There was a lot of talk before he was elected that Barack Obama might turn out to be a second Jimmy Carter.

Now it appears that Hosni Mubarak is on the brink of turning out to be the second Shah of Iran. It was Carter’s mushy thinking and general weakness (the second proceeded from the first) that paved the way for the mullahs to take over in Iran.   

Obama is reaping praise from many sensible people for walking a thin line and not taking sides. He hasn’t rushed to shove Mubarak and at the same time he is calling for reform and democracy.

It doesn’t worry me that our team is making mealy-mouthed statements. That is what diplomacy is all about. What is frightening is that our team looks like deer caught in the headlight. We’d all probably rest easier if we felt that they were intellectually and philosophically prepared.

In particular, President Obama seems to view the Middle East through the wrong lens. He bought into the erroneous claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of the problems there. Egypt, as Commentary editor John Podhoretz explains, will reveal (to those capable of learning) that this was never the case:

The anti-Mubarak revolution won’t only topple an authoritarian regime. It will also topple 40-plus years of wrong-headed thinking about the causes of Middle East instability among the world’s foreign-policy cognoscenti.

In that view, the horrible relationship between Israel and the Arabs is the dominant issue for the Near East’s 20-plus nations and its 250-million-plus people — and the root cause of the region’s tempestuousness.

But now that Tunisia’s street revolt against a corrupt dictatorial regime has led to Egypt’s similar revolt only in a matter of weeks, with God knows what to follow elsewhere, the plain truth can no longer be denied: Israel is a sideshow.

If and when Mubarak crumbles, and the revolt that began in Tunisia continues its relentless spread, the time will have come for the rulers of these blasted lands to take the measure of what their people actually need. …

Oddly enough, I think this is one time when Barack Obama really can blame George Bush.

The fledgling democracy in Iraq has got to have told people in these “blasted lands” that something better, not perfect, but better is possible. If the U.S. allows the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power (we should be active behind the scenes) then this historic moment will have been lost.

Barry Rubin is fearful, the New Republic literary editor thinks that “the Obama administration, and American liberals more generally, have been caught intellectually unprepared for this crisis,” and Melanie Phillips notes that the Arab world is tipping-but towards what?

The administration can’t entirely control the situation, what it does, either in public or behind the scenes, will be crucial. Let’s hope we aren’t going to see Carter II in the coming week.

I have never hoped so hard that President Obama will rise to the occasion and make the right decisions.