President Obama's Mideast policy has been marked by his typical rhetorical excess. "There will be perils that accompany this moment of promise," he said in a major speech in May about the Arab Spring. "But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be." Recent events have shown that the "world as it should be" is rapidly transforming into the world we never wanted.
Friday's attack on Israel's embassy in Cairo was one such warning sign. A crowd whipped into a frenzy by clerics at Friday prayers tore down the building's security barrier and proceeded to ransack the compound. The United States implored Egypt to "honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli Embassy," and hundreds of troops and a dozen armored cars descended on the scene as harried diplomats were spirited off by commandos. This is a sad development after 30 years of peace secured by the former Egyptian government, which the White House helped drive from power.
Earlier this month in Paris, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "Libya's new leadership will need to continue to stand against violent extremism and work with us to ensure that weapons from [Moammar] Gadhafi's stockpiles do not threaten Libya's neighbors and the world." Arms looted from the fallen regime are already flowing out of the country and into the hands of radical elements. Whether the new Libya will be under the sway of extremists may already be decided. Rebel commander Abdelhakim Belhaj is a veteran of the mujahedeen insurgency against the Soviets in Afghanistan and a former Taliban and al Qaeda associate.
On Monday, Iran held a ceremony inaugurating the 1,000-megawatt Bushehr nuclear plant, which the mullahs claim will be used for peaceful purposes. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Yukiya Amano reiterated the findings of a confidential IAEA report that, "The agency is increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear- related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile." Over the summer, the Islamic Republic installed uranium-enrichment centrifuges in secure underground bunkers near the Shiite holy city of Qom, which doesn't build confidence that Tehran's nuclear program is peaceful.
U.S. policy opposes all these developments, but policymakers seem helpless to stop them. In May, Mr. Obama said that in the face of radical changes in the Middle East, America "must proceed with a sense of humility." As crisis upon crisis builds in the region, the White House may discover that extremists see opportunity in a humbled U.S. presidency. The harsh reality is the United States will not be a credible world leader as long as Mr. Obama continues to "lead from behind." Mideast chaos is the rotten fruit of this weak practice.
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