There may be no getting around such an outcome in any case. “In the last four decades, Islamists brilliantly positioned themselves as the alternative to the failed secular ‘authoritarian bargain,’ ” Fawaz Gerges, director of the Mideast Center at the London School of Economics, writes in a new essay, “The Islamist Moment.” “They have already won majorities of parliamentary seats in a number of countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco, and will likely make further gains in Libya, Jordan, and maybe even in Syria after the dust settles on the raging battlefield there.”…

Even so, the longer the horrific civil war in Syria goes on while the West stands aside, the more the rebels who ultimately inherit power will be prone to anti-American, possibly jihadist, sentiments. The fear is that what began as a largely secular, diverse rebellion could devolve into a struggle between Islamist political groups dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, as occurred in Egypt.

Obama’s Syria headache is yet more evidence that, when it comes to U.S. interests, the nearly 2-year-old Arab Spring has proved to be an inherently ambiguous development, one that virtually dictates an ambivalent response. In effect, Washington has had to trade off U.S.-friendly autocrats like Hosni Mubarak for relatively unfriendly democrats like Morsi. “We can’t support democracy and not support the people who win the elections,” said an Obama official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But that said, we have made clear to these governments they have obligations they need to meet, like maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, upholding minority rights and other progress in transition.”