Obama of Arabia?

DENVER – Not since 1989 has the world seen such an all-consuming, all-engulfing wildfire of freedom and democracy, whose burning passions are sweeping across a region vast and old and desperately in need of reform. From the Maghreb to the Levant to the Arabian Peninsula, Arab history is on the move. A new generation of leadership seems poised to take over.

Moments like these are especially challenging for foreign policymakers, who must keep one eye on the world as it is and the other on the world as it might be in the future. In trying to do just that, US President Barack Obama has been harangued about the need to “get on the right side of history,” or, to quote Bob Dylan, “to get out of the new [road] if you can’t lend your hand.”

These are, indeed, delicate and changing times for the United States, especially at a time when Americans expect their president to be the “emoter” in chief. How Obama manages calls from both the left and the right for more action could well shape the environment in which the process – owned and managed by Arabs – eventually unfolds.

As it picks its way through crisis after crisis in the Arab world, the Obama administration would do well to follow a few guidelines that do not change with every news cycle.