No Nap for a Superpower

Most Americans would like to withdraw from international contretemps, but the rest of the world isn't cooperating. American involvement is in demand across the globe.

Nowhere is American fatigue deeper than with the Middle East. We fought two long, expensive wars and a majority of Americans want to put them in the rear-view mirror. That doesn't seem likely.

Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a deal to audit all the ballots cast in the recent Afghan presidential runoff, avoiding at least for now a splintered national government, which could give the Taliban hiding in the hills an opportunity to make a political or military comeback.

Iraq continues to disintegrate, forcing President Obama, who campaigned on getting America out of the country, to consider going back in. He already has consented to send up to 1,000 military advisers to Iraq and is applying pressure to install a national unity government that can woo back disaffected Sunnis and opportunistic Kurds.

The United States is playing a lead role in fragile, emotionally charged negotiations on Iran's nuclear capabilities. There is a small window for Iran's new government to compromise in return for a significant relaxation of economic sanctions. Direct dialogue with Iran may have side benefits in trying to quell Sunni-led terrorist insurgency in Iraq.

Kerry Cuts Video to Explain Iran Deal

Secretary of State John Kerry appealed to a wider audience than the Washington, DC talking heads of television with a video explaining the nuances of the nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran.

Amid mounting criticism of the 6-month agreement by Israel, the Saudis and leading members of Congress, Kerry gave a fairly straightforward account of what he called the "first-step" agreement to a comprehensive pact with Iran to restrict its ability to develop a nuclear weapon.

The video, which lacks a lot of professional touches, features Kerry talking into a camera and explaining the deal in reasonable detail, especially involving Iran's current and projected capacity to generate the fuel for a nuclear bomb.

While the video won't silence domestic or international critics, it does represent an intriguing move to make complex foreign affairs accessible to anyone interested enough to take five minutes to listen.

On the other side of the world, Iran has deployed social media to explain its side of the deal, which includes relief from some economic sanctions that have strained its economy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flexed his access to major television network news outlet to express his misgivings with the deal, while the Saudis and Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies let their allies know through trusted channels of their displeasure with a pact involving Shiites.

The United States has never been adept at triangulating foreign policy conundrums that don't resolve themselves in black and white, but shades of gray. The politics and alliances, visible and invisible, of the Middle East are anything but black and white.

What's Really Behind U.S. Inaction in Syria

There are potent reasons why President Obama has delayed a response to the Syrian government crossing his red line and using chemical weapons on its own citizens.

Risking a deepening image of presidential dithering, Obama continues to search for a measured response that doesn't repeat mistakes made by the United States in the 1980s in Afghanistan and further strain relations with Russia, which continues to protect the Bashar al-Assad regime. 

This week's report of a chemical weapon attack that may have killed as many as 1,500 Syrians makes Obama's tightrope walk even trickier.

The Washington Post's Max Fisher posted a blog listing five reasons for what appears as Obama inaction. First and foremost is the fear that the rebels, some of whom have affiliation with al-Qaeda, could be worse than the current regime. The United States learned that lesson when it sided with Afghanistan militants in resisting a Soviet invasion. The Russians got repelled, but the United States got sucked into a prolonged war against the Taliban and, at times, with the ruling Karzai government, purportedly a U.S. ally.

Obama's widely ridiculed "lead-from-rear" strategy in Libya resulted in a regime change. But it also resulted in a politically embarrassing episode with a militant attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on the eve of the 2012 presidential election. You can understand Obama's hesitancy to burst in on another party where the United States will inevitably be the piñata.

Fisher says there isn't much political advantage for Obama to become bogged down in Syria, despite his red line ultimatum. He already is accused of public policy attention deficit for jumping from issue to issue. Now Obama, as evidenced by his 2-day bus trip to promote his college affordability agenda, is trying to focus on a few longer-term economic priorities.

Halloween Blurs with Election Eve

It is only fitting that a high-profile, high-intensity presidential contest end with dignity — or not.

Donald Trump, apparently unmoved by the devastation at lower levels of New York than he inhabits, continued to press his $5 million bounty for anyone who could produce Barack Obama's college application.

Mark Cuban, buoyed by his TV fame on the Shark Tank, called Trump's bounty the "dumbest thing ever," then offered his own $1 million contribution to charity if Trump trimmed his comb-over.

Haunted by his dissing of the U.S. auto bailout, GOP contender Mitt Romney ran an ad in car-centric and Electoral-College-significant Ohio claiming Chrysler planned to move Jeep assembly jobs to China. The Italian president of Fiat, which owns Chrysler, denied the charge.

Then there was the claim from the National Rifle Association that the Obama administration would use the pretense of storm evacuation from Hurricane Sandy to confiscate people's guns. This was based on a report that a New Orleans police officer confiscated a handgun from someone in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, during the presidency of George W. Bush.