Does Obama Have This Right?

The president seems so intent on avoiding any Mideast invasion that he is underestimating the cost of his passivity.

Comments: 233

  1. Well, if the president can't stand all those Middle Eastern leaders, it's certainly a distance from the position he took shortly after his inaugural in 2009, when he was all kissy-kissy with them over the potential for global Kumbaya, largely because he'd arrived on the scene and banished Dubya and Darth Vader. With age comes if not wisdom then perhaps cynicism. These guys never are NOT what they are.

    Tom asks a question and seems to answer it by admitting that both he and Mr. Obama were wrong about Syria and the Middle East generally. Seems to me we're about five years late for that thunderbolt. Moreover, it misses drawing in a major influence in the direction we took, both in Libya and in Syria: the woman now running for president of the United States and Mr. Obama's Secretary of State for four years, one Hillary Rodham Clinton. The impact of the dreadful decisions taken by us all over the region over seven years will be dulled by the general bellicosity of the Republican primary contenders, but sooner or later Hillary will need to answer for Libya and Syria just as Carlo Rizzi had to answer for Sonny. If Jeb Bush were still running this would be a major issue NOW, instead of in a few months.

    But the problem with Tunisia, Syria and Libya and the entire region is that for the time being we have different priorities and they have nothing to do with global stability. It's really all about free cheese these days. The world will need to hold its breath until 2017.

  2. Richard... I think that it would be a good idea for you to read the book Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward. (It seems to be available in PDF now.) In that book, Obama sits down with the "leaders" of Pakistan and Afghanistan and tries to see which direction to move in. Obama listens to these people and does not preach to them. He moves deliberately, not rashly.

    The book ends before Bin Laden is assassinated, but you can put the dots together and see how it will end there.

    The only person who ever could make the most of getting involved in somebody else's civil war was Julius Caesar. Caesar made sure that after he had "helped" both sides, that both sides were paying taxes to the Roman state.

  3. Thanks, Richard, for the aside summing up the difference between your conservative perspective and my liberal one; if asked, it used to take me quite a bit of thought and verbiage to explain what I had mistakenly assumed to be a carefully considered and nuanced world-view --one that balanced individual liberties, justice, ethics, opportunity and empathy-- when all along it turns out that all I'm really after is "free cheese". I greatly appreciate your blowing away the dust of obfuscation and with the time I save in future explaining liberalism I'll be able to learn to speak Swahili. Oh, and may I have Tallegio, please?

  4. There you go again, Richard.

    Yes, it's all about the "free cheese" the 47% of us leeches want to skim off the top of the hard-working producers like yourself.

    For we proles expect government to provide everything for us from cradle to grave without contributing one iota to society.

    What happened yesterday in Brussels, and many other days in the Middle East, has much to do with the decisions made by the prior administration, and even back many decades earlier.

    Our foreign policy has always been about protecting "free market" exploitation of third world nations by our corporate/business elite who control the levers of power by ensuring that only their approved representatives get into office.

    The plebes go through the charade of voting in order to provide an illusion of democracy.

    We, the people, every so often, get a few crumbs thrown our way, certainly nothing resembling the obnoxious, totally debunked, "free cheese" of your imagination.

    The elite, however, control not just the "cheese", but the entire "dairy farm", and, in spite of your hackneyed fears, said elite are in no danger of giving away the "farm".

  5. All the pundits think Obama wrong
    It's the theme of a recurrent song,
    Reprise boots on the ground
    Advice that's proved unsound,
    But mem'ries are short, never long.

    Feed more money to the corrupt
    Some customs you can't interrupt,
    The Hell Bush set free
    Fireballs of frenzy,
    But chaos is never abrupt.

  6. Fort Bragg North Carolina Dec 2011
    President Obama
    "Now Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self reliant Iraq with a representative government elected by it's people."

    Joe Biden Larry King Live 2010
    "I am very optimistic about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration.. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. I spent I've been there 17 times I know every one of the major players in all segments of that society. It's impressed me. I've been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences."

    Boots on the ground. Advice that's proven unsound. Really Larry? Based on Obama and Biden's comments you're factually incorrect. And isn't interesting that Obama now blames Bush for the rise of ISIS. Did the surge in Iraq take place under Obama? No but he's taking credit for it.
    Isn't it fact that Obama ignored intelligence reports for over a year
    Isn't it also a fact that Obama failed to develop a cogent strategy for over a year?
    Isn't is also that after the Paris attacks that Obama said that ISIS is not a geopolitical threat?

    Your revisionist history belies the facts The government that Maliki had failed because it no longer showed a representative government. Tell the truth Larry. It will set you free

  7. One of your best, Larry. You are the poet laureate of the NYT's commenters.

  8. HBG, get real! No one is ever 100% correct always. I seem to remember GWB standing on an aircraft carrier announcing "mission accomplished", and Cheney declaring Iraqis will "welcome us as liberators". Did you forget that history?

  9. Obama didn't "uncork Libya", a rebellion arose during the Arab Spring period to a brutal regime with a history of European terrorism. Limited international action there demonstrated that the removal of a dictator did not end or even contain the conflict there. And yet Friedman, Cohen and others call for similar interventionist policies elsewhere that are just as likely to fail.

    But the larger point is that these countries lack viable economies to provide jobs, goods and services to their exploding populations. Their leaders, rooted in thousands of years of Arab tribal rule, are corrupt and not up to the challenge of managing a modern state. But then that was the British and French plan all along, to create weak rulers who could be manipulated for commercial purpose.

    Ironically, the only middle Eastern country that seems up to the challenge of the modern state is Iran. US intervention there in the 1950s was anything but helpful as they still chant "death to America" at the end of weekly religious services.

  10. "Ironically, the only middle Eastern country that seems up to the challenge of the modern state is Iran . . ."

    Ironically, the only middle Eastern country that seems up to the challenge of the modern state is Israel . . .

  11. Quite right. al-Qaeda rose up against Qadhaffi's evil regime that provided free health care to all citizens, a terrible totalitarian policy (that deprived insurance companies of their freedom), and President Obama and Secretary Clinton took the right side, al-Qaeda's side, and got rid of that evil, totalitarian regime. This should not be called 'uncorking' but providing all Libyans with peace, prosperity, and freedom. And so, Europe is right to send its navies to stop emigration from Libya, since Libya is now a paradise from which no one except irrational terrorists would ever want to leave, and all thanks to President Obama and Secretary Clinton!

  12. This should be a lesson for us in that it is not important whether the stock market index rides at 8000 or 40,000; it is important that the majority of the country's citizens have some way to make a living. We are in grave peril of losing sight of this.

  13. What's viewed as a passivity of Obama about the Middle East is rather a well considered foreign policy strategy of Obama opted to spare the US of the burden of avoidable wars and resulting security threats. For, the turmoil the Middle East does find itself in today is neither the creation of Obama nor could it end with the proactive US military involvement in the region without, of course, exposing the US to more anti-US sentiment and Muslim wrath, that Obama would perhaps always avoid to add to his legacy baggage.

  14. Your last sentence implies the President's strategy isn't geared to what's best for US interests but, rather, narrowly focused on his legacy.
    I see no reason for this position since a logical examination of the past 50 years of American nation-building shows it largely to have been a fool's mission. The President, whom I believe pundits have amazingly failed to recognize as a political form of Mr. Spock, is nothing if not a logical, practical decider.

  15. Not only did Obama fail to do what he could have done to prevent the level of violence in the Middle East today, he helped germinate the chaos in Iraq, Syria and Libya. There are also plenty of clues to indicate that there was nothing "well considered" in the calculus of his foreign policy. For example, encouraging the Arab spring was a knee-jerk disaster - especially in Syria where he failed the opposition over and over again. Obama clearly didn't think things through. Obama also clearly didn't even consider that Assad would bulldoze right over the WMD redline without a thought. Obama had no plan. Obama rejected the SOFA, which would have prevented ISIS, due to Iraqi conditions only to agree to those same conditions once ISIS flared up and it was too late. Obama’s foreign policy is racked with indecisiveness and poorly thought out courses of action. His legacy is an albatross hung squarely on his own neck.

  16. On the other hand, given the hostility expressed ongoingly by, say, Iran and ISIL, one might as easily conclude that Obama's passivity has mitigated neither the ill will nor the security risks. In fact, it might be even more logical to conclude based on what we've seen and heard that authoritarian types see his actions as indicative of weakness and are thereby encouraged in their aggressiveness.

    But then, of what value is what we see and hear, past and present, when compared to what we surmise and opine?

  17. Thomas,

    Often you have keen insight into the affairs of the Middle East and Southwest Asia. However, you frequently forget Albert Einstein's clever comment on insanity, repetition and expecting different results.

    Einstein was right: Insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. To Einstein's adage, I would add the notion that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a recipe for insanity except for the people -- probably the wealthy elite and corporatists -- who seem to gain the most from such insane international behavior.

    Thank goodness President Obama has recovered his sanity, especially after following Mrs. Hillary Clinton's ill-informed and hawkish advice on Libya.

  18. "He pretty much hates all the Middle East's leaders".

    That says more about Mr. Obama than about those leaders. They are all wrong and at fault and he is correct. Others, especially in that jungle of the Middle East, might call this just being conceited, stubborn and obsessed.

    Mr. Obama's policy in Syria, or lack of such, his pride and liberation as he states in the Atlantic interview, is one of the root causes for much of the mess today in destabilizing both the Middle East and the EU and beyond. "I"ve got your back" rings hollow. Who believes it?

    As for Tunisia, Mr. Friedman is correct. Just where is the Obama administration and as for the Kurds, one of Mr. Friedman's pet motifs, as long as the Turks fight the Kurds and the US and the EU needs Turkey, then the Kurds will not get the necessary US or EU support. Hypocrisy in light of general Turkish policy? Perhaps but irrelevant to the US which still opposes Kurdish autonomy in Syria.

    The legacy of Mr. Obama here: Indeed he is not Gorge W. Bush, but he has left anarchy, confusion and mayhem as his legacy in large parts of the Middle East and the true disaster of all this is not clear to him, but rather considered a source of pride. And his supporters will continue to blame it all on George W. Bush.

  19. It goes farther back than the cabal of Viet Nam dodging cowards, Bush, Cheney, Rove, Libby, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Bolton and their Charge of the Fools Brigade into Iraq.
    It started in 1953 when Eisenhower deposed the elected government of Iran.
    It got drastically worse when Hollywood warrior Reagan armed the Afghan mujahedeen, which ultimately gave the world the Taliban who gave bin Laden sanctuary and AL Qaida a home.

  20. He is unfit to be the POTUS if that's his total takeaway from dealing with them. His job is to deal with them and extract what the US needs from the relationship.

  21. Utter nonsense. There are few if any answers to this horrid situation. We would only make matters worse. And the next thing would be unending terrorist suicide attacks here and us handing ISIS recruitment posters

  22. I am sympathetic to the plight of small nations. Mr. Friedman may feel flattered by Kurdistan building two American-style universities and professing love for Americans, but it does not seem wise to answer their call to "protect them from Iran and Turkey" -- too many unknowns there.

  23. I agree. I read the Atlantic interview. He's wrong about Syria - just because it looks like Iraq, doesn't make it Iraq. US turning its cheek on the problem, in today's interconnected worlds, is just courting disaster. To passively watch the region go up in flames is doing a Chamberlain act - unworthy of Obama. I agree also with his comment that Islam needs to get leaders to raise it to meet modern day worlds from within, but if US doesn't arm twist their leaders, who will? President Obama, chin up and do the right thing. Dont't look away! Innocent twins lost their mother because some radical leader in Syria convinced a criminal in Brussels to blow himself up. You don't' get to choose which problems you want to tackle.

  24. Chamberlain act??? So where's our Churchill? Cos it ain't Trump, Cruz or anybody else on that side of the aisle. The situation between competing nations in Europe during the 1930's bears no resemblance. Germany was a well defined nation state with a working govt. Isis has its caliphate that hardly compares. The problem here is the downfall of the British empire which came about not from populist uprisings in the countries ruled, (which is the popular thinking) but because Britian choose to fight the other competing regimes of the day. Germany's empire, Leopold's empire, Japan's empire, (yes I know the US did the bulk of that fighting. It was a numbers game) and ultimately the last straw being its struggle in post war Europe Cold War. Would the world look any better if any of those regimes gained hegemony? The decline of Britian's empire made its once former colony the US, the hegemon. Unfortunately the US is entirely too dysfunctional to wear that mantle for long. We have three choices in the ME now that they have "self rule". 1 Stay the hell out. 2 Invade and expend the treasure and personnel to colonize. You can't blow a place up, install a temporary puppet govt. and leave to let tribal tensions and hatred take over. Doesn't work. 3 All out war. As in kill every man woman and child in order to destroy any semblance of society there. Enemy vanquished along with all the innocents. I only see the first choice above as the only viable and moral one we have given who we are.

  25. Yes, President Obama has this right.

    Our response to 9/11/2001, invading Iraq and Syria, played perfectly into the hands of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

    We all know this.

    So now, is our correct response to Paris, to San Bernadino, to Brussels, to play perfectly into the hands of al Baghdadi and ISIS? No, absolutely not.

    We, the West, that is, need to get out and stay out of the Middle East, out of North Africa, out of the Muslim world. We need to focus our resources on solving the problems we have at home.

    We can send humanitarian aid to Muslim countries. We perhaps can send PEACE KEEPING forces to protect and defend vulnerable populations, although I'm skeptical of their efficacy. But we cannot effect a military solution to ISIS, to al Qaeda in the Muslim world.

