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For Obama, reality meets idealism in ties with Muslim world

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Yes, he joined an international coalition to support the rebellion against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. But he has so far been reluctant to intervene more directly in Syria, where the government is estimated to have killed more than 30,000 civilians in its brutal crackdown against the proponents of democracy.

The president called publicly on Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak to step down, breaking ranks with a stalwart US ally. However, he only tepidly objected when the oil-rich powers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops into Bahrain to crush democratic protests there.

Obama’s biggest gamble, perhaps, was to strike a harder open line against Israel in an attempt to strengthen US credibility with Arab leaders. But the end result was that it contributed to the stall in talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and the lack of a Palestinian state continues to work against the US on the Arab street.

If the president is to bring US policy into closer alignment with a new relationship with the Muslim world, he will have to pay closer attention to four core principles characterizing diplomacy in the Middle East: personal relationships matter, as the late US Amb. Chris Stevens so effectively demonstrated; whatever happens in one part of the region reverberates across the region; consistency is crucial to credibility; and peace in the region depends on finding a lasting solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

These suggest some obvious immediate policy changes.

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