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Overcautious Obama

PRINCETON – In this election season in the United States, President Barack Obama is two men in one. The Obama of the Cairo speech of 2009, when he called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, has been increasingly eclipsed by Obama the terrorist-slayer, the commander-in-chief who has launched hundreds of drone strikes against Al Qaeda and its affiliates and who ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Commander-in-chief Obama is doing what he thinks is necessary to keep Americans safe, but he is ignoring the deeper roots of US security that the Cairo Obama understood so well. It may well be necessary for other Muslim countries to hold him to account.

Consider Syria. Everything happening there was both predictable and predicted: a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, increasing sectarianism and ethnic segregation, the polarization of extremes and the silencing of moderates, de-stabilization of neighboring countries, infiltration by terrorist groups, and a bloodbath from which the country could take decades to recover. Syrian opposition groups beg for the kinds of weapons needed to fight President Bashar al-Assad’s planes, defend hard-won territory, provide safety for civilians, and signal to Assad that the world will not stand by as he does whatever it takes to subdue his own people.

Every morning, Obama receives a briefing from men who warn him of every plot and conspiracy to kill Americans. He knows that any weapon capable of shooting down a Syrian warplane could also be used by a terrorist against a US airliner. He believes that he is doing the right thing and following the prudent course in waiting for the Syrian conflict to burn itself out in some way while minimizing the long-term risk to American lives.