The National Interest

Bifurcating the Middle East

There is nothing harder than making policy during a crisis, except perhaps making policy in the midst of a revolution—let alone several simultaneous revolutions. By that standard, the Obama Administration has actually done quite well. It is not that they could not have handled a number of specific issues differently, or that there are not important issues that they still have to address. Only to say that given the challenges of this situation, they deserve a lot of credit for ushering Mubarak out in Egypt, ensuring that the Egyptian military plays a constructive role (at least so far), moderating the behavior of the regimes in Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, and and making clear that the United States will not condone violence anywhere. All of this could easily have gone much worse had it not been for determined American pressure.

The biggest piece that has been missing so far, however, has been for Washington to articulate a new strategic vision for its policy toward the transformed Middle East. Understandably, the U.S. government has been very focused on tactics. Moreover, the numerous statements by administration officials addressing specific aspects of the crisis do not yet add up to a meaningful statement of overarching American policy. Such a statement is desperately needed, however, to guide all U.S. policy toward the region moving forward—to clearly delineate the transformation that the United States sees taking place and to define how Washington broadly intends to address that transformation. The U.S. government needs it, the people of the United States need it, and the people of the Middle East need it most of all.

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