The Arab Idealists

CASABLANCA, Morocco – Seen from the Arab world, the United States’ reluctance to come to the aid of its Middle East allies is baffling and frightening. The lack of effective engagement seems especially murky when America’s Arab allies present nonviolent solutions to a trio of crises facing the region – the Syrian civil war, Iran’s nuclear build-up and the rise of the Islamic State group – to say nothing of the ongoing daily struggle against violent extremism as underscored by the terrorist attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunisia on Wednesday.

Take U.S. policy toward Syria. The civil war is really a three-cornered regional war that has drawn in almost every fighting force in the Middle East. It is World War I, relived in the land of St. Paul. The war pits the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, his ally Iran and its proxy force Hezbollah and Russia (Syria is its last Arab ally) against Syrian rebels (a motley crew of former Syrian soldiers, students and radicals), Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab states. The Islamic State group is the third force, eager to establish a seventh-century empire in the ashes of Syria’s secular suburbs. The war has devoured more than 200,000 lives since 2011.

Obama initially pledged military action if Assad crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons against his own people. When the evidence from U.N. inspectors and other international observers became too clear to deny, the White House claimed it was powerless to act. American inaction made the conflict bloodier and paved the path for the Islamic State group conquests.

The U.S. response is largely limited to providing small arms to some Syrian rebel groups that, if anything, simply prolong the conflict. If there is a strategy here, it is a deeply cynical one: entrap the Iranians and their proxies in an epic bloodletting, a kind of Vietnam War. This may drain Iran over time, but the cost will be counted in civilian lives, many of them children.

Or take U.S. dealings with Iran. Even after Iran unveiled what the regime claims is an intercontinental ballistic missile and acknowledged that it has 10,000 centrifuges spinning to enrich uranium, the Obama administration has continued to press for an agreement – or at least the framework to keep talks going. The Iranians actually have an expression for a deal where one side is very keen and the other disinterested: “The bowl is hotter than the soup.” And the Americans are clearly the bowl.

Few actually expect the Iranians to agree to dismantle their nuclear program or abide by any…

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