1. American idealism always has been central to our self esteem, and to our standing in the minds of other peoples, even as we have acted pragmatically (wisely or otherwise) in pursuit of our national interests. That idealism has been badly eroded at both home and abroad with the deleterious consequences strikingly evident in both spheres.
2. In an evolving world where our relative power of coercion/persuasion is destined to diminish considerably, the intangibles of status and image grow in importance as assets to be used constructively to help shape a responsible multilateral management of world affairs.
3. Our crass conduct in the Greater Middle East during the 9/11 decade has been far more costly in every respect than the Washington punditocracy (or certainly the media) know or admit. The revolutionary wave in the Arab world is a stroke of good fortune given us by the gods. It creates circumstances of historic dimensions wherein we can restore our credibility and our standing as the 'good guys.' Obama and his minions seem to have no awareness of this whatsoever.
4. The challenge is to seize that opportunity while not disregarding our valid, tangible interests that do not fully coincide with our longer term interests in being the godfather and underwriter of democracy in the region. The pivots of our strategic position have been four preoccupations: Terrorism, Iran, Israel and oil. The first three have become obsessions that defy reason and logic. A saner, more reasonable estimation of authentic interests and threats in regard to all three would markedly alter how we balance our divergent concerns and make tradeoffs between short-term and longer-term perspectives. By devaluing the multiform 'war against terrorism,' we lower our stake in Bahrain naval bases, in potentates like Yemen's Saleh, and in keeping Shi'ites at bay wherever they raise their heads.
5. The stickiest issues are raised by Saudi Arabia - because of its key role in the global oil market and because there the fall of the House of Saud could bring to power truly disagreeable people.
6. The Bahrain/Saudi link is there although I lack the expertise to estimate possible spillover effects. I do think, though, that there is no compelling reason to have Mr. Gates personally put the American imprimatur on the Bahrainian royal family, or for us to embrace whatever is left of Mr. Saleh's fragile regime.
7. This is the critical moment to fight free of the lethal Israeli embrace. Two passive acts could vastly improve our position in the region and the world: leaving Bahrain and Yemeni rulers to their own devices; lowering the temperature of our campaign against the Mullahs' regime in Iran. Two active acts complement them: calling out the Israeli government; and intervening in Libya. The last is of far greater importance than the place's nominal value. Pat Lang is absolutely correct on this. Nearly everyone in the world outside of the U.S. knows on which side decency lies. They also are looking at the United States to redeem itself. It is not mainly a matter of means but of ends. Very few would mistake a focused, multilateral intervention to turn the military tide there (with no follow-an occupation) with our savaging of Iraq and Afghanistan. Peoples’ instincts usually are truer than we give them credit for. This is especially true when the lines are so sharply drawn and everyone's consciousness heightened.
Dr. Michael Brenner