Jennifer Rubin accuses Obama of “losing Syria”:
Obama’s reelection objective, namely no more foreign conflicts, trumps decent policy. But the foreign conflicts don’t go away simply because we don’t participate. Instead, despots triumph, other powers (e.g. Russia) extend their influence and the United States’s credibility is eroded. Then they ask [sic], “Who lost Syria and Iran?” you’ll know the answer.
This takes the usual paranoid arguments about “losing” other countries to new depths. The old post-1949 question “who lost China?” was always somewhat stupid, but at least it was based on a reasonable view that the success of the communist side in China’s civil war was a bad outcome for the U.S. at the beginning of the Cold War. There is an entirely too casual assumption that helping to topple Assad must be good for the U.S. because it is bad for Iran. Undermining Iranian influence can’t be an end in itself, and it shouldn’t be treated in isolation from the effects of Syrian intervention on other U.S. interests. Interventionist arguments typically don’t take into account unintended consequences for regional stability, the possibility that some form of intervention could lead to renewed or intensified sectarian violence in Lebanon and Iraq, the threat that a collapsing regime might use or lose control of its arsenal of unconventional weapons, or the likelihood that “success” would mean the large-scale forcible expulsion or killing of groups that have so far remained supportive of the regime or neutral. It’s also debatable how “decent” the policy is when it entails turning Syria into even more of a war zone than it already is for the sake of knocking off an Iranian ally.
2009 protests in Iran were not an opportunity to topple the Iranian government, and even if the protesters had been interested in regime change it wouldn’t automatically follow that their success meant that the U.S. had “won” Iran. The conflict in Syria is different enough that it’s almost pointless to compare it to civil rights protests in Iran. Obviously, Syria has not been aligned with the U.S., and if its government doesn’t fall to an internal rebellion that doesn’t mean that the U.S. has “lost” Syria. Russia isn’t extending its influence; it is struggling to retain what influence it still possesses. Not intervening in Syria doesn’t erode U.S. credibility when the U.S. already said on many occasions before now that it isn’t going to intervene. Interventionists don’t like it, but that isn’t the same as eroding U.S. credibility.