    We have to leave the Muslim world, the Middle East, North Africa, to solve their own problems, and to not make their problems worse, as we already have to such a great extent. And I mean, we have to stay out of the ENTIRE Middle East. Those who wish to live as Westerners will have to live in the West, or deal with the consequences. Am I making myself perfectly clear?

  26. Bingo

  27. Robert: Good comment. However we might deal with nation-states in the future, this is the time for a "hands off" policy in the war-torn ME.

    Far right-wing groups (e.g., ISIS, al-Qaida) appreciate an adversary who will give them conflict and war; these are the very objectives for which they are established. It is a further bonus to them when their opponents are (or can be characterized as) Christians, Jews, or the heathen West. This permits them to gain support and new recruits, amplify their paranoid theories of history and religion, and tell their much-desired story that this is the beginning of "end times," with the Caliphate being set up for destruction, in order to permit the final apocalypse.

    Over and over (at least pre-Obama), we played right into their hands. Reagan was so well-loved by the Iranian theocracy, as a rightist "strong man" to fight against, that they assisted in his 1980 election. "W" was even more helpful to Islamic terrorism, for obvious reasons.

    To the extent we can accomplish this, we need to develop excellent intelligence and strong alliances, act calmly and rationally, not betray our principles, and kill vicious terrorists and their organizers quietly, discretely, one-by-one. This should be a plan undertaken together by ALL western countries and moderate Islamic countries. We should assist ME countries to enter modernity and prosperity, in return for a commitment to end religious violence and murder.

    Pres. Obama has us on the right road.

  28. "We have to leave the Muslim world, the Middle East, North Africa, to solve their own problems...And I mean, we have to stay out of the ENTIRE Middle East."

    And when something akin to ISIS on steroids emerges from the ashes (& there WILL be ashes)? I suppose they'll just agree to live-and-let-live since we're not over there?

  29. How many times has Mr. Friedman been wrong in predicting events in Middle East? Answer: Pretty much every time. It does not take a genius to realize that the only place in Middle East where democratic transition was somewhat successful (i.e in Tunisia) is where the transition was not brought about by western invasion, or influenced or driven primarily by western and gulf money and weapons. Nobody supplied weapons and money from outside to start a civil war in Tunisia. Mr. Friedman must learn to control the neocon itch to transform Middle East in Western image. It does not work. It will never work. Funding and weaponizing the extremist rebels in Libya and Syria to start civil wars were giant blunders by the West (Europe and US) and Gulf Arab states. Obama is right when he says that the people advising him to intervene in Middle East militarily come up with mumbo jumbos when asked for details. It is time that Mr. Friedman learn some wisdom from Obama.

  30. Agreed. There was another successful democracy - in Iran, until we installed the Shah.

  31. I don t buy into the idea that another ME intervention will make us safer. After all, the awful tragedies in Belgium are a direct consequence of the interventionists in the ME, such as GWB, egged on by his cheerleaders, TF, other *pundits*, and Netanyahu.

    I would like hear someone explain that trillions of dollars spent on the US-led Iraq invasion, tens of thousands of US casualties, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, the creation of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and then ISIS, can justify another invasion.

    If that person steps forward with his blithe explanations and justifications, I will be delighted to listen -- as soon as I see that he/she is signed up for front line duty, and lobbies to raise taxes to pay for the invasion.

    The idea that the US needs to be the worlds police is nonsense.

  32. The United States 63 year, and counting, Crusade of Morons has radicalized the Middle East and empowered fundamentalist Islam everywhere we have intervened.
    US deposes elected government of Iran, installs a brutal, avaricious dictator, ends in the 37 year rule of the ayatollahs.
    US arms Afghan fundamentalists results in the Taliban giving bin Laden shelter and al Qaida a home.
    The Charge of the Fools Brigade into Iraq gives AQ an opening where none existed before. Concentrating captured AQ at Camp Bucca gives the world ISIL.
    But Mr. Friedman, who has never been IN a war, never fails to suggest more American kids die, be maimed for life or gifted with a lifetime of PTSD.
    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, American children are being poisoned with lead for a lack of money, our bridges are falling down and our roads are crumbling.

    But hey, have you seen our new $13 BILLION aircraft carrier?

  33. I can bash military interventionist policies with the best of them, however, as I read this column, that is not what Friedman is advocating. The last paragraph seems to be his point: Provide aid to the emerging "true" democracies without invading. Maybe something similar to how we support Israel. There may, also, be many arguments to counter that strategy, but that is not what I am reading from the many commenters who are attacking a non existent call for military intervention. Since I don't have all the answers, I would be interested in a discussion of Friedman's actual point.

  34. As I recall, that new carrier brings our fleet to 12 such vessels, while the whole rest of the world has no such vessels? And how about that virtually unpilotable F-35? Pallets of US taxpayer cash just disappearing in Iraq under W seem such chump change by comparison.

    Can we launch F-35s from that new carrier and take out ISIS? Oh. It's not that easy?

  35. I wish I could recommend your statement to #1. So true!

  36. Passivity? No, Obama can't solve thousands of years of problems.

    "Unfortunately, Obama seems so obsessed with not being George W. Bush in the Middle East that he has stopped thinking about how to be Barack Obama here — how to leave a unique legacy and secure a foothold for democracy … without invading."

    I wonder why he doesn't want to be Bush. No sane man would. Moreover, invading is pointless.

  37. Mr. Friedman’s criticism of President Obama is misdirected and misplaced. His allegiance to neocon policies of the past twenty years has resulted in the outbursts of violence in Europe and in America.
    The removal of Saddam Hussein is held to be the origin of the present rise of Sunni radicalism. The attempted overthrow of Bashar al-Asad has led to the disintegration of what was a stable country into the training ground of jihadist warriors.
    Regime change and military intervention have brought about the very calamity that they were advertised to avoid. Undermining the stability of countries in the belief that one can manufacture acceptable ones should have been discredited long ago.
    We may be the only super power, but we cannot micro-mange the world to suit our purposes.
    The splintering of nation-states into mini-areas holds no more promise of a peaceful world than one that tries to maintain territorial integrity and diversity.
    As evidence by Turkey’s assault upon the Kurds or the tension that exists between Baghdad and Erbil, stability is not assured and enmity is not avoided.

  38. How dare Mr. Friedman remark President Obama is so to speak, "turning the back" on Tunisia and Kurdistan because he doesn't want to be like George W. Bush.

    George W. Bush created monster upon monster in the Mideast. And this country allowed it, even though many in this country were opposed.

    It isn't because Obama doesn't want to be Bush. It's because he has brains enough to put the stoppers on Americans getting maimed or killed and US money blown to the wind in the Mideast. Enough is enough.

    Friedman is almost daring President Obama. And that seems these days to be a very Trump like approach. No thanks.

  39. Tom, think back 8 years. Wasn't it then Presidential Candidate Barack Obama's promises to get America out of Iraq which helped him defeat Hillary Clinton and secure the Democratic nomination? Voters blamed Hillary Clinton's vote which helped give George W Bush the go ahead to go into Iraq for getting us into an unwelcome war. Today a very bitter Barack Obama is now forced to admit that one of his biggest failures was the Middle East. It's all about Obama's wounded ego--if he couldn't make all these parties who had been at war which since the Middle Ages behave and live together in peace then no one could?? Obama failed to replace the leader he despised the most, Bibi Netanyahu, as Israeli Prime Minister. (That's why Joe Biden was dispatched to Israel in Obama's place recently) Leading from behind didn't work any more than invasions did. There was no ISIS when Obama first became president and now ISIS is front page news everywhere thanks to the recent carnage in Brussels. All Obama can do now is make a few clucking "isn't that terrible" noises before going to a baseball game with Raoul Castro. Quite frankly Obama can do whatever he wants and if that means abandoning the powder keg of the Middle East then so be it.

  40. "Today a very bitter Barack Obama is now forced to admit that one of his biggest failures was the Middle East. "

    Where is the evidence of this assertion?

  41. Obviously, there would be no ISIS if Obama had kept ground troops in Iraq for 8 years, bombed Syria, bombed Iran, and made yearly pilgrimages to wash the feet of the Israeli PM.

  42. Bitter? Admit? What are you talking about?

  43. If President Obama wants to help Tunisia and Iraqi Kurdistan, can he do this on his own? Or does he need agreement from the Republican Congress? And if he needs help from the Republican Congress, what are the chances he'll get it?

  44. "We can’t stabilize Iraq or Syria if their leaders won’t share power and stop looting." This isn't just a side issue - it's one of a handful of major issues. Although Friedman freely criticizes Obama's hands-off policies, he suggests few concrete steps that would make a difference. Even his evocation of Iraqi Kurdistan is problematic, because a Kurd Republic is impossible without changing borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and other Middle East countries. Two wars that have lasted longer than either of the WW's have created two of the most corrupt and ineffective governments on the planet. How can we improve by doing more of the same ?

  45. President Barack Obama "has stopped thinking about how to leave a unique legacy and secure a foothold for democracy … without invading."
    Mr. Friedman, given the historical and current instability of the region, it simply isn't possible. And why would the president, less than a year from finishing his second term, tie a can to this rabid dog's tail by committing, yes, blood and treasure to no avail.
    And I don't think Mr. Obama "hates all the Middle East's leaders"; he has come to realize that they're untrustworthy and sneaky (Saudi Arabia), or are committed to an unrepentant racist hegemony (Israel). What's to like about either of these two long-standing allies, whom the president, in The Atlantic, described as "free riders."
    America can't fix everything that's broken in the world. If we invested in Tunisia, ISIS would quickly find clever ways to undermine the American presence there, which would require a Vietnam-style occupation. Been there. Done that.
    Why would President Obama, in his final year, let W. off the hook and take up a cross with never-ending scourges? Mr. Friedman, not all fights are winnable. In football terms, if fourth-and-long is a clear gamble, you punt.

  46. Friedman, Cohen, and other commentators need to stop blaming the USA for the deeds of others. We have no moral or legal obligation to defend Brussels, Syria, Tunisia, or Tripoli. The only way we can make the situation worse is by putting more arms into the region. Best course of action is to stay far away.

  47. Mr. Red Sox, you make some good points, but please refrain from re-defining/misusing the term "racism." If Israel's policies were based on racism, they would never have brought the Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Ironically, many Israelis are virtually identical, racially, to Palestinians.
    The anti-Israel crowd conveniently forgets the reason for Israel's historic and continuing hard line, walls, and so on. The Paris and now Brussels tragedies reminds us of one reason why Israel is militant about its borders.

  48. Israel isn't one of the free riders.

  49. First of all Europe, US,Japan.S.Korea r entities that anchored human Civilization long enough.Then East Europe including Russia, China etc. tilted ( from 89 on wards ) West ( india was already ahead of them) at least from the Economic angle.Such developments didn't just brought promise and delivered a lot ( various degree of Eco Development, poverty reduction, more containment and mitigation of Pandemics,etc.).When the advanced Economies r upbeat and doing well they have regularly shown ( in Their Davos ,G-8 or G-20 Gatherings ) a willingness to take initiative to improve the human condition all over, not just in the M.East.So,when extremists + their sympathizers indulge in just causing havoc in US or EU,etc. and force this countries to push aside other things and get preoccupied with security,they hurt especially the poor wherever they are.That means US, EU and others have the right to take all measures, including hitherto not tried non-Conventional 1s*,to keep their Nations pristine regarding preserving civility and civilized way of life.Already EU,US Russia in conjunction with Turkey Saudi led Regional coalition, have embarked in a promising path to make the troubled M.East and N.Africa regions sane enough.The 2 Models you mentioned should b replicated in the remaining places.Still even when an entity is oppressed the struggle has to stay clear of tactics that deliberately victimize innocents.*There r a little impolite approaches 4 purging Jihadists.TMD.Rutg+SUNYA Alum.

  50. I think this op-ed piece starts off with a terrible over-simplification. Honestly, it's the kind of writing one would expect from the venom-spewing right. I don't credit Obama with runaway political excellence, but I don't believe he "hates" the long list of leaders proffered by Friedman. And I am glad to stop spending blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to have avoided making the same mistakes in Libya and Syria.

    But Friedman's guidance re: Tunisia seems well-advised to me. There is much more we can do in that promising country. But the idea of Kurdistan would put us on a collision course with Turkey. To be sure: Turkey seems intent on putting itself on a collision course with us and all of Europe, but we had many, many years to bring that country into the fold. We chose not to, and the result was Erdogan.

    This column is one of Friedman's more glib offerings.

  51. Thomas,
    Unless the USA gets its it own house in order it foreign forays will seem like a practise for the next civil war.
    Russia and China have the one thing the USA lacks at the moment a functioning government. Until the USA can get back some semblance of governance its impact on the middle east will be negative and different factions continue to lobby their favourite politicians.
    The world needs the leadership of a United States of America not the rogue state currently occupying Washington.

  52. Moe. It's hard to tell of whom you are speaking. "Rogue state."

    Who would you declare to rogues? BII/DC? Obama?

    Please do explain. We like the gentle voice from up north. But your contribution needs clarification.

  53. You make it sound that blame for this should be split 50/50. That would be incorrect.

  54. Yes, we need to offer every possible support to Tunisia. It could be a model looked to by its neighbors. If people in the surrounding countries saw its secular success, they might start trying to achieve it themselves. This would be a chink in the wall of the purveyors of religious hatred.

