The Economist’s Lexington gets something very wrong:
Mr Obama is not in the business of taking sides in foreign conflicts.
That’s just not true, and more to the point Lexington must know that it isn’t. It’s true that Obama and his officials repeatedly say that the U.S. is “not taking sides,” but this has become impossible to take seriously. When they said it about Tunisia, it wasn’t true, but it was the right response in that case because it conveyed Washington’s lack of interest in propping up Ben Ali. When they refused to insert the U.S. into Iran’s post-election protests, that also seemed wise. Unfortunately, since 2010 the impulse to meddle to one degree or another has won out more and more often, but the administration keeps reciting its mantra that America is “not taking sides” even when it is directly supporting a side.
No matter what one thinks of Obama’s decisions to take sides in conflicts and disputes, it is undeniable that he does it. It’s also true that he doesn’t do this as aggressively or forcefully as many hawks would like, and it is possible that he doesn’t like doing it, but that doesn’t keep him from being dragged sooner or later into doing it. One could argue that Obama offers as little or as much support in these conflicts as he thinks he can get away with politically, but it’s simply false to claim that he doesn’t choose sides in them. If that were true, he wouldn’t have insisted that Assad “must go,” he wouldn’t have involved the U.S. in Libya, and he and his officials wouldn’t be agonizing over how to respond to the coup in Egypt. As far as hawks are concerned, the problem isn’t that he won’t take sides, but that he lacks enthusiasm and zeal for the side he takes. For the rest of us, the real problem is that he can’t ever seem to resist the urge to meddle.