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Assessing the Mideast turmoil

Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 7:11 PM

I'm pleased that Michael Scheuer, in his March 6 Outlook commentary, "In Arab revolts, a boon for al-Qaeda," raised a note of caution in the face of what may be an overly optimistic reports in the Western media, but I was still disappointed in the thrust of his argument. My concern is that Mr. Scheuer has veered too far in the pessimistic direction.

Mr. Scheuer argues that Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in Egypt removes a bulwark in the war against terrorism and a linchpin in America's historic alliance with Israel. What about the contrary argument that a U.S. foreign policy based on ties to dictators who don't share our values, all in the interest in "stability," is shortsighted and doomed to failure in the long run?

We all know that democracy is a messy business and that the Muslim Brotherhood and more virulent Islamic forces will try to manipulate it to their advantage. Shouldn't we retain some hope, however, that free competition of ideas in a new world informed by education, social media and other agents of modernism will allow the forces for good to prevail?

Edward Trevelyan, St. Michaels, Md.

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In defending their cautious attitude toward the conflict in Libya, administration spokespersons are fond of noting that Libya is the size of Alaska ["Hill urges stronger U.S. response," front page, March 7]: "Gates said that any effort to secure the skies over Libya, a country roughly the size of Alaska . . ." But this leaves out the fact that more than 90 percent of the country consists of barren desert hinterlands. Virtually all the action in the current revolution has taken place in a narrow band just a few miles deep along the Mediterranean littoral. If this zone is not within reach of U.S. air and naval forces, then the military should refund the billions of dollars it has been given to improve its capabilities in the past 30 years. There may very well be reasons not to intervene in Libya, but the extent of its empty desert is not one of them.

Richard L. Lobb, Fairfax

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