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Meet the New Boss

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
September 14, 2012
Foreign Policy

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The attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, this Sept. 11 echoed the worst moments of American impotence in the Middle East. They not only evoked memories of Iranian revolutionaries storming the U.S. Embassy in Tehran almost 33 years ago, but their occurrence on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington further reminded Americans of the deep roots of anti-American rage in the Arab world.

As a result of that terrible Tuesday morning 11 years ago, Americans have spent a decade deeply intertwined in the affairs of the Arab and Muslim worlds. After watching Egyptians tear the Star and Stripes to shreds and Libyans carry Ambassador Christopher Stevens's dead body, they can be forgiven for believing it is now time to come home. How much has the United States invested in Egypt over the last three decades? Was not Benghazi saved in large part because of the bravery and skills of U.S. Air Force pilots? These are the questions Americans are now asking themselves. The U.S. public can be naive about the world, but they are not fools. They understand when they may no longer be welcome.

Still, it was Vice President Joe Biden who thundered, "Don't bet against the American people" on the third night of the Democratic National Convention, a sentiment with which virtually all Republicans would reflexively agree. The concept of American exceptionalism is in danger of becoming a political cliché, but who would deny that the United States saved the world from fascism and communism and has been a beacon of freedom and prosperity for people the world over? The two major parties have it right: Despite the background chatter of the America's diminished global stature, the country is uniquely positioned to lead the world and remain the preeminent power in the Middle East.

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