September 26, 2012

LIKE GHWB, BUT FRIENDLESS:

In Arab Spring, Obama Finds a Sharp Test (HELENE COOPER and ROBERT F. WORTH, 9/24/12, NY Times)

[M]r. Obama's staunch defense of democracy protesters in Egypt last year soon drew him into an upheaval that would test his judgment, his nerve and his diplomatic skill. Even as the uprisings spread to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, the president's sympathy for the protesters infuriated America's allies in the conservative and oil-rich Gulf states. In mid-March, the Saudis moved decisively to crush the democracy protests in Bahrain, sending a convoy of tanks and heavy artillery across the 16-mile King Fahd Causeway between the two countries.

That blunt show of force confronted Mr. Obama with the limits of his ability, or his willingness, to midwife democratic change. Despite a global outcry over the shooting and tear-gassing of peaceful protesters in Bahrain, the president largely turned a blind eye. His realism and reluctance to be drawn into foreign quagmires has held sway ever since, notably in Syria, where many critics continue to call for a more aggressive American response to the brutality of Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Mr. Obama's journey from Cairo to the Causeway took just 44 days. In part, it reflected the different circumstances in the countries where protests broke out, despite their common origins and slogans. But his handling of the uprisings also demonstrates the gap between the two poles of his political persona: his sense of himself as a historic bridge-builder who could redeem America's image abroad, and his more cautious adherence to long-term American interests in security and cheap oil.

To some, the stark difference between the outcomes in Cairo and Bahrain illustrates something else, too: his impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy, and his corresponding failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders that can, especially in the Middle East, help the White House to influence decisions made abroad.

Posted by at September 26, 2012 8:43 PM
  

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