Fareed Zakaria chides many in the foreign policy establishment for panicking over Russian involvement in Syria:
Washington’s foreign policy elites have developed a mind-set that mistakes activity for achievement. They assume that every crisis in the world can and should be solved by a vigorous assertion of U.S. power, preferably military power. Failure to do so is passivity and produces weakness. By this logic, Russia and Iran are the new masters of the Middle East. Never mind that those countries are desperately trying to shore up a sinking ally….Iran is bleeding resources in Syria. And if Russia and Iran win, somehow, against the odds, they get Syria — which is a cauldron, not a prize.
The panic over Russian involvement in Syria has been very similar to alarmist warnings about Iranian “imperialism” that has supposedly been “on the march” across the region. Interventionists survey a region in which both Iranian and Russian influence in the region has actually been declining steadily for the last several years because of their role in Syria’s civil war and declare that these two are displacing the U.S. because of their role in Syria’s civil war. The main evidence that they have for both is that they are actively supporting the Syrian government, which is their only real ally in the entire region, and they have been forced to increase that support because that ally has lost control of large parts of its old territory. They use the main example that proves them wrong as their chief witness. As in Ukraine, Russia is declared to be “decisive” or a “winner” in Syria because it has been forced to hold on to a fraction of the influence that it used to have in the same country at a higher cost. And by “winning” in Syria this way, Russia acquires future headaches in the forms of jihadist reprisals and damaged relations with all the regional governments that want Assad gone, which is almost all of them.
Interventionists look at all this and they think, “Why couldn’t we be doing more of what they’re doing?” Of course interventionists are impressed by “decisiveness” and military action. That’s practically their entire worldview. That’s why so many of them still think invading Iraq or toppling Gaddafi was a good thing, because for whatever reason they are drawn to sudden, ill-considered, forceful action regardless of its effects. “We may not know what we’re doing, but at least we did something” might as well be their motto, and they are unhappy that the U.S. isn’t following their recommendations as often as they would like.
Obviously, some of these complaints about Russian involvement now are made in bad faith. Syria hawks wanted the U.S. to pursue regime change in Syria starting four years ago to demonstrate “leadership” and now they want to pursue the same thing because U.S. “leadership” is being “challenged” by Russia. If Russia hadn’t increased its involvement, they would say that the U.S. “must act,” and now that Russia has increased its role in the conflict they dutifully say that the U.S. “must act.” That’s one of the problems with their obsession with maintaining global “leadership”: it is a ready-made excuse to meddle in the affairs of another country no matter what the conditions are. If the U.S. doesn’t “act” (i.e., bomb and/or interfere in the conflict), it is “ceding” its “leadership” role to someone else (horrors!). If another major power backs up one of its clients in a conflict, U.S. “leadership” is supposedly being “challenged” and must be reasserted by escalating the conflict against the major power’s client. In this way, instead of attempting to secure our vital interests, interventionists turn U.S. foreign policy into a vehicle for securing a “leadership” role that is supposedly always at risk of being lost and yet somehow always there to serve as a reason to take sides in the next awful foreign civil war.