Obama's 'Deliberate, Almost Scholarly, Approach' to His Middle East Muddle

Obama's "deliberate, almost scholarly" approach to foreign policy may be obtaining mixed results at best, but reporter Mark Landler trumpeted the White House line that the killing of Osama bin Laden would enable Obama to "reset" American policy in the Arab world: "Obama Seeks Reset in Arab World - Speech Likely to Put Bin Laden's Death in Context of Uprisings." After years of falsely deriding President Bush as an incurious cowboy set on "going it alone" in foreign policy, the Times finds Obama's "immersion" in liberal journo-think a welcome sign of "scholarly" pragmatism.

For President Obama, the killing of Osama bin Laden is more than a milestone in America's decade-long battle against terrorism. It is a chance to recast his response to the upheaval in the Arab world after a frustrating stretch in which the stalemate in Libya, the murky power struggle in Yemen and the brutal crackdown in Syria have dimmed the glow of the Egyptian revolution.

Administration officials said the president was eager to use Bin Laden's death as a way to articulate a unified theory about the popular uprisings from Tunisia to Bahrain - movements that have common threads but also disparate features, and have often drawn sharply different responses from the United States.

"Sharply different responses" is a polite way to describe Obama's foreign policy inconsistency. Landler let Obama pose as a born-again foreign policy maven, down to briefing on targets in Libya, yet also allowing Obama to escape direct responsibility for the "Nato-led bombing campaign" against Libyan forces loyal to Qaddafi.

That has proved even more true in Libya, where Mr. Obama reluctantly threw his support behind a NATO-led bombing campaign that has bogged down. Libya has become a major preoccupation for him, necessitating daily meetings, in which officials said he was being briefed on the targets for airstrikes and on diplomatic efforts to pry Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power.

Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, said Mr. Obama was as deeply immersed in all the Arab countries undergoing political upheaval. "The president, in each of these cases, has really been the central intellectual force in these decisions, in many cases, designing the approaches," he said.

It will be no consolation to conservatives that Obama is gleaning ideas from liberal journalists like Times columnist Tom Friedman, notorious for his embrace of the efficiency of China's authoritarian Communist regime.

At night in the family residence, an adviser said, Mr. Obama often surfs the blogs of experts on Arab affairs or regional news sites to get a local flavor for events. He has sounded out prominent journalists like Fareed Zakaria of Time magazine and CNN and Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist at The New York Times, regarding their visits to the region. "He is searching for a way to pull back and weave a larger picture," Mr. Zakaria said

Mr. Obama has ordered staff members to study transitions in 50 to 60 countries to find precedents for those under way in Tunisia and Egypt. They have found that Egypt is analogous to South Korea, the Philippines and Chile, while a revolution in Syria might end up looking like Romania's.

This deliberate, almost scholarly, approach is in keeping with Mr. Obama's style, one that has frustrated people who believe he is too slow and dispassionate. But officials said it also reflected his own impatience, two years after he gave a speech in Cairo intended to mend America's relations with the Muslim world, that many of these countries remained mired in corruption.