Jacob Heilbrunn

William Kristol's Bad Advice for Obama

William Kristol argues in the Washington Post that President Obama is blowing his chance to promote democracy in the Middle East. He invokes his standard phrase--"honor and duty"--to explain why Obama should be doing more, much more, to encourage protesters. According to Kristol,


What has been strikingly lacking in the Obama administration's response is a sense of the possibility of the moment, a commitment to doing our best to bring that possibility to fruition, a realization that this may be an important inflection point in world history that should shake us out of business as usual.


The problem with his op-ed, apart from the numerous cliches ("inflection point," "business as usual," "challenge these times present") is two-fold. First, what is strikingly lacking in Kristol's admonitions is a practical course of counsel for what, exactly, Obama should do. Though a safe guess would be that he wants Obama to bomb Libya, a move that would doubtless boomerang. The second is that Kristol says that Obama should be helping the "liberals" in the Middle East. Where are they? In Libya?

Obama, like George H.W. Bush during the 1989 revolutions, is probably doing the right thing, which is to try and stay out of the way. This is an Arab revolution, not an American one. No one knows where it will end, though Israel is quaking over the upheaval.

The real loser in these revolutions, at least financially, is probably going to be the industrialized countries. The price of oil is soaring. And it will probably never return to its previous levels. The Middle East is going to be wracked by instability for years. Thomas Friedman is probably right when he says this is "the mother of all wake-up calls."

The good, old days of propping up authoritarian leaders and enjoying fairly cheap oil has come to an end. Welcome to the era of petroleum pain.