    However I think Obama was right to avoid further military engagement in the Middle East, a la George Bush. It would mean another few hundred billion dollars and several thousand more American lives lost. And for what gain?

    No foreign military engagement is going to succeed unless its at a far more massive scale, under the auspices of the UN, and includes large numbers of forces from MANY countries.

    If we aren't prepared to commit to that then we'd best stay out.

  55. When Mr. Friedman, and the rest of the pundit class have to bear the burden of the Presidency, and have access to all the information available to the President / Commander in Chief, perhaps I'll listen to their advice. It makes no difference what President Barack Obama does, or does not do - the privileged sit on the sidelines, carp and parse each of his moves as if they could do better, as if they paternalistically know best.

    Each day I am more thankful for the measured man we elected to our highest office. He has steered us through messes he did not create, nor can he mend. He gets hit from behind by a block of Republicans who would rush us willy-nilly into multiple wars that they will never be cannon-fodder for.
    Thank you President Obama. No thanks for you Thomas Friedman.

  56. Oh, please. Pundits, annalists, columnists etc exist to analyze, offer suggestions and opinions. They do not have to be right to be useful. If only presidents could advise the president, Mr. Obama would be very lonely in his job. Presidents seek the advice of people who have not had "to bear the burden of the Presidency" all the time. Does not mean every piece of advice is followed, but that does not mean it should not be uttered.

  57. Excellent!

  58. Tom "just six more months" Friedman won't be happy until we're measuring our time in the ME in Friedman Units again.

  59. It seems there will always be someone to say the US-President Obama-isn't, didn't, wouldn't, should have done more and this or that particular problem would not exist. Poppycock. We are not the policemen of the world. Tom, Robert, how has France, Belgium, England, Germany and all our Arab partners invested their men and money in this conflict? They haven't. They want the US to do it. For me, the US should keep out and stay out. Work behind the scenes all we can, but keep our men and women out of there.

  60. Bravo. Well said.

    It seems that any correspondent that goes to the area sends back articles that: Show compassion for people in the region (good). And then burnish their own experience by trying to out-guess those attempting to act responsibly. What about BushII?Cheney-the-war-criminal's influence on the region. Short memories.

    Cause and effect exists only in a span of a few years. Oh, and don't forget, you can impugn HRC with just as weak a logic.

  61. Friedman is specific on the problem and rather vague on actions to be taken by the US. One supposes that creating "safe areas" to stem the flow of refugees into Europe would mean another hugely expensive US military incursion attempting to create and maintain another artificial state in the Middle East. A state that could never stand on its own two feet and whose creation would inspire thousands more recruits into ISIS, al Qaeda, et al. Obama is reflecting the will of most Americans in understanding that more US boots on the ground is not a solution; just more problems.
    Europe should welcome the refugees as the price for its colonial past in the region. The seeds of today's problems were planted by the European powers over a century ago.

  62. He isn't specific for a reason: He wants to see how many of us remember his full support of Bush's Iraq invasion before actually sharpening his sword.

  63. American aid to Tunisia and Kurdistan sounds like an intelligent use of our limited resources. But Friedman's comments on Libya and Syria confuse more than they enlighten.

    We intervened militarily in Libya to prevent the government from slaughtering its people. The new regime has proved unable to create stability or to control terrorists. Friedman does not explain what measures might have helped avoid this disastrous outcome, but he denounces the intervention for increasing the chaos and unleashing a flood of immigrants into Europe.

    In Syria, Mr. Obama refused to use American military power to overthrow Assad or to help the various rebel groups accomplish that goal. The civil war there has also triggered a massive exodus of refugees, many of them fleeing to Europe. Friedman also dislikes this policy of non-intervention.

    Friedman needs to clarify his analysis, because he appears to condemn the President whether Mr. Obama intervenes or refrains from doing so. Like Roger Cohen, moreover, he criticizes America's Syrian policy without suggesting a better alternative.

    The ME is a tragedy wrapped in a disaster, and no president since WWII has really devised a policy which has improved conditions there. Bush II's invasions, in fact, contributed to the increased volatility that confronts the Obama administration. Would yet another military intervention undo the damage? The critics need to explain how, this time, the results would be different.

  64. Excellent comment, James Lee. And don't forget how politically useful it is in this campaigning season to blame Secretary of State Clinton for Libya. Trying to score political points creates a lot of noise unlikely to contribute to dispassionate, reasoned thinking toward policy among our legislators, and the executive can't do it all alone.

  65. Although I do not disagree with what you are saying, Jimmy Carter did have success and should be acknowledged for it.
    I agree that Bush ll did cause more problems than he solved, but much of what is going on in Syria and Libya is related to the Arab Spring which began in Tunisia.

  66. Well put. Especially the part where the Bush II regime stirred up the hornet's nest in the first place.

  67. Tom, you are viewing the world through the lens of a compassionate and protective United States. Having grown into a powerful nation, each American President felt a responsibility to turn back to the free or allied peoples to offer a form of safety, even when that forced us into difficult and polarizing circumstances. It eventually assumed names which were both constructive and deeply critical or cynical.

    Obama has stated, for all who want to hear, that he has found a better way. In fact, Obama usually knows better than everyone in the room he then currently occupies.

    History will be the judge. And from the remove of dispassionate years, hopefully our historians will be able to critique his record without being called racists for raining on this man's very blinkered record.

  68. Stuart: I have a book suggestion for you: "The Devil's Chessboard". It's about the Dulles brothers, particularly Allen Dulles, the chief of the CIA during the Eisenhower and early Kennedy years.

    I trust that, after reading the book, you will have a less sanguine view of American foreign policy post-1945.

    I also find it troubling that, at this late date, you cannot understand the difference between Mr. Friedman's critique of Obama's foreign policy and that of the far right.

    For it is certainly fair to criticize any president when one has facts and intelligent opinions to offer; and entirely something else when one uses irrational accusations of aiding terrorists or being unduly influenced by an absent Kenyan socialist father.

  69. Stuart: America's (mis)adventures abroad have been like such adventures by rulers since rulers began: profit and power. Some chose to dress up their imperialism and/or greed in fancy suits. Publicly, Brits tended to say that their goal was to bring Christ to the heathen. Behind closed-doors, they said it was about profit. Great estates (like "Downton") were built on the backs of the Irish, the Scots, and Indians. In the long-term, when historians review Obama's legacy, it will be in the context of oil and forward bases.

  70. Very soft, vague criticism of Obama, without a hint of historical context. We should wonder what is the motivation.

  71. "All human evil comes from a single cause, man's inability to sit still in a room." --- Blaise Pascal

    Of course, Mr. Friedman, sometimes in life one has to stand up and take action.

    But there are many other times in life where it's much wiser to sit still and let nature's wildfires burn themselves out instead of sending your army into a sea of flames.

    Sit still, Tom....if you and your mind can handle it.

  72. WWI started for a reason which appeared to be far less incendiary that what is going on in the middle east right now.

    "Sitting still" sounds like the "mature" and measured thing to do (or not do), but given the facts on the ground it is not an option anymore.

    The whole civilized world needs to engage this problem, and we need to take the leadership role.

    That does not include "sitting still".

  73. Great line :"it's much wiser to sit still and let nature's wildfires burn themselves out instead of sending your army into a sea of flames."

  74. All evil.....? Single cause? Is this satire?

  75. Perhaps our president has logical reasons to hate the leaders of certain countries in the Middle East?

  76. Perhaps on President Obama's chess board, all the opposing pieces are black when they are not white. Or are they white until they're black.

    If only anyone knew, but I was not intending to channel half of the world's leaders with that question.

    No doubt it's a tough job. I would be sanguine if I could see someone with a track record sitting by his side.

    When he changes his mind he will let us or Atlantic Monthly know.

  77. Obama's cool public face towards certain international leaders (Republicans in the house and Putin included) has always seemed to me to be a reflection of a basic stance towards people who project a race-conscious attitude towards him. Whether or not that turns out to have been a good thing for relations between peoples of different backgrounds is not clear-- but my guess is that in the long term it will.

  78. There's a Charles Schwab commercial about broker fees where the son challenges his dad about broker fees and ends with the line, "the world is changing"'.

    That it is. Mr. Friedman why is it our role to cultivate or not cultivate democracies or take sides in ancient internecine battles that never end?

    I thinks it's high time, with all the messes at home, that we become less involved in the Middle East, not more. I'm not saying disengage from the world or abandon our allies, or relinquish leadership in world affairs. But the Middle East is one big hot mess and we all know it.

    Pouring money down the drain in that part of the world has to stop in my view. Did it ever occur to you that the President feels the same way, not that he's trying to avoid being Bush?

  79. I agree with you completely. That's what worries me most about a Clinton Presidency. She voted for the war in Iraq. She supported the bombing of Libya and bragged about it after. She wanted to send troops to Syria and criticized Obama for not doing so. Her speech to AIPAC Monday sounded as if she was the Prime Minister of Israel. She approved selling the Saudis tens of Billions in weapons--a Country that is the largest funder of state terrorism and is currently bombing and killing civilians in Yemen daily. With Clinton as President, we will only see an expansion of our failed military missions abroad with the resulting chaos and terrorism. Her record proves she is a War Hawk and that should worry us all.

  80. As PF point out in his article, by disengaging from the middle east, we contributed to the refugee crisis that is overwhelming the EU and helping to unleash the xenophobic rhetoric dominating the US presidential election.
    We cannot exercise world leadership by disengaging from hot spots nor by abandoning our allies. We either step up to the plate or we get out of the way and let some other country (Russian, China?) take over our world leadership role. We can't have it both ways.

  81. You're absolutely right in saying, ". . . it's high time, with all the messes at home, that we become less involved in the Middle East, not more." This truth alone justifies voting Bernie Sanders into the oval office. Hillary Clinton has demonstrated again and again that she is a hawk. For example, most recently, she was the force driving military intervention in Libya and calling for regime change in Syria. This is absolutely the wrong time to put a hawk into the oval office.

  82. President Obama, and most leaders for that matter, is viewing the Middle East through the lens of my country, your country, their country. That's why the place is mess. It's not about any single country. It's about the world.

    What is happening in the Middle East is a breakdown of civilization. It is the rise and empowerment barbarity. It is the embracing of genocide and slavery. It is the proliferation of the world's oldest persecutor, religion, being used to justify the persecution. It is the destruction of fundamental human rights. It cheapens human life to the point that death is preferred to life. Martyrdom is life's ultimate goal.

    The Middle East is pure poison to our way of life. The poison is spreading all over the world. Nearly half of Africa has been infected. It is using religion as a vehicle to spread itself just as a virus uses air travel.

    In response to the infection, right wing nationalists are gaining power all over the globe. This reaction is also a threat to freedom. It is a real threat to liberty, freedom and individual expression. It replaces fear from terrorists with fear from angry mobs.

    When all of the world's leaders compartmentalize the situation, the it's not my problem attitude emerges. That creates an environment for the infection to fester and spread. So no, Obama does not have this right. No one else does either.

  83. What's happened in the Middle East is that the delicate balance that has always been maintained by ruthless dictators has been undone. Americans love to complain about Middle Eastern leaders' brutality. What they fail to realize is the savagery that those brutal dictators contain.

    The leaders are like the chemo. The others are like the cancer. Both brutal, but one much more deadly to everything else.

  84. Obama has it right. Perhaps above all else, as we're currently painfully learning in our own country, democracy requires and has as its core strength a respect for and rational consideration of diverse opinion. The Middle East has demonstrated for millennia that it is a tribal, sectarian, strife-ridden, religiously extreme region, and therefore intolerant of different opinion. It therefore is not and in my opinion never will be fertile ground for democracy. Sane policy will require the nations of the west to finally recognize this, and to work in concert to quarantine the region with its intolerance, extremism and hatreds. But for oil, this would have already happened.

  85. Maybe Friedman will read your comment as it appears he is ready to join the US Army and charge off.

  86. The problem with Kurdish self-government is the tremendous fear and opposition to that from Turkey, which is a NATO member and US ally.

    Friedman might have a point about Tunisia.

    It seems to me that the US wanted to get rid of Assad even before the civil war broke out there; I would love to see a Edward Snowden type dump of government documents to know if the US helped create the mess there that now neocons are proclaiming to be contributory to the end of the European Union.

  87. "the tremendous fear and opposition to that from Turkey, which is a NATO member and US ally."

    This would be the same Turkey that Mr. Erdogan is slowly but surely turning into a banana republic? Well let's not do anything to upset him!

  88. "As one could see from President Obama’s recent interview in The Atlantic, he pretty much hates all the Middle East’s leaders including those of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Iran and the Palestinians."

    --- Yes, apart from the violent tendencies of all of these leaders, they are also all as obstructionist as the Republicans in Congress. What's to like?

  89. To lump them all in the same boat is ridiculous in the extreme. Only two of them can claim to have been democratically elected and only one of them in a true democracy. Obama's position is one where he believes he knows best and cannot understand why others disagree with him. It is a bit high handed and does not play well in the ME (or elsewhere). That said, he is not infrequently correct in some areas.

  90. Perhaps the president should have chosen a different career path if this was going to be his attitude about everyone with whom a US president has to deal.

    It's not as though the GOP and Middle Eastern leaders didn't exist before he arrived on the scene.

  91. In my lifetime, our Country has never invaded another Country, or aided a coup of a democratically elected government, with the intent of creating democracy. Nope. All we have ever wanted are leaders of whatever political bent who courtesy to our interests.

