No less remarkable was the alarm over U.S. policy that Bahrain’s foreign minister expressed in October. Clearly unnerved by a deepening sense of U.S. irresolution, the Bahraini minister implored Obama to at long last push back against Iran’s repeated provocations, including an attempted plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington: “We’re asking the U.S. to stand up for its interests and draw the red lines…. How many times have you lost lives, been subject to terrorist activities, and yet we haven’t seen any proper response. This is really serious. It’s coming to your shores now.”

In private conversations I’ve had with Middle Eastern officials, the sense of unease and dread expressed are only more severe. Fairly or not, these leaders appear to have taken Obama’s measure and found him wanting. Their bill of indictment includes retreat from Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan; betrayal of longtime U.S. allies, especially Mubarak; indulgence of enemy regimes in Tehran and Damascus; overblown promises to end the Palestinian conflict; and a persistent failure to mount the type of credible military option that these leaders believe is necessary for addressing the region’s most urgent threat — Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

The hardening conviction that the U.S. is disengaging from the Middle East should be cause for real concern. The region already finds itself on the verge of a nervous breakdown, racked by revolutions, violent repression and the specter of Iranian theocrats wielding the world’s most dangerous weapons.