The Middle East desperately needs economic development, better education, the rule of law and gender equality, as Mr. Romney says. And Mr. Obama was right to take the side of citizens against dictators—especially in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi ran one of the most thoroughly repressive police states in the world, and in Syria, where Bashar Assad has turned the country he inherited into a prison spattered with blood. But both presidential candidates are kidding themselves if they think anti-Americanism and the appeal of radical Islam will vanish any time soon. …

Anti-Americanism has been a default political position in the Arab world for decades. Radical Islam is the principal vehicle through which it’s expressed at the moment, but anti-Americanism specifically, and anti-Western “imperialism” generally, likewise lie at the molten core of secular Arab nationalism of every variety. The Islamists hate the U.S. because it’s liberal and decadent. (The riots in September over a ludicrous Internet video ought to make that abundantly clear.) And both Islamists and secularists hate the U.S. because it’s a superpower. …

Here Mr. Obama deserves credit. After all, he helped get rid of Gadhafi. But Libyans were already something of an exception. They were force-fed anti-American propaganda daily for decades, but it came from a lunatic and malevolent tyrant they hated. Libyans and Americans were quietly on the same side longer than most people there have been alive. Libya has at least that much in common with Eastern Europe during the communist period. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true of anywhere else.