    That is why we ally with Saudis--the biggest state funders of terrorism according to leaked State Dept. emails. A country we sell tens of billions in missiles and jets, providing assistance as they bomb Yemen killing innocent civilians.

    The myth of spreading democracy abroad is for public consumption providing cover for military operations with only one objective--destroy and disrupt. Of course, after the inevitable collapse and chaos, we blame the Country for never really having any interest in democracy.

    Our intervention in areas always creates chaos and more terrorism.

  92. You're so right!

    Saudi Arabia instead of fighting and focusing on ISIS the biggest threat, turn their guns on a poorer neighbor and create the biggest humanitarian crisis in the post cold war era. That's a friend to fight for.

    Their Wahabi interpretation is what's fueling ISIS ideology and their funding is surely the biggest money infusion into this group's war efforts.

  93. A couple of observations. First, the author seems to forget one of his solutions for the problems in the Arab Mid East was to " out crazy the crazies". This was just prior to entering Iraq when the Bush Administration was justifying what they intended to take on. This man is a New York Times columnist with a good bit of sway.
    I might suggest we pursued Mr. Friedman's engendering the outcome we have today.

    Second, possibly unwittingly, Mr. Friedman answers his own questions on Obama policy. Attending this meeting he expresses exactly the intractable nature of compromise, let alone inability to stop looting assets required to build a nation.

    These pieces seem aimed at tactically positioning the author; allowing him some perception of predicting outcomes as they unfold.

    Sadly, this author does not deserve a "profile in courage" award and should worry about us more than himself in the future.

  94. Kurdistan is "just what we dreamed of?"

    Who is "we" and what was that "dream?" Neocons are we, and the dream is their old ambitions in that region. This is again the thinking that led Bush into Iraq to the vast cheers of this columnist.

    The neocons were totally discredited, but they never went away, remaining DC's "serious people". Now they are having a come back, since Hillary favors them, as do all the Republicans. They can taste it, more war, more money dumped in the region.

    Friedman here proposes American tax money as subsidy to replace the stolen oil revenue of Northern Iraq, to fund his imagined new Kurdistan.

    He wants the US military to fight the insurgents of not just one country now, but the whole region.

    One of my major reasons for opposing Hillary is that she might well do this. It is certain that Obama will not. What Hillary will do is not "continue Obama" as she campaigns, but reverse Obama and do W's Admin all over again. This is reviving their "dreams."

    No. A thousand times no. We've done all that. It failed. We only just got out, and still not all the way out.

    Wars and hundreds of billions are not the answer to a criminal act in Europe that MIGHT one day come here to do as much damage to us as do our domestic deer.

    This is pushing fears in support of a failed dream for America in the region, regime change for the whole Arab world. Tunisia and Kurdistan now might just do it, democratize the region just as W hoped. No.

  95. @ Mark - Mark, those last 3 sentences are confusing me.

    1) Regime change for the whole Arab world. Turkey and what I think of as Kurdistan are not Arab and both Iraq and Syria were multi-ethnic Arab, Christian, Kurd.

    2) Tunisia might "do it" - yes maybe. Kurdistan meaning parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey - not a chance not even in your lifetime.

    I have Kurdish friends and acquaintances from all 4 Kurdistans but I cannot imagine getting them together to discuss - Do you dream of a unified Kurdistan? So I think I will write to one who is a true friend, a friend who moved back to Iraqi Kurdistan about a year ago, and perhaps could tell me what he thinks. One thing I know well is that he has a firm position that the US has never given any help without also demanding something in return.

    Larry

  96. Hate is a very strong word Thomas and I don't believe your have the evidence to use it correctly. The fundamental problem in the Middle East is that we self-defeat before we enter a situation by announcing we are not going anywhere to nation build. Why not? What can come from this but creating adversaries that understand that their guerilla activities will ultimately prevail? The startup democracies you mention will not succeed without boots on the ground for a time. Your approach is one of a kinder and gentler colonialism sans boots but what's needed is the real thing. But we need colonialism with 2 differences. One, an objective to depart that is not time linked, and two, an anti corruption attitude that applies to the locals as well as to ourselves. Colonialism isn't a bad word, it's an idea that's been done badly. It worked in Japan and Germany after WW2 and it can work again with similar inputs.

  97. Hope you and / or your children / grandchildren / great-grandchildren are prepared to enlist.

  98. Don't forget that Friedman put on his cheerleader uniform for Iraq.

  99. He did and in one of his column, his praise of the Saudi's oppressive government.

  100. You make some good points but you understate one of Obama's main points, more people die from shower falls in the U.S. than from terrorist attacks. I am pretty sure that you can still say the same thing in Belgium. Sure, the terrorist attacks scare people and are certainly more news worthy but putting a 'moon shot' effort into creating super safe showers would save more lives than intervening in Syria.

    We always seem to worry about the wrong thing. Does terrorism scare me? Don't make me laugh. I've got to drive into work in a few minutes. Risky business that is.

  101. Obama couldn't be more wrong. His Cairo speech set the tone. To me it did not show strength but someone who would no longer demand a voice and a presence in the region. And it's costing us. Democrats hate the term but his "apology tour" made the US look weak
    Second, he had no trouble taking credit for what Bush did in his speech at Fort Bragg in Dec 2011
    "Now Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self reliant Iraq with a representative elected by it's people."
    Now he blames Bush for the rise of ISIS
    Bush didn't ignore intelligence on ISIS for over a year
    Bush didn't fail to develop a cogent strategy for over a year, a fact Obama admitted
    Bush did not call ISIS a JV team as they overran Ramadi
    Bush did not say that ISIS was not a geopolitical threat
    Obama constantly talks about this huge coalition. Who are they? What does each country contribute in the way of boots on the ground, intelligence, arms, et?
    Next, the Arab states are not going to commit to boots on the ground if they feel Obama is not "in it to win it" He's not
    His rules of engagement are incredibly restrictive.Civilian casualties? Out of the question
    Sorties. They flew 1,200 a day in the Gulf War. Obama 70% do not drop their bombs
    Obama keeps telling us we're winning. Paris x2, San Bernadino and Brussels tell me he's running out the clock. He no intention of winning. He's dumping this on the next president. That will be his legacy..Not Iran

  102. Much of ISIL's leadership is former Sunni/Baathist Iraqi army officers left disaffected yet still armed(!) by the Bremer/Rumsfeld/Bush de-Baathification process that Bremer's predecessor (and overseer of autonomous Kurdistan) Jay Garner rightly said was a huge mistake.
    So, blaming Bush for ISIL is grounded in actual historical fact, sorry.

  103. Thank you but where is my stand alone comment (AKA not a reply to someone else) from 8:12am?

  104. When it comes to the Middle East, you cannot trust anything this president says. He's spinning narratives of successes that have nothing to do with reality on the ground.

    And his supporters like it that way because they don't care how bad things get. They just want out.

  105. Dear Mr. Friedman,
    No, Mr. Obama has this "obligation" and that is to try to save American lives needlessly thrown away in an area that has been stuck in the 7th Century CE.
    You say not a words about the Sunni/Shia embroglio that has been going on since the death of the Prophet nor the main reason the West has any interest in the area at all, oil.
    It matters little in the 21st Century that most of the region's woes started after the 1919 Peace Treaty that divvied up the oil rich areas according to what England and France most wanted out of the place regardless of who might live there; it was all about the oil.
    And as that natural resource becomes less strategically necessary to the United States, our interest in the Middle East should become, accordingly, less necessary. Infidels or outsiders cannot win here despite the pitiful examples you show of "progress".
    Until the toxic effects of the "religious divides" among the indigenous peoples are resolved by themselves, any efforts to "stabilize" the region are simply a chimera only allowing the warring factions to have a common enemy, namely, us and the rest of the Western world.
    To waste more American lives in a poor attempt at "democracy building" would be absolutely criminal; to react with overwhelming force against those who attack us is the only, to me, viable option and even that seems to beget an "endless war" much as what has been going on already between the various factions.
    Best to "lay low' in a no win situation.

  106. So, Mr. Friedman, what would you have Mr. Obama actually do? You don't like what he's not doing, so you must have some idea of what he should do, specifically. Like a Republican Congressman, you have an easy time criticizing what the President is doing, but you seem to have a very hard time thinking of an alternative.

  107. Ray Clark:

    When we elect Mr. Friedman to the Oval Office, then you can ask him that question. Until then, the only person responsible for answers is President Obama.

  108. Several alternatives were presented in this article alone. Did you read it?

  109. The fact that every hands on involvement and intervention in Mid-East affairs for the last 100 years or so has pretty much backfired constitutes obvious proof that the next one is bound to work.

  110. Tom, you've got this right, and I hope that the Whitehouse takes note of this rare sanity: hands off the Middle East except for the two emerging but fragile democracies, Tunisia and Kurdistan.

    Nurture what is worth protecting. Contain and let the rest implode on its own.

  111. When Mr Friedman talks of the success of Kurdistan, he omits that almost every Arab, Turk, and Persian is vehemently opposed to an independent, or even one or more autonomous Kurdistan(s). Turkey has declared the Kurds terrorists, and, since Turkey is a member of NATO, that makes the Kurds terrorists for every NATO member.

    There are now three somewhat autonomous Kurdistans: Iraqi Kurdistan, West Syrian Kurdistan, and East Syrian Kurdistan, but every Arab, Turk, and Persian wants to see all three obliterated.

    http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/content/opinion-federalism-based-ethn...

    It is not clear to me how the US can support any Kurdistan without infuriating all of its other 'allies' in the region. Perhaps Mr Friedman can explain?

  112. We need to make a clear moral stand, and grant Kurdistan the same degree of protection we do Israel. The right of the Kurds to their own land is at least as clear as the right of Israel's. And the Kurds, like the Israelis, are culturally our cousins. The hatred by their neighbors has not stopped us from effectively supporting Israel. It should not stop us from supporting Kurdistan.

  113. I think Mr. Friedman is feeling guilty about his support of the Iraq Invasion. It is also more than rational that the leaders cited are all authoritarian figures including the Turkish leader. If Mr. Friedman thinks the US should get deeper involved in this quagmire, he should be calling for the draft, and if he has children he should urge them to sign up.

  114. Yeah, that's classic, send your kids to get killed. If Mr Friedman has such strong feelings, let him grab his own AK-47 and head east.

  115. President Obama's position is exactly right that "we need to stop wanting to invade the Middle East in response to every threat."

    As for your contention that it "all sounds great on paper, until a terrorist attack like the one Tuesday in Brussels...," ask yourself this: did not the West's intervention abroad inspire the home-grown terrorists?

    The U.S. and the West cannot militarily intervene in other countries' affairs and create chaos that gives rise to terrorism. When, in the name of fighting terrorists, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya are attacked by drones or otherwise, innocent people do get killed. The families of those victims, or those who sympathize with them, sometimes want to avenge their loss by attacking those who caused them pain and are susceptible for recruitment by terrorist organizations. Imagine the chaos they could cause if *they* had drones.

    It also happens that the countries that the West bombs have Muslim majorities. Fellow Muslims, rightly or wrongly, feel that their religion is under attack.

    Whether it is the Chechens in Russia, or Muslims in the West, they feel the need to retaliate against the countries who are attacking their brethren. The terrorists attacks against the West were/are all done by Muslim sympathizers recruited or inspired by Middle East terrorist organizations.

    So the President is right in not wanting to intervene abroad that can give rise to terrorism at home.

  116. In list of hated presidents "Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Iran and the Palestinians" there is an important omission. It is the president of a country who comes to US congress and thumbs his nose to our president and receives a standing ovation. Maybe congressional members have to love him for the sake of AIPAC support but lot of ordinary people in US don't.

  117. Am I missing something here? Netanyahu is from Israel, and Israel was in the list. He may not be the president, but close enough.

  118. But you think Mr. McConnell saying that the NRA should choose the next Supreme Court justice is just fine and not thumbing his nose at our elected President and insulting the office of the President?

  119. Uh, Israel is mentioned there--by your own quotation.

  120. Some pundits really have forfeited their right to lecture the United States on foreign policy, after making so many bone-headed mistakes. Mr. Friedman is the head of this pack.

    Tom advocated the original sin of recent American policy history in the Middle East: the first Bush Iraq War in 1991. It lead to the first attack on the US by Al Qaeda: the WTC bombing in 1993, and then to 9/11. The rest is history, and it ended up costing thousands of American lives and Trillions of dollars.

  121. Sorry, but you cannot excuse terrorism as the fault of the victim (us). It's sad that you try.

  122. I am consistently frustrated by the contention that Barack Obama has acted and reacted solely of his own accord and interests in the ME.All the way back to the notorious 'line in the sand declaration in Syria(after biological weapons were detected in use by the Assad regime),the President has sought share the responsibility of such interventions.If you'll recall,congress(the 'people's representative) chose Not support any response to Assad's perfidy.Yet and still every time this so-called 'weakness is asserted by various individuals and instigators,congresses' role is all but forgotten.Also various polls would seem to support the President's summation that the American people are discouraged to believe any positive results would emerge with more US military intervention.We need to highlight these sobering circumstances,lest our President,appear the 'unworthy warrior,when in actuality,the warrior impulse of the American people itself,has been diluted and depleted...

  123. I've always been puzzled at the great desire of some in the US to "fix" this or that country in the Middle East, when it's clear that so very few countries there have any interest in solving their problems.

    It's one thing if your neighbor wants you to help him carry his new sofa into his house from his front yard--but what if he prefers to leave it out there? Are you going to "help" him by calling in air strikes on his sofa? Do you "help" by recruiting a coalition to try to ram it through his closed front door? Or do you "help" by having it re-upholstered so it will blend in if you hide it near the shrubs?

