Dubya gets a third term in the Middle East

In many ways we are living through George W. Bush’s third term in the Middle East, and neither President Obama’s friends nor his enemies want to admit it. President Obama, in his own way and with his own twists, continues to follow the core Bush policy of nudging and sometimes pushing nasty regimes out of power, aligning the US with the wave of popular discontent in the region even as that popular sentiment continues to dislike, suspect and reject many aspects of American power and society. And that policy continues to achieve ambivalent successes: replacing old and crustily anti-American regimes, rooted deeply in the culture of terror and violence within and beyond their borders, with weaker, more open and — on some issues at least — more accommodating ones…

The United States had very little directly to do with this deterioration in the circumstances of the dictators (though by promoting open trade and global development it did much to change the world in ways that, among other things, undermined the crude and primitive states the tyrants had built). As has so often been the case in our history, we were the beneficiaries of unplanned change.

President Obama began his administration by backing away from Bush’s Middle East policy. Increasingly, he has embraced its key elements. In some ways he plays the game significantly better than his predecessor; in others he creates his own set of problems. Nevertheless, well over half way through President Obama’s tenure in office, we can see that regime change and democracy promotion remain the basis of American strategy in the Middle East — and that force is not excluded when it comes to achieving American aims.

The victory in Libya is satisfying, but the future of Syria is the most important issue in the Middle East today.