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Obama Gets It Right

NEW YORK – US President Barack Obama has been much criticized for the way he has handled revolutionary changes in North Africa and the Middle East. Actually, he has not handled them very much, at least not in public.

That is precisely the problem for armchair warriors watching events unfold on their computer and television screens in Washington and New York. They want Obama to handle things more. Instead of taking a cautious approach, and letting the demonstrators in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and other places do the shouting, they want him to talk tough, or, better yet, to send in the US Air Force and blast Qaddafi’s jet fighters and helicopter gunships out of the sky. They want Obama to tell those dictators to quit right now, or else…

Or else what, exactly? To be sure, the US government has coddled too many brutal dictators over the last half-century. During the Cold War, dictators benefitted from American largesse as long as they were anti-Communist (“our bastards”). Middle Eastern dictators were showered with money and arms if they refrained from attacking Israel and kept the Islamists down. In both cases, these cozy relationships were maintained for far too long. In Arab countries, they only helped to inflame Islamic extremism.

And yet, in order to begin a transition to more democratic forms of government, it helps to be a client state of the US. During the 1980’s, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan managed to ditch their dictators, partly because they were utterly dependent on US arms and money. When the Cold War was drawing to a close, anti-Communism no longer guaranteed US protection. So, when Koreans, Filipinos, and Taiwanese rose up against their rulers, the US, albeit belatedly, was in a position to tell their military clients to back off. In a discreet way, something like this probably happened in Egypt as well.