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Obama's Mideast Mess

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Having completed his three-state "Midwest listening tour," President Barack Obama is now on vacation on Martha's Vineyard. According to his handlers, in between golf outings and cocktail parties, our president also is working on yet another speech on how he will balance our government's books and put Americans back to work. Those who believe that ought to recall his remarks March 22, five days after U.S. and allied military operations began in Libya: "I said at the outset that this was going to be a matter of days and not weeks."

This week, we passed the five-month mark since U.S. and NATO airstrikes began in Libya. Nearly 30,000 air missions -- including more than 250 cruise missile strikes -- have been flown since Obama announced that the U.S. military's "unique capabilities" would be used to "take down Libyan air defenses." Rebel units armed, trained and supported by British and French special operations units are inching toward Tripoli, but Moammar Gadhafi remains in power, and his depredations against the Libyan people continue. On Tuesday, forces loyal to the dictator fired at least one Scud missile -- a weapon capable of delivering chemical warheads -- at opponents of his regime.

Though the ongoing "humanitarian mission to protect civilians in Libya" was approved by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is having second thoughts. On Aug. 12, he issued a statement saying he's "deeply concerned by reports of the unacceptably large number of civilian casualties as a result of the conflict in Libya." Exactly what "unacceptably large" means was not explained, and calls to the U.N. press office were not returned. Nor are there any definitive numbers on how many have been killed or wounded since hostilities commenced March 17. Some human rights groups put the number at more than 30,000. So much for the president's claim that U.S. forces were being committed in Libya on a "mission to protect civilians."

Whether this claim and Obama's bogus "days and not weeks" comment were simply naive Utopian idealism, gross incompetence or outright duplicity, well, we may never know. What we do know is that the operation in Libya -- like the rest of the O-Team's hesitant, ambivalent and contradictory Mideast policy -- is a fiasco.

Egypt, once the linchpin of U.S. policy in the Muslim world, is in nearly total disarray. After weeks of rioting in Cairo and other cities along the Nile, our detached commander in chief finally said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had to go. When a military junta -- encouraged by the Obama administration -- replaced Mubarak on Feb. 10, White House officials babbled euphorically about an "Arab spring" and a "new era of democracy."

It hasn't happened. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, now running things in Cairo, has put Mubarak on trial but has proved to be unable to restore law and order, stem inflation or improve employment opportunities for young Egyptians. Tourism, once the source of nearly 20 percent of the Egyptian economy, is nonexistent. Virulently anti-Western candidates endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party are expected to dominate parliamentary elections in October.

Worse still, the Egyptian army, long regarded by Washington to be a stabilizing force in the region, now appears to be less capable of keeping radical Islamic terror elements in check. A pipeline across the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Desert -- providing fuel to both Israel and Jordan -- has been targeted five times since February. And this past week, terrorists killed eight Israelis and wounded 25 more near the Red Sea port of Eilat. Israeli security officials say the perpetrators were Hamas gunmen from Gaza who transited the Egyptian Sinai security zone into Israel.

Apparently, the bloody assault in Eilat caught the attention of the very distracted folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and made them realize that things aren't all they should be in the Middle East. The White House eventually released a three-line written statement condemning the attack. But first, the White House press office announced new measures to be taken against the oppressive, Iranian-supported regime in Syria.

According to this statement, also issued without further comment from Obama, our president finally has decided that Bashar Assad should "step aside" in Damascus and that a new executive order with "unprecedented sanctions" will "deepen the financial isolation of the Assad regime." A careful reading of the executive order reveals that it does little more than bar U.S. citizens and companies from doing business in Syria. It's disingenuous and not much different from the futile restrictions currently imposed on Iran for its nuclear weapons program.

To be effective, real sanctions must bar all individuals and companies -- U.S.-based or not -- from doing business in Syria if they want to do business in America. But that would require formulating a genuine Mideast policy and a viable national energy policy and having real leadership. It's a lot easier to simply go on vacation and issue a news release.

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