Although nobody in Syria or Egypt voted in last month’s American presidential election, it is precisely what’s happening in these far-away lands that may pose the most vexing tests for President Obama and his administration. If mistakes are made, the consequences can be tragic.
Granted, the domestic economy is at the center of the political debate in our country right now, but there’s at least a sense that political imperatives will eventually prevail over ideologies and, perhaps just in time, avert the dreaded “fiscal cliff” that is naturally commanding the public’s attention.
But the average American can do very little but worry about the frightening instability in Syria and Egypt and perhaps even wonder why the United States should find itself such a key player in such distant dramas. That’s a question that may also occur among many of the participants in those conflicts, and in fact the very importance of our country to theirs can often be the source of deep resentment that could develop into deeper hatred and denunciation of the United States. And that’s a path to terrorism.
So while President Obama has his hands full persuading reluctant Republicans to recognize the strong political hand the American voters dealt him and his party in November and to respond accordingly, he still can’t afford to take his eyes off the volatile Middle East. There’s too much at stake.
And here’s the rub: There’s no clearly apparent path to victory, at least as victory would be understood in this country, in those bitter conflicts that began so hopefully with the Arab Spring two years ago but have since sunk into endless and often bloody confrontations between groups or individuals with irreconcilable political philosophies, many of them driven by their ever-present and deeply felt religious and ethnic differences.
In Syria, what will happen if the array of rebels now threatening Damascus are so effective militarily that their threat convinces President Bashar al-Assad that his only recourse is to resort to the use of his chemical weapons? What would be the most effective response by the United States and other nations? Miscalculations have consequences. An expanded regional conflict is not out of the question.
In Egypt, the recently elected president — Mohamed Morsi — has unfortunately taken a ham-handed approach to governing what was supposed to be his nation’s new and cherished democracy, and so all the gains the people believed they had won (at considerable cost of life) in the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak are now clearly at risk.
Washington celebrated the success of the often-ugly but inspiring process that brought Morsi to power, but the policies he has adopted in recent days are downright scary because, more than any other country in the region, Egypt has always been a steadfast American ally in terms of working together on the never-ending struggles between Israel and the Palestinians. So far Morsi hasn’t ruptured that particular relationship, and he was useful in bringing the recent Gaza Strip crisis to an end, but if he can’t bring himself to act far more prudently as president, Egypt’s immediate future looks bleak.
These may seem like remote issues to most of us as we go about our daily lives here at home, but they painfully remind us that there will always be an external threat to the peace and tranquility we all strive for. To be president of the United States is to be a truly huge international figure, for better or for worse.
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