The White House continued to dither this week while the Middle East burned. This week’s essay looked at the Obama administration’s failures in Syria—its self-created problems of “red lines” and bold rhetoric not backed by action:
The combination of grave and growing dangers in the Middle East with a lightweight policy response in Washington is genuinely frightening. We have no doubt that the administration wants a peaceful and stable Middle East that is moving toward greater democracy and greater respect for human rights. We share its desire to see this happen without massive US intervention. But the evidence is mounting that America’s present course in the Middle East is leading to a very bad place; real trouble looms unless the administration can begin to engage in a much more serious and thoughtful way.This administration appears to start from the assumption that the only really bad thing that can happen to the United States in the Middle East is that we can get sucked into its wars if we aren’t careful. It’s an understandable error given what happened to George W. Bush, but it is an error nonetheless. The worst thing that can happen to the United States in the Middle East is that the Persian Gulf melts down and the oil flow stops, wrecking the global economy (and, despite our healthy domestic supplies, our own), bringing down the world financial system, causing mass unrest in country after country, and creating a messy situation in which a variety of ugly and expensive US interventions are absolutely required. The administration has been zealously guarding against the Little Satan of unnecessary involvement in a regional war while ignoring or even facilitating the rise of the Great Satan of full-blown regional strategic disaster. Its poor handling of an escalating series of regional problems is increasing the chance that those problems will cascade into a major global crisis.
There were some troubling signs for China’s economy this week, and we wondered if the country’s astonishing growth in recent years might be a bubble about to explode. But Chinese officials have more to worry about than just the economy: Chinese citizens are blackmailing and extorting party officials on social networking sites. Beijing is also (rightfully) concerned about the country’s environmental woes, and rolled out a new domestic cap-and-trade plan for emissions this week.Shale had a big week. India signalled its intention to jump on the shale gas bandwagon, while Mexican President Nieto promised reforms to the stagnant state-owned oil company Pemex, reforms that could help the country take advantage of its own prodigious shale oil and gas reserves. America, the driver of this particular bandwagon, officially imagined scenarios in which it might export oil in the near future, a remarkable milestone that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Europe, on the other hand, has chosen to snub shale, and is burning a lot more American coal because of it.Protests in Turkey continued to simmer, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s handling of the situation had Obama wishing for a new “best friend.” Another bit of bad news that cash-strapped Europe did not need: one billion—that’s right, billion—euros in aid that the EU gave to Egypt over the past six years has gone to waste. On a lighter note, Putin and Merkel bumped heads over “looted” art (spoiler alert: Russia was in the right).Domestically we saw more evidence of an education system in need of repair. Philadelphia can’t pay for its schools, so many may open next year without new books, art or music classes. Nationally, Catholic schools have fallen on hard times, the result of a long decline that could have some unfortunate consequences for the marginalized communities these schools have served for years. In higher education, some colleges are finally seeming to acknowledge that their graduates should be employed. But the most troubling report we read this week noted that Americans entering the workforce are less educated than those exiting it, a trend that could prove very problematic down the road.The skeptical uninsured are a huge problem for Obamacare, and the government is turning to NBA players to promote the new system and, presumably, convince the skeptical that health insurance is worth the price. While we struggle to get the policy right, scientists are busy cooking up new ways to both deliver and administer care.[Obama photo courtesy of Getty Images. Assad photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]