The Middle East Returns As A Major Issue In The 2012 Elections

It seems inevitable now.  Look at the news in recent days - Iranian belligerence, Syria shelling, Americans held in Egypt, rising gas prices here at home.  Whether we want to or not, America is once again about to have a major debate about our strategy towards a region of the world where America has invested so much in recent years, and gotten so little in return.

The recent announcement by the Obama Administration of their intent to turn America's strategic gaze to the East is sound, and smart.  But the events of recent weeks remind us that the current challenges in the Middle East and places like Pakistan and Afghanistan won't vanish when we will pull our troops out of Afghanistan in the next few years.   While we turn East we cannot take our off the ball of the Middle East and its neighbors, and a much clearer strategy for how we intend to engage there beyond military withdrawl is needed now.  

For President Obama there is a political urgency to articulating this go foward strategy.  With the US economy improving, the Republicans will have to turn to other attacks to bring him down this fall.  An obvious approach would be to make the case that the President's strategy in MENA has failed.  Gas prices are rising, the Administration has failed to stop Iran's nuclearization, Islamists are in charge now in too many nations, our troops were taken out prematurely, the President stopped Keystone and has been hostile to domestic production, Americans are being held in Egypt, we have no clear economic strategy to engage the many unemployed youth throughout the region, etc.  This approach will allow the GOP to find a broad based and potentially potent way to attack the Administration now that their old line - "Obama has failed on the economy" - simply doesn't work any more, and their prospects in 2012 are looking less promising every day.

This line of attack also allows some Republicans to raise issues dormant in the national debate but still important to them.  On "Morning Joe" this morning, Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham, suggested that Obama had been soft on the Islamists in the region because he himself was a "son of Islam," implying of course that Obama was in essence an Islamic Manchurian Candidate. This sense of Obama as an unworthy and dangerous "foreigner" of course is a truly powerful meme that has coursed through the right from the day Obama stepped on the national stage. Rick Santorum made similar sounding allusions to the President's "otherness" throughout the weekend.

I know my friends that this all seems like a bit of a reach. We've made great strides in recent years in lessening our dependence on foreign energy sources.  ME/NA is making slow, unsteady but historic strides towards greater pluralism and modernity.  The President is a practicing Christian.   The world is more united against Iran than every before.  Terrorist groups are in retreat. Despite extraordinary headwinds the US economy is improving.  There is a strong case to be made against this potential GOP line of attack but it is time now for the President to make that case, forcefully, and repeatedly, or risk playing defense on a powerful and consequential new dynamic emerging in global and US politics.

Update: Talked about these issues a few weeks ago on Megyn Kelly's show on Fox News.