Threats from Russia fill the news these days, from hacking to military assertiveness in Syria.
It's all a product of American failure in Syria and the Obama administration's inability to stand up to Moscow, Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa program at London's Chatham House, said Friday at a conference on democracy in the Arab world.
"The U.S. basically has paved the way for Russia to become a superpower once more," Khatib said at the Arab Center Washington, DC conference. "This poses the U.S. [with] a much bigger problem because it has to do with the standing of the United States in the world."
Europe is imperiled by the Syrian civil war and resulting flood of immigrants, she said. "Europe was really waiting for the U.S. to play the lead on Syria, but Russia has sought to weaken Europe. And Brexit is a manifestation of this," Khatib said.
"The whole world order is at risk of being changed and not for the better, and the roots of this do go back to the Syrian conflict."
The U.S. missed a golden opportunity to take a leading role in Syria early on, she said, particularly when it came to Russian support for dictator Bashar al-Assad's regime and Obama's red line on chemical weapons.
President Obama declared Assad needed to go in August 2011. Visits by then U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford to anti-Assad demonstrations at the time raised hopes, but the support required never materialized.
"The U.S. failed the protesters in Syria who were longing for decent change," Khatib said.
Obama's red-line declaration – that the U.S. would take action if Assad used chemical weapons – showed Assad the U.S. was not a credible threat.
This was compounded by the Obama administration's failure to support moderate non-Islamists opposed to the Assad regime, which opened the door for Islamists to gain an upper hand.
"Russia gained confidence as a result of that, and used it as leverage in peace talks and ever since," Khatib said.
ISIS attacks around the world showed that Obama's policy of containing the terrorist group had failed.
"All of this paved the way for Russia to come into the picture and take an increasingly central role in the Syrian conflict to the degree that now no solution to the Syrian conflict can happen without Russian blessing," Khatib said.