Shadi Hamid faults Obama for not pursuing a policy in the Near East that he didn’t campaign on*:
One of the great mysteries of the past four years is how Barack Obama — who rose to the presidency, in part, on his promises to fundamentally re-think and re-orient U.S. policy in the Middle East — has instead spent his term running away from the region.
It’s important to distinguish what other people in the U.S. and in the region expected from Obama and what he was proposing to do in his first campaign. He didn’t promise to re-think or reorient any U.S. policy overseas that much. There was the occasional hint that he wanted to end the “mentality” that had led to the invasion of the Iraq, but if we consider his specific promises of what he would do there was never much reason to believe that. So there shouldn’t be any mystery here. It may be that Obama seemed to understand the region, or at least understood it better than his political rivals, but it doesn’t follow from this that he intended for the U.S. to remain as involved in the entire region as extensively as his predecessor. To the extent that he was elected because of his foreign policy views, he was elected to reverse and undo Bush’s errors and at the very least get the U.S. out of Iraq. Doing even a part of that inevitably requires some “running away” from the region, but more important it requires staying out of new commitments as much as possible.
Avoiding greater involvement in Syria’s conflict, for instance, is not all that “puzzling.” It is generally in keeping with the relatively hands-off response that the administration has taken to most of the uprisings and protests since early 2011. When U.S. officials stated that they weren’t “taking sides” in Tunisia, that was a significant statement that Washington would do nothing to support Ben Ali. Except for Libya and Bahrain, the administration has mostly avoided openly taking sides in the internal disputes of these countries since then. If there is anything puzzling here, it is the expectation that the administration was ever going to respond in a very different way than it has.
*This article was from last November.