  124. Not all problems in the world are fixable by the U.S. And if we try we tend to make things worse (e.g., Iraq). As terrible as these terrorist attacks are they need to be put into perspective. Do we turn America into one giant police state as Israel has done? Would Americans want to live in that country? Consider the 13,000 people who die due to gun violence every single year in America and yet we don't have any meaningful gun control. We even let suspected terrorists on the terrorist watch list legally buy and own guns! The war on terror will inevitably result in people dying, but before we established the UN and nations worked together, nationalism led to the world wars. In WW II some 60 MILLION people were killed. Perspective.

  125. I completely agree with the idea of staying out of middle eastern countries that don't want to help themselves. But Kurdistan and Tunisia do, and since I recall Obama saying that the U.S. will stand by those countries that want to help themselves, I'm not sure what his reluctance is there.

  126. Because of our fraught history in the region and that overt US help is seen, incorrectly IMO, as the recipient being a "puppet" of ours, many potential recipients are quite reluctant.

  127. Does Friedman have this right?
    Tom you are right about Tunisia, but you are completely wrong about Kurdistan.
    Kurdistan as you stated is tribal area far being from democracy ,being ruled by two family ,supporting Kurdistan is destabilizing to the middle east
    Also Tom ,you and Obama have been wrong in regard to Syria , a huge vacuum will be to filled , and absent American leadership ,it is being filled by our enemy ISIS, our adversaries Iran and Russia

  128. Couldn't disagree more with the premise of this article. Obama is correct in stating that allies need to increase their commitment and be less reliant on the u.s. Nato mandates that members spend 2% of their GDP on defense budget. Many members who want increased US involvement are below the 2% mandate while we spend 4.2%. With all the warring factions in syria and Iraq further us involvement would be a waste of time. The wack a mole strategy in combating ISIS isn't sexy but it is prudent and I don't recall when increased aid be it monetary or military has been successful in unifying various sects for the common good. I think this is also a lesson we learned from our covert involvment in Latin American countries to thwart the communist threat. These countries have generally evolved on their own without US involvement and the middle east regimes will have to learn to to stabilize themselves prior to further us engagement.

  129. Sure, there is an enormous threat posed by terrorists of every ilk. And they can create a great deal of damage. So far, it looks like everyone wants to blame Obama or Apple. Putting things in perspective, there were 13,000 handgun related deaths in the US last year and the highest number of mass shootings in our history. Not only do we have our own home grown terrorists, but we give them the happily guns to terrorize us- it is their right! And we sit by and let this happen and the media is reluctant to even write about this.

    I think we have to keep perspective on this. The press can be a very powerful force in inciting people to act irrationally such as what happened in the prelude to the Iraq debacle. People have been trying to solve the problems in the mid-east for millennia and only tend to make things worse because it isn't about rooting out the disenfranchised but also creating a structure where fairness is valued and supported. Bombing and patrolling doesn't accomplish this.

  130. Run of the mill street crime, even mass shootings, don't have nearly the psychological impact on society as terrorism. The numbers of dead in total are secondary.

  131. The media is reluctant to talk about gun violence? In your world, what color is the sky? The media talks about gun violence constantly. Michael Bloomberg campaigns across the country to ban firearms, just like any would be despot would.

    Oh, and by the way, it is the right of every American, not convicted of a crime that forfeits that right, to own arms with which to defend themself. If you don't like that fact, there is a lovely amendatory process incorporated within the Constitution. Do it. Oh wait, that's right, you could never muster the necessary votes to even consider such an amendment.

  132. There's a point I'd like to make, in particular to what extent media is manipulating minds and heats; Friedman does not do that, fortunately. Take for instance the ways the influx of migrants are treated in the main, stirring constant anxiety and worry. The tent cities on Greek islands are a case in point struggling as they are with so many refugees that are putting great strain on the Greek government and by extension on a near-collapsing EU as a result. What the media should emphasize more is - instead of playing on negative emotions - the ideas that patience, prudence are the keys to read this crisis better. It takes a lot of time to process papers and documents: the influx is constant. Organization rather than confusion might be given a lot more space, as well as talking about potential jobs in building up "new towns"; financing honest, corruption-free economic entrepreneurship within Syria or Turkey not polluted by ISIL could lead to their resurrections and to the Caliphate's demise in the long run.

  133. "The tent cities on Greek islands are a case in point struggling as they are with so many refugees that are putting great strain on the Greek government"

    There are 44,000 refugees in Greece on that island.

    There are 2,000,000 in Turkey.

    There are over 1,000,000 in tiny bankrupt Jordan.

    Why are the 44,000 is Greece so much more the problem?

  134. The question “does Obama have this right” coming from someone who was so completely and utterly wrong on Iraq could be funny if the events hadn’t been so tragic.

    Friedman still seems unable to understand how wrong he was when he quotes a tribal member asking the Iraqi government Oil Minister “where is their share of the oil revenue.” Because you see a more equitable sharing of oil revenue was one of the specific goals of the Bush’s troop surge. It was one of the few specific goals Bush outlined in the speech, I assume because Bush recognized its importance.

    Friedman quotes it without the slightest hint of recognition despite the dozens of columns devoted to that invasion, and the surge.

    Despite being so wrong for so long Friedman presumes to question Obama’s actions.

  135. I had the same reaction. Mr. Friedman hardly critiques US Iraqi policy with unblemished credibility. In other words, "Gimme a break, Tim "

  136. Well said.
    It would be helpful to those of us who recognize and respect Friedman's experience and knowledge that he now listen to his own counsel regarding the impossibility of obtaining 'predicted' outcomes in this neighborhood. By not doing so in the past he abetted a political and human disaster that continues to this day. Now he urges sending "military assistance" to Tunisia. Great. Why not just ship it directly to the "Islamist terrorists" that Mr. Friedman admits are destabilizing the country. This worked so well with our "military assistance" to Iraq. And what of Mr Friedman's rallying cry to send financial assistance to Kurdistan, where the "stench of corruption is everywhere?" Something about doing the same thing over and over again.....

  137. Two clarifications: Obama does not "hate" all the leaders of the Mid-East. He thinks that they are not doing their part in the struggle, some even act against purpose and all want the US to do their fighting for them.
    The second point is that you can't send people to fight without having them killed one way or another. Painful as these murderous attacks are, the alternative proposed is to have American young men and women die fighting. It is a dilemma of difficult solution, The consequences would be an equal number of people killed while worsening the situation in the area. Bush's Iraq invasion is there as a warning which, moreover, has placed us in situation of no-exit.

  138. You and Roger Cohen seem to be on the same page here: Blame Obama for not invading somebody. Well, if memory serves we recently tried that and it achieved absolutely nothing, except the loss of thousands of lives and who knows how much money. All wasted. As many people commented in response to Cohen's piece from yesterday, why can't France or England or Germany or Belgium "solve" this problem with their young people's lives. The last two horrendous attacks occurred in Europe; they have at least as much skin in this game as we, why aren't they willing to spend the money and spill the necessary blood? Come to think of it, if you're so intent on us getting involved militarily why don't you or your sons or grandsons go and fight. Cohen's son is already in the Israeli military so I'll excuse him this obligation. What about it, Mr. Friedman?

  139. Roger Cohen has no son in the Israeli Army; It is David Brooks does who does.

  140. Our invasions of the Middle East achieved absolutely nothing? Why be so generous? They were a catalyst to the ongoing chaos we see on television every day. Remember Viet Nam? We weren't going to go halfway around the world to get involved in countries we poorly understood. Such a painful lesson and so quickly forgotten

  141. We're still bombing the crap out of areas of the middle east, just without boots on the ground. You know, passively. Not sure it makes a huge difference to the dead whether they were killed by a nearby soldier or by an iDrone.

  142. The general policy of backing off a little and letting the Middle East sort out its own problems is long overdue. Of course, the particulars are horrible, but US intervention has a long history of making everything worse. It's been demonstrated a better policy just to let the baby cry sometimes. Maybe the deadbeat uncle- Saudi Arabia - will finally step up. Maybe the world will begin to hate us less if we mind our own business. Maybe if our military wasn't all over the Middle East, ISIS and Al Queda wouldn't have come into existence in the first place.

  143. The irony is, if Al Qaida, ISIS, et al. were white Christian religious fanatics, most of the commenters who trot out this 'it's all our fault' bromide would recognize them at once for what they are. But because they are brown, Third World, and of an unfamiliar religion, you immediately assume they must be poor oppressed souls reacting to the big bad bully USA.
    These people are True Believers. They are in the grip of an absolutist religious ideology of a type for which the word 'medieval' is a compliment. For a good explanation of the mindset - which can also encompass such secular 'religions' as Stalinism, Maoism, and Naziism - read Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. For such a mind, the mere existence of different thought is a challenge undermining their faith and threatening to destroy their worldview. Therefore, every knee must bow. Even if we sit on our hands and mind our own business, the thought that somewhere a woman is wearing shorts and driving a car implies their 'god' is not all powerful and may not even exist. And since god isn't smiting the sinner, they must do his work for him.

  144. Maybe the best thing would be to pressure the Wahabist countries of the ME to stop exporting that nasty ideology all over the world. Low oil prices can only help that to happen.

  145. That sounds so reasonable, if only it were that simple.

  146. Presently Clinton and Trump are in a death spiral to make Israel the best offer. They might even abandon our allies in Europe. You might get your invasion right after the election.

  147. I didn't read anything in this column about invading anywhere.

  148. Friedman's headline is obviously a rhetorical question. Consider 2 illuminating post-Brussels snapshots:

    The first, the prez in Havana, on legacy-notching holiday, ranting about 19th-c colonialism as he fails to grasp the 21st-c war in front of his face. Asymmetric warfare requires only one consenting player. When terrorists declare war on you, you are perforce at war. He allocates a mere 50 PC secs to his erroneous call for non-profiling police action in the war's European theater in response to Brussels.

    2nd snapshot, Clinton, urging PC above all else in response to Brussels. The "reckless uncorking of Lybia," as Friedman puts it, is owned by Clinton. Regional destabilization & unleashing of terrorism are a direct consequence of “Hillary’s War” in Libya. The Clintons are nothing if not consistent. Bill unleashed global terrorism in the form of al Qaeda. Hillary unleashed it as ISIS… And the Left wants to put this couple back in the Oval Office?

    In the end, this is about a Big Lie.

    Recall Obama's promise: After the televised beheadings, Obama was forced by public outrage to up the ante from his delusional goal "to contain ISIL."

    “We will degrade & ultimately destroy ISIL,” he puffed, & then proceeded, rather expensively, to do neither. (I always thought the "ultimately" was a dead giveaway of his true intentions.)

    Post-Paris, he inserted the "ultimately" still. The generals said w/ a real offensive ISIS would be eliminated in weeks. And The Lie continues post-Brussels

  149. These ravings go beyond Republican revisionism into outright lunacy. Why not blame the Clintons for Ebola, Zika and all the other plagues and pestilences afflicting us? The proximate cause of the present hornet's nest is probably George W. poking his fist into it and the neocon nation-building that followed (Paul Bremer anyone?), with Friedman doing some memorable sideline cheerleading. I say "probably" because all this would have come to pass anyhow given the region's history, ethical and religious norms and its current sense of displacement and dissociation from the tide of progress.

  150. Marian,
    You sound like a 'let's bomb the Middle-East into glass' kinda girl. You do know that we've been bombing them since 1986 (after the world grew weary of exported terrorism in Ireland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, France, Sierra Leone, Chad, Sudan.... ad infinitum), oh yeah, and Lockerbie. Bombed their planes, airfields, the storage tanks, built by their Thai workers,holding the chemical weapons they bought from some German guy. All of this when HRC was just a country lawyer. So please don't blame Hillary. And since Bill was playing his Saxophone somewhere, or trying to build water treatment facilities, schools, hospitals, training programs for poor kids all over the globe through his charity when W and Rumsfeld, Cheney and the Chicken Hawks carpet-bombed Iraq, let's not blame Bill. I am not PC. You sound like a nutter.

  151. Do you seriously believe ISIL can be eliminated in a few weeks and that terrorism will stop?

  152. No American should die on foreign soil, unless the cause justifies it. America hasn't had a legitimate war since WW2. Other "interventions" have been born out of domestic politics only.


  153. Geir Lundestad Director of the Nobel Institute for 25 years wrote in his memoir "Secretary of Peace: 25 Years with the Nobel Prize," that in 2009 the idea behind the unanimous decision of the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee was to give the newly elected US President Barack Hussein Obama the Nobel Peace Prize and over $1 million was a mistake.

    It was given to encourage him to achieve his goals, according to Norway's The Local.

    But he said Obama's actions proved that "…decision to be flawed…"

    A survey by the Norwegian University of Kinifk conducted at the time found only 26% of Americans thought Obama deserved to win.

    "Even many of Obama's supporters thought that the prize was a mistake.” Obama himself said he was "surprised" by the prize.

    At the presentation he said, "I accept this honor with gratitude and humility," admitting; "I have no clear solutions to conflicts around the world."

    He still doesn't.

    He should return the prize.

    And the money.

