There are many adjectives that might aptly describe the Obama administration’s Syria policy, but “coherent” is not among them. The administration’s desperation to avoid involving the U.S. military in another ground conflict in the Middle East has become a cautionary tale about the nightmarish wages of an ideological commitment to non-interventionism regardless of strategic imperatives. Today, the complex web of combatants all fighting one another inside the Syrian cauldron is characterized by more than one U.S.-backed party fighting the other. Washington’s fecklessness long ago led America’s allies in this region to question their reflexive deference to the United States. Now, worryingly, America’s Middle Eastern allies are taking matters into their own hands.

Even as the Pentagon was releasing statements applauding its ally Turkey for engaging in a military incursion into Northern Syria, NATO allies were reportedly at odds over Ankara’s latest action and the reasoning behind it. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials were skeptical of a proposed Turkish-led military operation and were taken off guard when Turkey pulled the trigger. The apprehension of American officials seems warranted today as Turkey’s mission was clearly less aimed at attacking a weakened ISIS as it was designed to prevent U.S.-backed Kurdish forces from marching west of the Euphrates.

As Kurdish forces began to move on a depleted ISIS occupying militia near the Turkish border, Ankara reportedly began to press for kinetic U.S. assistance in long-delayed operation to press on the Syrian town of Jarablus. The White House sought to stall by requesting additional information, which military officials told the Journal amounted to a diplomatic rejection of the proposed joint U.S.-Turkish operation inside Syria. The White House clearly overestimated the value of American consent. “Turkey launched its offensive without giving officials in Washington advanced warning,” the Journal reported. “The proposal never reached President Barack Obama’s desk, according to a senior administration official.”

If this all sounds a little familiar, it should. That same sense of shock overcame American officials following the news that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates had undertaken airstrikes on Islamist targets in Libya as radical militia members began to surround Tripoli in late 2014. “Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation,” the New York Times reported, “in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.”

The Pentagon never warmed to the prospect of Sunni Arab regional coalitions executing combat operations without the guidance or even consent of the United States even if their targets were ISIS affiliates in North Africa. These are the earliest rumblings of regional hegemonies carving out unstable spheres of influence from the vacuum left behind by the United States following withdrawal from Iraq. Egypt’s incursion into Libya was followed by Saudi Arabia’s incursion into Yemen after the Iran-backed Houthi militia sacked that country’s capital. Iran is orchestrating intervention inside Iraq, fueling the sectarian tension that tor the country apart in the last decade. And Turkey has this month joined the United States and Russia in Syria, all of whom are operating on the ground and in the skies shooting at the other’s proxies.

This is the stuff of nightmares for international relations theorists who lay awake at night fearing the prospect of renewed great power conflicts. As America’s prohibitive power recedes, those seem more and more to be well founded fears. These developments reflect the extent to which the Obama administration was successful in relegating the United States to “just another power” status.

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