and the Soviet Union was still gravely wounded by World War II. The US also failed to win in Vietnam from 1964-1973. What conclusions could be drawn from these defeats?

At the time, some – including the Soviet government – concluded that the US was about to be surpassed by the USSR. In fact, what happened over the next two decades was quite different from this prediction: China essentially abandoned communism, and the Soviet Union collapsed. While this was happening, the United States began to overcome its racist legacy and oppression of women and minorities, its economy grew vastly richer, and Americans grew wealthier than ever before in their history. Some decline!

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