  154. I respectfully disagree. You need only look at South Korea from a satellite at night compared to North Korea to see how our sacrifice created a safe haven for millions of Koreans. That war, and Vietnam, were lives and treasure spent in "battles" to help defeat global communism. The communists could not afford to keep winning those battles, it split global communism between Asia and the Soviet Union, and hastened their collapse. The media spins these battles as wars where we lost or suffered a tie, but every American soldier's sacrifice in those battles deserves our respect. Iraq was a war that was won, and then given away by Obama in 2011. The Middle East has always been, and probably will always be, a failed culture and region. But its best shot of safety and happiness was us remaining in Iraq just as we did in Korea, Japan and Germany.

    That may not be fair, it may cost us a great deal in blood and treasure, but the alternative you can see all around you. The planet collapses when we don't run things, as 9/11 proved, we can't protect the homeland unless we are killing the crazies over there.

  155. Obama donated all the money to charities.

  156. What kind of help can we specifically provide ?
    And what about Erdogan, who is nimbling turkey bit by bit into despotism.
    We should accept, that we can not and should not change something, that wants to go into the wrong direction.
    Let them fail on their own account, and just handle the collateral.

    And it is not all wrong. It may not be so obvious, but the muslim world is shattering. The arab spring was an expression of pure frustration. The exodus to europe and the subsequently backlash of the europeans, the muslim violence in europe (like the new year eve in cologne), the daesh, the terror. We let the muslims reflect on themself, and they realize how unsightly they are. With bombs and guns we can kill islamists, but with what is happening now we hit their self-conception and their moralic hubris, and that hits these jihadists much harder.

  157. A great deal of this was done to them, not something they did themselves.

    Refugees are fleeing what was done to their countries. They were not fleeing before, only now do they flee in the millions as this is done to their homes.

    "Hands off" as a policy must mean we keep our hands of destroying those places, not just keep our hands off those fleeing the destruction we aid.

  158. Unfortunately Friedman lost all credibility - when it comes to the Middle East - when he fervently supported the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

    The fact remains that more people die in bathtubs than in terrorist attacks - even after yesterday's atrocity.

    Maybe the US should invest several trillion dollars in Islamic countries so that the poor, unemployable men who eventually become radicalized can gainfully work to develop safer bathtubs?

  159. There's enough oil money slushing in the Middle East so that they can 'develop' themselves. But as Friedman points out - it won't happen until the rulers end the corruption and tribal infighting. There's nothing that the USA can do about those things...

  160. 9/11 perpetrators were mostly from the middle class in their home countries.

  161. Why are you not asking Hillary about the failed Middle East policy? She actively participated and encouraged much of it.

  162. We are at a tipping point. We have a neofascist candidate for the presidency who exposes the profound irrationality of his supporters. We have a press corps and a populace that has considered the one adult in the room as "weak". We have the results of our radically dysfunctional educational system that has failed to develop those who can discern propaganda from relevant and competent leadership that coolly appraises the turmoil of an overpopulated, dysfunctional world overwhelmed with chaos. Friedman makes the mistake that Trump exploits, a grandiose over estimation of our role and responsibility. We need a coalition of the sane and dispassionate and competent leadership of those countries stable enough to evolve policies that will contain the Middle East turmoil. Iran is capable of that as is Israel yet they are mortal enemies. It is a very crazy, incredibly dangerous moment to which Obama has responded with calm, measured and sane appraisal. Trump/Cruz/neocon fanatics think bombs and dominance. "Make America great again" appeals to simpletons and bullies and to those marginalized by the isolated elites whose special privilege they are convinced can be preserved in sheltered enclaves. Wake up. We are members of a world community. We must dispassionately evaluate the real risks that have arisen from incredibly selfish exploitation of Middle East oil and the rise of tribal leaders with immeasurable selfishness. Listen to Obama not Trump. If we don't conflagration will follow.

  163. You're being disingenuous about Kurdistan, Mr. Friedman. The major obstacle to helping the Kurds is Turkey. You're careful to distinguish "Iraqi Kurdistan," but the problem is exactly that artificial political borders imposed by the West from World War One onward have left the Kurds without a Kurdistan that reflects their actual cultural coherence and geographic distribution.

    A real Kurdistan would be a strong ally. The Kurds' resilience and ability to self-govern have been amazing since Bush's war in Iraq. But we've let the Kurds down time and again because of our need to remain friendly with Turkey. How much support for the Kurds would the Turks tolerate? What are you supposed to do in a region where your friends are enemies with each other, and where you've made one of your most logical allies, Iran, into your sworn enemy?

    The Middle East is impossible in large part because Western powers made it that way in imposing their will after the two world wars. The U.S. has always been dishonest about the nature of our interests there, and you can't develop a meaningful foreign policy based on fictions.

  164. Yes, the President has it right, and as heartbreaking and cruel as it seems, it's going to be a long and bloody Middle East, that we should aid but not invade.

    We must look at the Middle East through the lens of history and allow it to reach its natural state of equilibrium on its own. That state of equilibrium will likely resemble the Middle East before the European powers carved it up in their Great Game, and before the US propped up murderous, corrupt strong men and warlords.

    Democracy is messy and the US has a poor record in backing the wrong horses. Let's not forget European nations stayed away from a tiny band of rebels who wanted to break away from England, over two hundred years ago. The US didn't have a Constitution for nearly a decade after declaring independence. We might not be sitting on rugs eating tabouli, but we're certainly to this day fighting for voting rights, corruption in government, we have armed militias threatening violence, and we have one half of our two party systems who alarmingly sound a lot like a certain 1920's German political party.

    So, yes Obama has it right in staying out of the Middle East, and allowing them to fight and bleed over their own fates, because quite honestly the US doesn't need that distraction when we have to deal with our own crumbling democracy.

  165. I also want to add the Highest officials in the military are telling us the US military is not prepared for a war against countries like Russia and that they need more money. 142 billion in their budget this year and one half of our discretionary spending another 600 billion a year is spent on operations that we are already involved in. There have been a number of articles from separate resources that we need to make our military stronger.
    Their must be many attitudes, values, policies, and corruption on so many levels of the capitalists, politicians and even the military to have such a wayward distorted view of the value of our military. I am not denying its importance. I am questioning the perspective view of rational use and spending for our military. The focus on military spending has ruined much of our nation already and certain people want more spent on it. With the above costs listed the military already uses more than half of our yearly 1.1 trillion dollar budget.
    Many things are severely out of kilter here and who is going to restore rationality and perspective of military spending of itself and then in relation to all other American needs?

  166. The EU needs to grow up and take responsibility for the Mid-East that is effecting the affront of terrorism and migration. They are the one's that should be establishing stabilizing safe zones in in Syria, helping the Kurds and spending their money and sending any troops needed. NATO needs to decide to aid more and the US can work with NATO. We should no longer be a unilateral resource giver there, EU spends resources on social benefits that I support while in America most citizens suffer for the want and need of such coverage. EU needs to start spending much more of their resources on protecting their own national security and interests. Obama is right. The GOP war mongers have been proven wrong time after time as was Eisenhower, Kennedy (who may have pulled out), and LBJ and Nixon were not right about Vietnam. All wars America has been involved in since Korea have been used as slaughter of military lives and squandered the money that needs to be put in place to develop European style social safety net in America. In many ways the use of the US military sine Vietnam has been a sense of barbarism on our own people and has wrecked our infrastructure, education system, health care system, a sense of peace and safety in America. Do we really need to spend 4.4 trillion dollars apiece for 3 destroyers and trillions on the F35 witch now is so over run with cost over runs and due to computer problems not expected to be ready until 2022?

  167. spot on, fundamentally agree

  168. The European Union is in a number of ways at a watershed moment in its history--what Friedman discusses here is security and its ability to defend its own borders. Up until now, it has been assumed, through NATO, that the US is still the primary defender of European borders and stability, and the US has spent countless billions of its own money to do this under the guise that Europe's stability is essential to American--and global--stability.

    President Obama rightly is throwing open the question whether this should continue. Europe certainly has the resources to defend its own borders, but politically it continues to allow the US to be its ultimate protector. It's partially out of laziness, but Europe also has the attitude of, "Well, if the US wants to do this, then great!"

    President Obama instinctively knows that as soon as the US steps into a theater of action, whether it's Syria, Sudan, or Europe, it gets sucked into a quagmire of local obligations and responsibilities. Now, as an American sitting here in a small town in Massachusetts, do I believe that x amount of my personal earnings and wealth should go into settling some tribal dispute in the mountains of northern Iraq? And, in spite of that Italian earning more money than me, should my tax dollars be going into protecting that Italian who just bought a Ferrari?

  169. "war on the cheap" is the politicians' specialty. The bomb and destroy reaction does more than almost anything else to make the problem worse.

    Interfere (Iraq): result costly mess
    Help (Libya): result costly mess
    Don't help (Syria): result costly mess

    Try to help (Himalayan earthquake): result, making friends and influencing people.

  170. Mr. Friedman's consistent arguments and there corresponding flaws seem to be the result of his world view being seen from the lens of the ruling class and the elite wherever he travels.
    I wonder how the people of the countries mentioned who are trying to get through the day without the benefit of the riches and power would feel about this column.
    What we have learned in the Middle East is that the most friendly nations are those that are the most repressive and brutal to their citizens. The West's (as Well as China and Japan) quenchless thirst for "open markets, resources and stability seem to be the root cause of the extremism that has fomented from the ignorance, lack of opportunity and repression that our surrogates employ in the name of "stability". In a nuclear age the President is correct to question the ugly cold war tactics that may have worked in the last century but as we have learned by the Neocon experiment are disastrous for all but a chosen few.

  171. Obama had nothing but good intentions by trying to extricate us from the chaos that W. had created in the middle east. Most sane people were in agreement that we should do everything possible to get ourselves out of there.

    Unfortunately, the forces that were unleashed by W.'s misadventure came straight from the pit of hell (quoting Paul Broun from his hunting trophy den), and show no signs of wanting to return there without some very strong assistance.

    Very recently, President Obama was warmly quoted referring to the middle east as a ".... show".

    I don't think anybody would disagree with that characterization, but unfortunately it looks like we're going to be forced to into the role of roto-rooter again, because nobody else seems up to the task.

    This situation has become too hot to continue pretending that we can either ignore it or engage it with a "containment" strategy.

    It needs to be wiped out, and we are going to need real help to do it. We need to find common ground with Russia and figure out a plan which serves everybody's needs over there, because it's clear that the path we are on is not sustainable.

    How many more terror strikes can Europe sustain before it starts to unravel?

  172. So when the doctor amputates your leg unnecessarily in the ER, you'll excuse his negligence based on the defense "you wouldn't have been here in the first place if that guy didn't run that stop sign". ?

    Every president has to take the world as it was left by not only his predecessor, but by history, and make decisions on the best way forward. Iraq was actually rather stable when the president pulled US troops out. It was a bad call. With all due respect, and putting aside your naivete about his intentions, if you or even most people supported the withdrawal you, and they, were wrong.

    Soon after the US left Iraq, ISIS, formerly a JV team, entered Iraq, grabbed nearly a billion dollars in cash, commandeered oil wells, collected vast munitions, and morphed into a global menace killer. And what would happen if we left Iraq was not only predictable it was predicted.

    It is almost impossible to calculate the number of people who have died due to the fiasco of that US pullout, but it's a very large number and there is currently no end in sight. Now this global menace killer is driving millions of refugees into Europe, which is threatening at minimum a Brexit and at maximum the end of the European Union.

    The stability the US was returning to Iraq and thereby the Middle East was destroyed, and the ramifications will reverberate for generations in the form of human and economic disaster in the Middle East, the EU, and in the US.

  173. Spoken like a true neocon.

    I said unequivocally that we need to go back in there, but you still cant resist taking a shot at Obama and my naivete.

    And lets agree to disagree that Iraq was becoming the new vacation destination of the middle east when Obama decided to pull out of there.

    All Obama has done for eight years is try to clean up your messes abroad and at home.

  174. War on the cheap, reacting with violence and conventional war, makes things worse.

    interfere (Iraq): result, costly mess
    help (Libya): result, costly mess
    stay out (Syria): result, costly mess

    Give aid (Himalayan earthquake): makes friends

    Giving in to violent primitive gut reaction does not work. Trump won't fix anything, nor Cruz, nor anyone else who doesn't step back and stop thinking they know better than anyone else.

    And this includes you, Bernie fans ... (yes, I voted for him, but the simplistic search for heroes and magic thinking won't solve it; we need to replace Congress as well).

  175. This column reminds me of some of the more erudite Republican debates on foreign policy.

    Support the Kurds! (But what about Turkey?). Bomb Assad! (But what about Russia?)

    Foreign policy is pretty simple if you just forget the about all the complexities.

  176. Those last two words, "without invading", miss the point that we already have "invaded" in the minds of specific subgroups which commit and encourage violence as a necessary response. They're sure that we have invaded ideologically, and percieve of our presence an existential threat to way of thinking that they've fought about for approximately 1,400 years.

    Mr. Obama understands that our ability to influence and persuade is limited, and that, while stability may be enforced "militarily" there will still be simmering extreme differences that need to be resolved among communities "in situ". He's been in the hot seat with a view that few get to have, and I support his statements. All choices are complex, and there are no guaranteed outcomes.

  177. Thomas Friedman asks if President Obama is doing the right thing with his hands off approach to the Middle East, and I'd have to say no. Of course, if he gets involved, that is the wrong approach too.

    The mistake we are making is to believe that we have a right approach.

    The Middle East is one unholy mess right now - overpopulated, running out of key resources such as water, and subject to a small number of people so busy stripping the wealth out of the region that they are willing to overlook the distraction of promoting the terrible evil of religious fundamentalism. No one there is willing to try to contain it.

