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Snapshot

November 30th, 2012 - 10:41 am

The Obama administration sent Hillary Clinton aloft in a trial balloon signaling the willingness to get behind the Syrian opposition to Assad:

A decision to recognize the group could be announced at a so-called Friends of Syria meeting that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to attend in Morocco on Dec. 12. It is the most immediate decision facing the Obama administration as it considers how to end the government of Bashar al-Assad and stop the violence that has consumed Syria.

There’s was always some danger to the course, thus the wisdom of allowing time to leave her holding the bag if it provokes a sharp reaction from Russia:

President Obama has not signed off on the move, and the meetings to decide the issue have yet to be held. Debates within the administration concern legal issues about the implications of diplomatic recognition, how such a move might affect efforts to enlist Russian support for a political transition in Syria and, most importantly, the state of the opposition.

But if the Russians don’t object, the administration can always claim “it was not on the wrong side of history.” When was it ever? It follows the lead of “Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council,” who “have already recognized the opposition, which was enlarged and overhauled at a meeting in Doha, Qatar.”

This development came as Egypt’s announcement of a new Islamic constitution had all the calming effect of a bucket of gasoline poured on a fire. The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen writes:

If anything, the new charter — which passed after walkouts by liberal, secular and other non-Islamist assembly members and in theory will now be put to a public referendum — seems only to have plunged Egypt deeper into turmoil.

The document appeared to function as a battle line between two intractably opposed parties, with some objecting to its Islamist provisions and others outraged that it was not Islamist enough:

Analysts said that the constitution itself — or at least the portions of the text made public so far — appears to be neither the deeply Islamist document that Morsi’s critics had feared nor the inclusive, progressive charter that liberal and secular revolutionaries had hoped would guide the world’s most populous Arab nation.

The document will spawn “all kinds of controversy — political, legal and dueling confrontations on the streets,” said Nathan Brown, a Middle East scholar at George Washington University. “At this point, things seem to be escalating in all ways, and there are no real attempts to contain them. It raises concern about the stability of the political system.”

But as Syria has demonstrated, the administration has a foolproof method of resolving such dilemmas. It simply remains paralyzed until it is clear which bloody set of hands has reached the topmost rung. Then it reaches down to shake them. However, if events in Egypt are any indication, the administration has copious quantities of hand sanitizer available — just in case.

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