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What we should do in the Middle East, or not

There have been suggestions that we take an “active” role.

William Kristol in yesterday’s Washington Post, seems to think that our President isn’t doing enough to support the democratic upheavals in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Libya.  What’s happening in Libya in particular with Qaddafi setting his troops, mercenaries and thugs to shoot down his own people, is particularly nasty and bloody.  Kristol apparently thinks that we should provide overt and covert help to the democratic movement there, maybe even resort to force.

This means more than speeches – though speaking out would be a start. It means aggressive efforts, covert and overt, direct and indirect, to help the liberals – in the old sense of the word – in the Middle East. It means considering the use of force when force is used to kill innocent civilians. It means a full-scale engagement of the U.S. government, an across-the-board effort with allies and international organizations, a real focus on the challenge these times present.

He wants Obama to seize the moment and turn it to our advantage. He makes no suggestion that as we’re in the middle of 2 other wars and a deep recession, where and how we might find the resources for such a project, but he is convinced that it is in our interest to do so. I believe he is dead wrong.  If the people of the Middle Eastern countries that want a more democratic rule want it badly enough to rise up against their rulers, it is time for the US to give moral support but allow those people to finally take ownership of their own destinies on their own terms.  Adding another quagmire in Libya on top of the trillions we’re already spending in Iraq and Afghanistan would probably be the financial ruin of us.  For just 10% of the world’s oil, it just isn’t worth it.  Moral support and advice when asked will be enough.  Egyptians, Tunisians, Bahrainis, and Libyans have a right to determine their own destinies without our meddling.  Interventionists should sit on their hands and shut their mouths.

Even Dana Millbank goes on about the White House being “Passive” in the face of the changes taking place, but he says little about what the President ought to be doing.  Active, aggressive American action in the rest of the world has always brought us nothing but trouble, both here and in the countries involved.  It is time for all the commentators to understand that we have no “right” to interfere in the affairs of other nations.  At best we can work around the edges with persuasion and other non-military resources.  We’ve been doing our best to push the arabs and others around for years with an “active, aggressive” interventionist policy, and where has it gotten us?  The result has been terrorism and ordinary people who hate the way we behave towards them.  It’s long past the time to try something else.

Obama’s seeming passivity may be just the right approach at the moment, giving the people of those countries time to figure things out for themselves.  They are much more likely to end up with enduring, stable, democratic societies, if we stay out of the manipulative role that western governments have practiced for centuries.  The promoters of “active” engagement should go and read Washington’s farewell address again, and learn it by heart.  While the French helped us with our Revolution, they did so for reasons other than promoting a democratic government on this side of the Atlantic.  Their own rivalries with others in Europe made them attempt to seek a balance of power.