Frank Rich / New York Magazine – 2013-08-25 00:59:08
NEW YORK (August 22, 2013) — This has been another historically terrible week for the remnants of the Arab Spring. In Egypt, the military-appointed government released the totalitarian former president Hosni Mubarak from prison to house arrest even as it continues to hold Mubarak’s democratically chosen successor, Mohamed Morsi.
In Syria, rebels reported that the government had attacked them with chemical weapons. With the exception of Libya, the Obama administration has remained on the sidelines during the Middle East upheavals of the last two years. Is it time for the U.S. to get more involved
It’s easy to say we should get more involved, and almost everyone does. But there is zero agreement as to how, and you can’t act on an impulse as opposed to a plan. Do we add serious support to the Syrian rebels — assuming, no doubt correctly, that Assad’s government is indeed guilty of the latest round of slaughter — and risk empowering our Islamist enemies? (It was particularly galling to hear John McCain say this week that such an intervention would come at “very little cost” — essentially the same prediction he made about the war in Iraq.) Do we stand up against the murderous military regime in Egypt and call its coup by its rightful name, a coup? It’s morally the right thing to do — but it also means going against the express lobbying of our ally Israel, which abhors the Muslim Brotherhood and wants the generals to stay in place.
It’s a measure of how little American consensus there is about these and other questions that both political parties are divided on what to do and how to do it. In the GOP, for instance, it’s not just the neocon interventionists versus the neo-isolationists, but now neocon versus neocon, with Elliott Abrams and John Bolton taking diametrically opposite positions in dueling Wall Street Journal op-ed pieces this week.
As for the centrist Establishment, we have the sage Thomas Friedman, who is essentially praying in print for some “Third Way” compromise to materialize in the midst of this chaos. Meanwhile, the American public that would have to pay in blood and treasure for any intervention isn’t engaged at all.
We all know what happens when America pushes into foreign intervention without public support or, in this case, even knowledge. For those who fault Obama’s passive leadership on these issues — and often with reason — where are the alternative leaders in either party or in Congress who might rally American action?
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