The Obama administration, in finger-in-the-wind fashion, urged pro-American authoritarians in Egypt and Tunisia to leave — but only belatedly and only when it appeared that the protesters would probably win. In the aftermath, the Obama administration still has little notion who the successors will be, or what their agenda is, or whether they will be better than what they replaced. Most likely, the United States now suffers the worst of both worlds: looking weak and opportunistic in withdrawing support from former American allies, while not receiving much credit from the protesters because of the absence of early principled support. If the Muslim Brotherhood assumes de facto power in Egypt, opens another front against Israel, and serves as the Sunni bookend to Shiite theocratic Iran, then we may witness the worst geopolitical calamity since the fall of pro-American Iran, or indeed the Communist takeover of China.
In fact, the entire American response to unrest in the Muslim world is ad hoc, reactionary, and often contradictory — apparently favoring government repression of rebels in the Gulf while intervening to stop such crackdowns in Libya but not elsewhere; pressuring pro-American tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt, while carefully not antagonizing anti-American tyrants in Iran and Syria; declaring support for human rights and transparency in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, while ignoring these values altogether in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. In eerie fashion, the less the Obama administration seems to know about the complexities of the serial unrest, the more it jumps in with blunderbuss sermonizing. We treat restraint from our allies with contempt, and excess from our enemies with an odd sort of deference. One sees the Carter world of 1979 and awaits only the oil crisis — and then shrugs that $5-a-gallon gas may be on the way to finish the parallel.
While Obama, the anti-war Nobel Peace laureate, was inaugurating a new war in the Middle East — simultaneously with not one but two other conflicts — back on the home front, the U.S. is running a $1.6 trillion budget deficit. Politically, Obama has retrospectively exposed the anti-war movement between 2003 and 2009 as partisan rather than principled. The Left is now as quiet about Barack Obama’s preemptive war without congressional approval — against an Arab Muslim oil-exporting nation run by a madman who was at the time being courted by intellectuals, academics, and sympathetic American politicians — as it was not long ago incensed about George Bush’s preemptive war with congressional approval — against an Arab Muslim oil-exporting nation run by a madman who was at the time ostracized by the world and condemned by several U.N. resolutions.
No one knows what the Middle East will look like in two years. We know only that Barack Obama seems to be scrambling to adopt many of the policies of his predecessor against whom he used to define his own entire reset diplomacy. And yet when he is not copying his predecessor, the ensuing chaos earns him a far worse charge than hypocrisy.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.