Just bombing and leaving is not always that much better. A chaotic Libya is now worse than under Gaddafi.
Whichever bad choice the Obama administration prefers, it should at least level with the American people. Every postwar occupation in our history has dealt with unappreciative and unstable allies such as Maliki -- from difficult South Korean strongmen of the 1950s and 1960s to Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Pulling completely out of a mostly quiet Iraq just because we had to work with unsavory characters made no sense.
Airbrushing the Middle East or the war on terror also leads nowhere. The administration can create mythologies about Islamic history, as in Obama's unfortunate Cairo speech. It can bow to sheiks, commit NASA to Muslim outreach, emphasize the Muslim roots of Obama's father's family, invent euphemisms for the war against radical Islam, and dub the Muslim Brotherhood "largely secular."
The result will still be that Middle Eastern factions hate us. Polls reveal that Obama is as unpopular in the Middle East as George W. Bush was.
The Middle East is the Middle East not because America intervenes or does not intervene, or reaches out or stays out, or imports oil or cuts back its purchases.
Instead, Middle Eastern violence and instability are homegrown. They result from a complex brew of tribalism, religious fundamentalism and intolerance, sexual apartheid, anti-Semitism, authoritarianism and statism -- all made worse by huge oil revenues and its key strategic location.
Americans have a choice. They can learn to keep clear of these quagmires and accept that hundreds of thousands will frequently die in the Middle East -- and occasionally some Americans as well. Or, if we tire of watching the violence and intervene after a 9/11-like attack, we should brace for a bloody mess that will take years of unpopular occupation.
So for now we will blame each other for the ensuing savagery and vow to let the Middle East be the Middle East -- at least until the next time Islamic terrorists slaughter our diplomats, blow up an embassy, take down an airplane or topple a New York skyscraper.