    Frankly, the proxy wars and the distress and unrest have worked for the Saudis and for Iran. The President has worked to bring Iran back into the fold, not because we trust them, but because they need to begin to operate in daylight, just as the Saudis need to, to bring peace to the region.

    The west doesn't have the resources to occupy the region and bring peace. The Romans showed us how hard that is. So the current approach is passive, and probably just as effective as involvement.

  178. Yet another example of why the President will be sorely missed. We need leaders who are willing to chart a new course when it comes to the Middle East. Unfortunately, none of the Republican candidates for president, nor Hillary Clinton will do so. They and Friedman are locked into an ossified way of thinking that dooms us to repeat the many mistakes we've made over several decades. How many pointless and costly military interventions will it take, to finally realize they almost never result in the intended outcome.

    Given the precarious times in which we live, a president who is cautious and applies sound judgement and reasoning is what is needed most, not pop-culture pontificating.

  179. "How many pointless and costly military interventions will it take, to finally realize they almost never result in the intended outcome."

    How cute! So, by your logic, we would have ceded South Korea to the North and Kuwait to Iraq among other things? Going back to the World Wars, the map looks a lot different without US intervention. While we've certainly taken our lumps, on the whole that difference would be much for the worse. You losers contend that we must become so afraid of failure that we no longer seek to succeed. The World needs us to start winning again! Period.

  180. The idea of state building in the middle east seems to have come to a close. No longer can we afford the illusion that democracies can be transplanted and that states can be engineered both to have longevity and to have automatic pro western world views. We tried and failed in Iran, Afghanistan and in Iraq.

    We must have and develop a sense of real politic and understand that military interventions may not advance the strategies that have staying power. We will have a presence in that part of the world both economically and philosophicly and we can engage their more progressive leanings.

    There are moderate voices in Egypt and Turkey however they have complex problems with traditionalists and sub groups including Kurds. We must not imagine that safe zones are a real strategy as it only lays the groundwork for further division that plays into the hands of extremists on all sides. It is time that not only real politic but also real strategy be discussed openly and that realistic goals be moved forward.

  181. As one learns in Middle School Civics , there are three branches of government that are supposed to work together , using a system of checks and balances that was designed to promote the will of the people through their prospective representatives.

    Certain tasks are assigned to each of these branches , executive , legislative , and judicial in furtherance of these Democratic principles.

    Today , two of the three branches have become totally dysfunctional at the insistence of a republican party that has no intention of playing by the rules set forth in the Constitution.

    It is the Congress that determines acts of war , yet this Congress refuses to even address the issues raised in this column. Rather than discharge its duties , this GOP led Congress would prefer to do nothing and then complain bitterly when the President , hobbled by such seditious and puerile behavior, is forced to act alone. As a result , the country suffers.

    There is an opening on the Supreme Court which is similarly hobbled by a republican led Congress which apparently intends to ignore the Constitution and refuse to consider a nominee put forth by the White House in conjunction with Article Two of the Constitution. As a result , the Court is unable to function properly , and the country suffers.

    Not a word in this critique about our government having been stalled after eight years of obstruction by a republican party that clearly has no objective other than a desire to destroy our commonwealth.

  182. I completely buy the strategy of defending the few blooming flowers across the region. But why the US has to carry the burden of this strategy? I am a European citizen and I want our leaders to understand we have to carry our own weight. The cold war finished a long time ago, but we still seem to operate as if the US can act as our own military or diplomatic umbrella. I think Obama is finally telling us to come through and be much more involved. I feel strongly that Europe, the Middle East, and the entire Mediterranean and north Africa region are a single entity; areas tied by millennia of shared history. It is the responsibility of all its people to defend and manage it.

  183. Ciao Nicola,

    I just got back from Lesvos where I was attending a conference on the underlying causes and longterm consequences of the refugee crisis. While I would agree with you that Europe needs to do its fair share through both hard and soft power the scale of the problem is so great that we are going to need US help too. There is a near total absence of good governance in the region stretching from North Africa through the Middle East and into Central Asia. We should certainly do all we can to help Tunisia but we must also acknowledge that it is incredibly fragile, the Islamists are gaining ground and it is cursed by bad neighbors. France has a military presence in the Sahel already trying to prevent terrorist movements there but it is needle in a haystack stuff.

    Climate change, overpopulation and water scarcity are hitting this part of the world very hard. Europe could do more than it is currently doing but without help from the US and other wealthy countries it is going to be overwhelmed.

  184. Thank you very much for the very clear and informative reply - agreed entirely. The challenges are huge, and we do need everyone. I would hope that the US does not disengage from the region, but "we" need to do much more.

  185. Friedman calls Libya a botched operation by the US and that helps explain why Obama wants to stay out of the area. Libya was a rousing success at getting rid of an oppressive dictator, we didn’t botch anything the Libyans botched the chance to govern themselves, just as Iraq and Egypt have, and Syria surely will. If the people in the Arab world can’t create functional governments, it is counterproductive for the US to intervene and own their dysfunction. Friedman sees rays of hope in Tunisia and Kurdistan but he is being willfully optimistic. We should help fledgling democracies but they aren’t an excuse for wider involvement in the region.

    Obama thinks the military approach to Terrorism has failed and he is right, it is time to go back to treating it as a criminal enterprise and not reacting to every attack the way the terrorists want us to. The best we can hope for is limiting the humanitarian damage, which means helping Europe with refugees and doing our best to prevent attacks. Without many people noticing, Obama has substantially reduced our dependence on Middle Eastern oil making the region less strategically important so we can step back from it.

    It may be emotionally satisfying to talk big and carry a bigger stick, especially after an incident, but it won’t solve the problem of Terrorism. It is time to stop trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and it is time for the people there to govern themselves or suffer the consequences of their inability to do so.

  186. And why shouldn't President Obama have contempt for Middle East leaders, after all, as a group they *are* rather contemptible-sort of like Donald Trump, only perhaps meaner, if that's possible!

    The problems in the Middle East can only be solved by the people who live there, and that means not us. Oh, we have a part to play but I certainly don't think it involves sacrificing American soldiers to the tune of some 6,000 lives so far. Certainly nascent democracies should be supported, but the question is how. If we call ourselves "allies" of these democracies then will not that anger the extremists so that they will try to undermine them? This is a situation we simply cannot win no matter what position is taken. Perhaps we just need to hunker down and wait out the storm and quit hitting the hornet's nest.

  187. Actually, it's the other way around.Obama is extremely synpathetic to the muslims as his bowing and scraping tour of the Middle east right after his election showed. He couldn't apologize enough for what a terrible country we are. However, over the past 7 years it is he who has earned the contempt of every arab and muslim leader, and everybody else, for being a weak, inept and incompetent leader who talks out of both sides of his mouth. Example, his shameful drawing of the Red Line in Syria which was promptly crossed and he just as promptly pretended he never drew it.

  188. You are aware of the successful mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden? Of the current missions destroying terrorist training camps in Yemen? One commenter ranting about Hillary bombing Libya, and you ranting about the president doing nothing. Read up on some of the multi-nation efforts in both Africa and the Middle east.

  189. Two different presidents, two different approaches.
    I think it's too soon to judge Obama's approach but, currently, I sense a lot of wisdom in it.
    Europe and the rest of the world need to assume more responsibility. The US is weakened (and thus less effective) by playing policeman to the world.
    We cannot eliminate all risk, nor all tragedies. Trying to exacerbates problems. 'Carpet Bombing', closing borders, marginalizing innocents, may all sound fine until you factor in the inevitable pushback.
    This isn't the wild west, and the Texas Rangers aren't going to rush in with pistols blazing. This is an age of incredible destructive power, and our most potent weapons must be our minds, not our bombs.

  190. In the Atlantic article, which is wonderfully researched and written, President Obama justifies his hesitancy to make a large military commitment in the Middle East given the region's history of tribalism, failed leaders, and riddled with corruption. (Name a Middle East country that isn't corrupt.) I really agree with the President's wariness with the U.S. foreign policy establishment and its play book that always calls for military action -- "Hey, let's launch some cruise missiles!!"

    Perhaps we will be drawn back into a large scale use of military force in the Middle East. My concern is the ease with which the "Washington elite" decide to deploy our all-volunteer force to war. How much skin do they have in the game, are their sons and daughters in the infantry? Generally, absolutely not.

    Remember, about the same number of people were killed in the Brussels terrorist attacks as are killed every day in the U.S. from gun violence. And Pakistan, with over 100 nuclear weapons, teeters on being a failed state.

  191. We need world historians whose scholarship focuses on revolutions in the historiographical archives to enlighten every orphus of our democracy.

    Democratic idealism, as Friedman's historical memory seem's to subscribe too, mutates into martial despotism more often than not. Especially in a geographic region like the near east, or a time and place like ours, where external and internal tensions that are out of one powers control, abound. I appreciate where Tom is coming from but history substantiates his reckless democratic zealotry only takes root when democracies enemies are internally defeated by a consensus from the internal population.

    Quell your passion Tom, our own democratic principles are under threat by internal anthropomorphic and fanatic forces. You should be thankful, as I am every day, for the careful, principled and pragmatic/realist filling the position of our current commander in chief.

  192. Defending Europe is defending Europe's social welfare system including free healthcare Americans don't enjoy. Europeans need to step up to the plate and start paying their way with regard to their own defense. Americans are sick and tired of European freeloaders. And no, I am not a Trump supporter, just a simple citizen who would like to see some of our defense spending redirected to more useful domestic purposes.

  193. All would be right in the world if President Obama would just do this or that. When has America not been responsible for protecting Western Europe from every threat it faces. Yes Europe and European democracy is essential to America's well being but when will they take responsibility for their own well-being. I admire President Obama's restraint and his recognition that life should not stop every time violent death occurs in the world. It occurs every day. In less than a year we will see if the next President has a better approach to the troubles of the world.

  194. Mr. Friedman should take a look at the Congressional Progressive Caucus' budget plan that diverts military spending to refugee resettlement. We seem to be choosing military intervention over humanitarian intervention because we have a huge military and, as one Party and the Times' anointed Democratic candidate believe, military force is the only solution to the conflict in the Middle East. Instead of being the military bully that Cruz and Trump envision or the puppeteer that Ms. Clinton and the neo-liberals envision we should be the humanitarian force that the Progressives envision.

  195. For me, it seems undisputable that President Obama is somewhat passive in many realms, domestic and international. While an extraordinarily intelligent, man, he has often been unwilling or unable to stand up and make demands. His approach is as a conciliator, looking to collaborate with all the players. But there are times when he must assert his role as President and coerce others to follow him. Look at how he played the Supreme Court nominating process, meeting once more with the Republican leadership that time and again has disregarded him. And is it not so that his nominee has supported Citizens United at the DC Circuit? This is a concern, it seems to me. Yet the immediate issue is whether he stands up to these so-called terrorists and demand a concerted effort from all concerned to end their pathetic attacks? Will he demand the Muslim world to join him in condemning such attacks, which I believe is essential? Will he organize and lead, for example, a million protestors against terrorism in Washington or elsewhere? Will he organize and lead a worldwide effort to undermine the corrupt and nihilistic philosophy of terrorism and its meaningless killings? This too, I believe, is urgently needed. Will he make demands on leadership in the Middle East to be more responsible to its citizens? Frankly, despite other very impressive talents, it dies not seem he has the spine for this.

  196. GWB, Dick Cheney et al had a lot of spine. "Spine" is overrated.

  197. Sigh. His nominee, as was appropriate, wrote a decision saying that the Supreme Court's opinion superseded in a particular case.

    That's how this stuff works.

  198. Lobel, I think your remarks are the most astute on this subject I've read.

    The one thing President Obama has that NO ONE ELSE in the entire world has is the presidential bully pulpit. And he just hasn't used it enough against Islamic terrorism.

    Considering his heritage, his voice would be far more convincing than any other western leader's. Yet it's been silent.

  199. The Middle East is a unfixable. Sending in American Troops is just more death, more sorrow, more hell than already exists. Somehow (or not) the Middle East must solve it's own problems and the ones we created, too. We have done enough damage. Nothing short of a couple million combat troops and an iron fist will subdue the region. And even that will only plaster over the surface. The Middle East will remain as it is forever: a tribalist world of hatred and religious intolerance; a physical, mental, and emotional hell on earth. I'm sorry we had any part in making it the way it is, but we cannot solve its problems.

  200. Oh please! You condemn Obama for intervening and then you curse him for not. I suppose he is singly responsible for undoing decades of US policy which supported and propped up repressive regimes throughout the region. Our focus was on oil and perhaps making sure there wasn't a united front to fight Israel.

    Now we have countries, or remnants of the same, where it is political whack-a-mole trying determine who stands for what from one day to the next. I'm not even taking into account the complete political chaos in the US on this subject.

    Throwing people (military and support) and money into the multiple frays without consensus at home, a plan, and international support is a great way to get a lot more innocent people killed and displaced.

    We've unseated a number of horrible strongmen and amplified the misery in those places instead of improving life for all. As long as our policy is heavily influenced by commercial interests, I think that our minimal intervention is the best course of action.

  201. Everyone has a wishlist. Unfortunately, they all involve putting American soldiers in the line of fire, with no tangible results guaranteed.

    Europe needs to fix its problems with its security agencies, it's need to integrate it's immigrants, it's unjustified worldview where people live in harmony with no borders. This ain't John Lennon's world, let's act like it.

