The conventional wisdom in Washington these days is that a newly empowered president, freed from the political constraints of reelection, will have more discretion, drive and determination to take on the Middle East’s most intractable problems.
Don’t believe it. This looks a lot more compelling on paper than in practice. Should President Barack Obama be tempted to embrace it, he may well find himself on the short end of the legacy stick.
Once again many on the left are summoning up the spirit of Obama unchained. Those who saw a new kind of American president in the Middle East – tough on Israel; sensitive to the Islamists and the Arabs (see his March 2010 Cairo speech), and bent on engaging the world in a spirit of mutual tolerance and respect – hope for his return.
The president may well try to deal with some of the region’s knotty problems. But it will be in a more deliberate and transactional manner – not with the transformational zeal of his first year in office. Here’s why:
Governing is prose. This president found that out most clearly in the Middle East, where his hopes for a quick breakthrough in the Israel-Palestinian issue; engagement with the Iranian mullahs and hopes for an Afghan surge gave way to the crueler realities of an angry, broken and dysfunctional region.