For many observers the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy was overly cautious, especially at a time of high turmoil and human tragedy in the region. In Libya, President Obama was derided for “leading from behind.” In Syria, his failure, after drawing a red line, to bomb Syrian poison gas arsenals was dismissed by hawkish critics on the right and inevitably by the press, too, as lacking fighting spirit.
President Obama’s acceptance of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to dismantle the Syrian chemical armory is too little remembered. Though, as we learned, it was not a complete success, it served to dispose of a significant portion of Syria’s chemical arsenal and prevented chemical attacks on civilians for more than two years. At a time when Pope Francis was leading the world in prayer for peace, it also de-escalated a conflict that appeared ready to intensify.