  202. In poor countries and worst in countries hit by war talking about a society free of corruption or democracy is like the famous democratic revolution.Impossible to believe in it.Corruption is all over.The public assets are very often private assets.I think Obama is right.Pushing history ahead with any kind of cultural change is hot air.They need time.Europe as bad as it is needs to limit the refugees influx.Europe as the USA needs to control better the vitriol in the mosques and if an Iman starts with hate speeches he needs to be expelled from the country.The money from the Saudis needs to be halted and scrutinized.Where is the money for the European terrorists coming from?
    The two brothers were criminals trying to steal banks and cars.But easily they got money for guns,bullets and to hide.And the question again arises: where is the easy money coming from?

  203. Yes, there are risks to doing nothing, but in the end, theses risks pale besides the risk of war. And time for Mr Friedman to level with us- there never was a single idea that might have formed the core of policy, there were always way too many conflicting ideas that tell us that, in the end, we know as little about what works as we do about effective dieting.

  204. Name one example where U.S. interventionism has had a positive outcome. Now name all of the examples where U.S. interventionism has resulted in disaster. I think you will discover that disaster far outweighs the positive.

    One definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Perhaps Mr. Friedman should consider this definition before espousing more of the same for the Middle East.

  205. This smacks of a suggestion that we engage in more military action in the Middle East accompanied by more nation-building and attempts to impose western style governments in the region. One wonders where Mr. Friedman might have been during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The President has it right.

  206. No need to wonder. He was on the sidelines, pom-poms in his fists.

  207. Maybe. President Obama might have made mistakes but in the end he is the best we've got. Wait until one of these idiots running to replace him gets in and then you'll miss him because they have all pledged to work hard to really screw things up. Except Sanders who has admirably pledged to do pretty much nothing.

    The leaders of the Middle East are worthy of disdain. Maybe not King Abdullah, he seems to be a normal person underneath the title. And the Kurds, they seem to be reasonable.

    There is no fixing this. This train departed at the end of WWI and maybe way before. We can say Europe caused this because they contributed to it but the Middle East will change only when it really wants to.

    Atavism is the word of the day and that goes for Cruz, Trump and the King of Saudi Arabia.

  208. Most Americans have no interest in nation building or trying to solve the Middle East "crisis". But what we do want and do expect is a safe and sound USA. Strong leaders don't stick their head in the sand, or watch baseball games when the world is burning around them. We need more than platitudes such as "the world needs to join forces". There is a real fear and concern out there. It deserves a response. Its ignorant to think that this is the same as slipping in bathtubs or running into deer with their cars.

  209. If Thomas Friedman had opposed our invasion of Iraq instead of cheer leading for it, we would still have a mess in the Middle-East but on a much smaller, more manageable scale. Without our infusion of billions of dollars in heavy weaponry in that part of the world (never knowing for sure where they would end up) those different tribes would be fighting each other with sticks and cause NO danger to Europe or the rest of the world. We and Mr. Friedman bear major responsibility for this disaster.

  210. Well, Tom, if the Syrian civil war is causing problems for the Europeans, maybe the Europeans should do something about them. I think they got into bad habits of dependency during the Cold War and it's high time they grew out of them. For one thing, they might increase their defense budgets rather than continue to lean on ours.

  211. Obama is the man I chose twice to be my president. I think he has handled the middle east pretty well. I do not want any more of my tax dollars going to fight an unwinnable war with a bunch of terrorists and if I had kids in the service I wouldnt want to see them constantly shipped out to some desert so our oil rich owners can have protection. Sometimes a leader has to accept the limitations of his power. I guess you will like it when President Trump spends all of our tax dollars on building walls, bombing countries so that innocent civilians (like Iraq under Bush) are the collateral damage and the thugs rarely get touched. My problem with the middle east is the billions of dollars we send there to countries who should be able to support themselves (like Israel).

  212. It takes a stronger man to walk away from a fight than stay in it.
    There is nothing to win in the Mideast. There are plenty of other
    worlds and peoples who can benefit from America's help and
    who would appreciate it. The President sees the writing on
    the wall and bombs blowing up in Europe is not going to change
    that.

  213. "After all, the president indicated, more Americans are killed each year slipping in bathtubs or running into deer with their cars than by any terrorists, so we need to stop wanting to invade the Middle East in response to every threat..."

    And since the president seems inclined to keep things in perspective, hopefully he keeps in mind that 1,000 times more Americans die from gun violence in the U.S. and 1,000 times more Americans die from car accidents in the U.S. than worldwide from terrorist attacks.

    Is the president on the right track with terrorism? Since neither he or Friedman has a crystal ball that can divine the future, this article seems absurd.

  214. "After all, the president indicated, more Americans are killed each year slipping in bathtubs or running into deer with their cars than by any terrorists, so we need to stop wanting to invade the Middle East in response to every threat.

    That all sounds great on paper, until a terrorist attack like the one Tuesday in Brussels comes to our shores. Does the president have this right?"

    Yes, Mr. Friedman, the President has not only the right, but the obligation to exercise good sense and keep us out of the quagmire that is the Middle East, especially since the intervention you seem to suggest already has been tried and has failed miserably.

  215. Whether we enter the fray or not, the Middle East will continue to be a failed region engaged in unending sectarian/tribal strife. President Obama is a realist who understands the futility of spending money and sending troops to fight a hopeless cause. Germany, France and Turkey are bearing the brunt of the massive influx of displaced Syrians. They have strong militaries. If they're not willing to spend their blood and treasure, why should we?

  216. The problem here is that, well, we're the USA. Anything we do will ultimately be derided as colonialism, imperialism, etc. not only by the people we are trying to help but by a segment of our own citizens.
    I also think congratulating the Tunisians on their start-up democracy is perhaps premature. In business, most start-ups founder within five years; look at the Arab Spring. And while I congratulate Tunisia on their Nobel Peace Prize, let's not forget this "attaboy" award went to Obama for being black and by extension to the American people for voting for him; and to Henry Kissinger for ... never mind.
    And BTW, there is no apostrophe in the expression "hands-off approach"; you're thinking of "arm's-length approach," perhaps.

  217. Does Obama have this right? I doubt that anybody can answer that question definitively at this time. But, we do have a great deal of experience with the consequences of intervening militarily in the MIddle East. We are living with them now.

  218. This column rests on the assumption that American intervention, military or otherwise, will result in a predictable, positive outcome. Recent history has proven otherwise.

  219. So brief. So true.

  220. "Obama seems so obsessed with not being George W. Bush in the Middle East that he has stopped thinking about how to be Barack Obama here — how to leave a unique legacy and secure a foothold for democracy … without invading."

    I have no way of knowing if Obama has "stopped thinking" or if he surely has "it right". However, I do think it's reasonable to lay out three guiding assumptions. One is that we, the US, is not likely to bring about or enhance democracy in the Middle East by military force. A second is that democracy in that region is in the hands of those in that region, and that region is, to understate the confusion there, in a state of flux that is not likely to soon abate. Probably the most we can do is to help fledgling democracies is at the margins, and most effectively by doing so quietly. Third, and above all, DO NO HARM.

  221. I think that part of Obama's message is to Europe to start pulling its own weight in the Middle East. They are most vulnerable to terrorist attacks, but somehow the U.S. is blamed for not doing enough, i.e. going in with military force to try to take out ISIS in this case. Europe is also more dependent on Middle East oil than the U.S. Everyone wants Obama to clean up Syria and other terrorist hot spots. Even if he wanted to, it's not that simple. But the point is, why us, and only us?

  222. Why should the US insist on being the worlds police? Haven't we learned nothing in the past half century of interventions among crooked nations and we get nothing or help much at the end?

    All these fear-inducing propaganda about a terrorist attacks in US soil has gotten out of control, Isis and other extremist groups benefit from it. I'm not for sacrificing more US soldiers for lost causes, let the people of those countries handle themselves, and at last maybe some European nations finally get their heads out of their rears and do something.

  223. President Obama, with Tom Friedman cheering him on, would have lodged a "vigorous" protest with the League of Nations against the Japanese "incursion" into Pearl Harbor back in 1941.
    "We have called upon the Japanese to withdraw and note with satisfaction that our wise diplomacy has indeed convinced the Chrysanthemum Throne, which we respect as the true spirit of the Japanese people, to pull back from American waters. Japanese incursions into China, the Philippines, British and Dutch colonies in South East Asia are problems that have nothing to do with America. I will not send American boys to risk their lives to regain British or Dutch colonies.
    My fellow Americans, the Japanese military constitutes nothing bu the JV team of the Tripartite Pact and is of no direct threat to America.
    Instead, I am imposing a series of stiff economic sanctions on Japan, together with direct engagement with their leaders, that will apply slow pressure that will force Japan to withdraw to its own territories by the latest in the 1990s.
    "Mr. Obama is the most brilliant president the United States has ever had," Mr. Friedman concluded in a recent column.

  224. President Obama has this right. No one can force democracy on anyone else. No outside force can build a nation. The people of that nation have to stand up for themselves and build it themselves.

    We should learn from our history and not repeat the mistakes we have made. We have paid a high price for our hubris and thinking that we can build nations. Simply put, we can't. And we should stop trying.

    And we need to solve our own problems first before building other nations. I can't believe we can say with a straight face that we don't have money to fund our schools or to provide clean water or fund pensions for firefighters - yet we can spend billions of dollars in fighting wars. Let's build our nation first then worry about other nations.

  225. Friedman will get lots of flack for criticizing Obama, but he is right--the unforeseen consequences of letting things go can be high. Allowing terrorists to kill similar amounts of people as get killed in accidents with deer seems acceptable. But, when unanswered, the encouragement it gives the planners can boost their sights on larger goals, being successful at the smaller ones, and give them access to larger resources. All of the sudden, the small thing, easily solvable becomes the big problem, difficult to solve. "A stitch in time saves nine," did not come about because it wasn't consistently true.

  226. Operation Enduring Freedom is an on-going effort to equip and train 10 African nations (one is Tunisia) dealing with border insecurity, terrorist attacks, et.
    The 2012 Atlas Accord, earlier African Lion program were some other parts of the multi-nation effort to stabilize the Saharan region. What pieces do you feel are missing? Libya's history going back to the 70's is one of funding rebellion and terrorism ( even Chicago gangs). Australia, Sierra Leone/Liberia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Ireland, Chad, Sudan, Philippines, Germany, France, in the air and on the ground, they send $ and arms everywhere. We've bombed their missle sites, airfields, planes, ships, over the decades. What do you suggest?

  227. Obama's problem is his own failure of geopolitical skills. Because he cannot figure out a way to engage productively in the Middle East, he assumes there isn't a way. So he avoids it.

    His "Doctrine of Avoidance" has not been great for the Middle East. While it's tempting to say, "They need to do more", the bottom line is that avoidance has a price too.

    Balance has always been the secret to success in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Obama has further destabilized the area with his initial interventions, then his retreat and especially with his Iran deal. He will leave a messy situation for the next US president.

  228. What president over the last 50 years hasn't been able to claim that they were left with a messy situation in the middle east?

  229. Without the Iran deal he would be leaving a nuclear-armed Tehran for the next President. Would that make you happy?

  230. Friedman needs to know that the cheering overseas for American intervention stopped long ago - Pax Americana is indeed (and rightly so) dead, and unless the nations of the Middle East revert to civilized behavior that reflects a desire to join the international community for an extended period of time, then they should reap what they have sown. This piece reads as if the US has a power all its own to undo the catastrophic damage caused by generations of unscrupulous rulers in the Middle East. Not so.

    It isn't just Obama who thinks the Middle East leaders are untrustworthy - it's the whole world, or at least the sane. One would have to be a fool to believe that after what's gone on there in the past 25 years (remember that little border issue between Kuwait and Iraq that the US promised not to interfere with) that any of the current ME leaders can be trusted. Castigating Obama for lack of action, when action has proven to be the one thing that's dug the hole deeper, requires that people forget everything that's transpired. Tunisia as a lynchpin - get real.

    This whole region of the planet was ripe for military-industrial complex plucking and profiteering as far back as 1990 - it doesn't need to be explained any further than that. Cheney and his friends made sure it happened, and W went along for the ride, eager to confirm his daddy's half victory. We ruined a country run by a despot, and made it much, much worse, and laid the ground for ISIS. What more it there to say?

  231. This thesis that 'merica is abandoning Europe in its hour of need has a flip side: after Paris & Brussels, perhaps the E.U. will get off of their collective rears ends and take responsibility for their own security, both internal and external. As a leader of nations with a huge economy we should have an significant role in global security, but we cannot do it all. For heck's sake, we throw a parade when an EU nation's security spending hits 2% of GDP. Very little WE do can protect Paris or Brussels or London or Madrid from people living in the EU for decades. Europe has to get a glove and get in the game.

  232. The United States helped undermine the Soviet Union by supporting all sorts of groups that opposed communist, especially Solidarity in Poland. It is time for the United States and Europe to stop being both passive and to lead with military action. It has to be recognized that democracy is not the answer in the Middle East. Liberalism with a small "l" is. There are not enough power centers. There is not enough sharing of power. It took Europe centuries and a long and bloody war, the Thirty Years War, to bring liberalism to the West.

  233. Friedman is nothing if not a follower of narrative. The sounds-like-it-could-be-true narrative he follows, along with other neocons, is that it is all our fault. If only we had invaded here, occupied there, and left this piece alone.
    There is no one on this Earth who knows the answer to the Middle East. So, its best to stay out of it. Let them sort things out, while we protect our homeland.