Why are there no good choices? From Crimea to North Korea, from Syria to Egypt, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, America apparently has no good options. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, Russia owns Crimea and all we can do is sanction and disinvite -- and wring our hands.
Iran is following North Korea's nuclear path, but it seems that we can only entreat Iran to sign the same kind of agreement North Korea once signed, undoubtedly with the same result.
Our tough talk about a red line in Syria prompted Vladimir Putin's sleight of hand, leaving the chemicals and killings much as they were. We say Bashar Assad must go, but aligning with his al Qaeda-backed opposition is an unacceptable option.
And how can it be that Iraq and Afghanistan each refused to sign the status-of-forces agreement with us -- with the very nation that shed the blood of thousands of our bravest for them?
Why, across the world, are America's hands so tied?
A large part of the answer is our leader's terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, "a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."
When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community -- and to the White House -- that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more. That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.
Months before the rebellion began in Syria in 2011, a foreign leader I met with predicted that Assad would soon fall from power. Surely the White House saw what this observer saw. As the rebellion erupted, the time was ripe for us to bring together moderate leaders who would have been easy enough for us to identify, to assure the Alawites that they would have a future post-Assad, and to see that the rebels were well armed.
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