The American Interest

The Middle East: Steady as She Goes

To paraphrase Camus, he who despairs of the condition of the Middle East is a coward, but he who has hope for it is a fool.  In a permanent disaster zone, the best one can hope for is that things will not get worse—not too soon, anyway.  Things did get better in the Middle East over the past four months—always unexpectedly, and on one occasion just when it looked like they could get dramatically worse.

The most important development was the acute phase of the Syrian crisis, which started with a nerve-gas attack on a Damascus suburb on August 21 and ended with the U.S. acceptance of the “Putin Plan” three weeks later.  In the meantime, the world was treated to a dizzying sequence of confused statements and erratic decisions by the Obama administration.

A week after the attack on Ghouta the President declared he had decided “that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets” to punish Damascus for crossing his casually announced August 2012 “red line” on chemical weapons.  The purported proof of Bashar al-Assad’s culpability—formally presented by the White House on August 30—was far from convincing, however.  It was only marginally better than Bill Clinton’s excuse for attacking Serbia in 1999, or George W. Bush’s justification for attacking Iraq in 2003;...

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