Robert Kagan has written a very thoughtful analysis in the Wall Street Journal about the choices and conundrums confronting President Obama - and, for that matter, his successor - in the Middle East. Here's an excerpt.
For several years, President Barack Obama has operated under a set of assumptions about the Middle East: First, there could be no return of U.S. ground troops in sizable numbers to the region; and second, undergirding the first, the U.S. has no interests in the region great enough to justify such a renewed commitment. The crises in the Middle East could be kept localized. There might be bloodshed and violence—even mass killing, in Syria and Libya and elsewhere, and some instability in Iraq—but the fighting, and its consequences, could be contained. The core elements of the world order would not be affected, and America’s own interests would not be directly threatened so long as good intelligence and well-placed drone strikes prevented terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Even Islamic State could be “degraded” and “contained” over time.
These assumptions could have been right—other conflicts in the Middle East have remained local—but they have proven to be wrong ... The multisided war in the Middle East has now ceased to be a strictly Middle Eastern problem. It has become a European problem as well ... The horrific attacks in Paris, likely organized and directed by Islamic State from its base in Syria, and the prospect of more such attacks, threaten the cohesion of Europe, and with it the cohesion of the trans-Atlantic community, or what used to be known as the West. The crisis on the periphery, in short, has now spilled over into the core.
. . .
Where does the U.S. fit into all this? The Europeans no longer know, any more than American allies in the Middle East do. Most Europeans still like Mr. Obama. After President George W. Bush and the Iraq war, Europeans have gotten the kind of American president they wanted. But in the current crisis, this new, more restrained and intensely cautious post-Iraq America has less to offer than the old superpower, with all its arrogance and belligerence.
. . .
Americans remain paralyzed by Iraq, Republicans almost as much as Democrats, and Mr. Obama is both the political beneficiary and the living symbol of this paralysis. Whether he has the desire or capacity to adjust to changing circumstances is an open question. Other presidents have—from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton—each of whom was forced to recalibrate what the loss or fracturing of Europe would mean to American interests. In Mr. Obama’s case, however, such a late-in-the-game recalculation seems less likely. He may be the first president since the end of World War II who simply doesn’t care what happens to Europe.
If so, it is, again, a great irony for Europe, and perhaps a tragic one. Having excoriated the U.S. for invading Iraq, Europeans played no small part in bringing on the crisis of confidence and conscience that today prevents Americans from doing what may be necessary to meet the Middle Eastern crisis that has Europe reeling.
There's more at the link. Go read the whole thing. It's worth it.
There's another aspect that Mr. Kagan hasn't mentioned, one that worries me very much. President Obama has alienated most, if not all, of America's former allies in the region. For example, in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia is no longer even bothering to consult with or inform the USA about actions it proposes to take in the region. It's simply doing, rather than talking. Israel regards the Obama administration as being at least hostile to its interests, if not actually an enemy (in the political and diplomatic sense, at least). No-one in the Middle East trusts America any more . . . and one can hardly blame them.
That reality is going to be ruinous for any future prospects of US engagement, involvement or intervention. It'll take a monumental effort to regain the trust of the powers, polities and parties in the region. Even if we succeed, they'll always have in the back of their minds the fear that another Obama might be elected and undo all that his successors may have achieved.