That’s the headline for my latest piece in The National Interest. Opening paras over the fold
he foreign-policy debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is expected to spend a lot of time on the attacks on embassies in Libya and Egypt, which were either sparked by an absurdly bigoted anti-Islamic film or used this film as cover for a pre-planned terror attack. Whatever its value as a debating point, this episode has laid bare the bipartisan incoherence of U.S. policy toward the Middle East.
Mitt Romney’s immediate response focusing on the question of whether the administration had “apologized for America” was widely criticized as misinformed and ill timed. But Romney’s mishandling of the issue distracted attention from the administration’s own disarray, symbolized by President Obama’s confusion over whether Egypt is or is not a U.S. ally.
The crisis in Syria provides an even more graphic illustration of the incoherence of the foreign-policy debate. It is generally agreed that the civil war now raging in Syria is, or ought to be, a matter of grave concern to the United States. The administration’s position, demanding an end to the rule of Bashar al-Assad but taking few concrete steps to bring this about, has been widely criticized. But the proposed alternative policies run the gamut from immediate military intervention on the side of the rebels to tacit, and occasionally overt, support for the status quo.
This confusion, in turn, reflects the way the Arab Spring has upended the dominant narratives in U.S. discussion of Middle Eastern policy.