Even the military involvement in Libya last year was done in spite of Obama’s manifest misgivings. The president allowed himself to be dragged into the conflict because he did not want to be accused of allowing a massacre in Benghazi. As in Egypt a few weeks earlier, the U.S. seemed to be caught off guard, propelled by events largely outside its control, for which it seemed inadequately prepared.

Most of the pillars sustaining American involvement in the Middle East since the end of World War II have collapsed. The relationship with Saudi Arabia has been severely shaken during Obama’s term. Egypt has entered a new phase of its history, one in which American influence is in decline. The so-called Palestinian-Israeli peace process is without a process and offers no prospects of peace.

On the more encouraging side, a prominent American adversary, Syrian President Bashar Assad, is struggling to survive, and his almost certain fall will weaken two American enemies, Iran and their Lebanese followers in Hezbollah. And Iraq, while it remains under the significant sway of Tehran, will slowly move away from Iran and assert its political independence, not least thanks to the revitalization of its oil production capacities.

It is astonishing that at such a crucial stage in the Arab world, Washington is doing little hard thinking. Obama has written himself out of the script, a distant apparition alien to the peoples of the Middle East.