It was a dismal year in 2013 for the power and prestige of the United States abroad.
First came revelations about the serial security failures in Libya, which led directly to the tragic deaths of our ambassador and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012 -- and which no amount of New York Times whitewashing this past week will completely cover up.
Putin's deal will ultimately leave Syria's murderous dictator Bashar Assad in power with all the nerve gas he needs. Obama's action also led Saudi Arabia to publicly blast the U.S. as a feckless ally.
There was also Egypt, where the Obama-backed Muslim Brotherhood tried to grab control of that nation's constitution, leading to a bloody countercoup by the Egyptian military.
Obama, as usual, dithered, scolding one side and then the other. Now Obama is the one person all Egyptians can agree to despise. That’s no mean achievement in a country teetering on the brink of civil war.
Things haven't looked much better in Asia, where North Korea has continued to increase its ballistic missile capabilities, including weapons that could reach the continental U.S., and where China and Japan are now engaged in a dangerous game of retaliatory overflights in the East China Sea.
Both the Chinese and Japanese claim the mineral-rich Senkaku Islands, with the U.S. reluctantly backing Japan even as we tell all the concerned parties, in plaintive Rodney King tones, 'Gee, can’t we all just get along?'
Finally, we have the farcical deal in Geneva concerning Iran's nuclear program, which every serious observer knows is a stunning victory for the mullahs in Tehran.
They get to continue enriching uranium even as the regime of sanctions against their country slowly unravels. The Saudis are now looking to Pakistan for help in getting a bomb of their own.
Not since the 1970s has the U.S. looked so weak and forlorn, and not since the 1970s has the world looked so dangerous and uncertain. That’s not a coincidence, and everyone except Obama and his top appointees know it.
This is because Obama has yet to learn one of the important secrets about the world since 1945: However much the international community likes to condemn "U.S. imperialism" and feign outrage at our “arrogance of power” and overwhelming military might, the fact remains that it wants and expects us to take a strong, active strategic leadership role.
The world gets very nervous when the U.S. stops acting like Marshal Dillon and starts playing the Dalai Lama instead.
It's certainly our key problem in the Middle East, where Obama's “leading from behind” has done nothing but offend our long-standing allies and encourage chaos and bloodshed, including four dead Americans in Benghazi.
But it's also true in Asia, where a loose coalition of powers including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and even Vietnam are yearning for the U.S. to take the lead in hemming in China's bid for hegemony. We give them only vague promises about a “Pacific pivot."
For decades, Japanese politicians have called for the U.S. to give up its military base on Okinawa. Now, at the end of 2013, they’re begging us to stay because they sense a genuine U.S. pullout will only leave them and the rest of Asia under the Chinese boot heel.
And, of course, in Europe, the threat of a U.S. pullout and reduction of our military presence there always has politicians from Madrid to Berlin reaching for the smelling salts, even after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
They understand that without us, the European Union would just be another collection of Russian satellite states, or alternately, as the Muslim birth rate explodes in Western Europe, part of a new Islamic caliphate.
Does that mean the U.S. needs to answer every 911 call across the world, or continue to carry a global military burden when our allies are more than capable of contributing more? Of course not.
But it does mean learning, even in the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan, that the world still expects us to speak forthrightly and carry that big stick on issues vital to our interests, and those of our allies.
It will make for a safer and more stable world in 2014, and in the future.
Arthur Herman is a former visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "The Cave and The Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization." (Random House, 2013)