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As protests spread across the Arab world in late 2010 and early 2011, the Obama administration struggled to decide a strategy. Torn between sticking with the autocratic strongmen who had long been America’s allies or democracy-seeking protesters on the streets, it lurched one way and then the other, only rarely committing completely to an outcome.

How much influence Washington ever had over events in the region remains an open question. Obama’s most decisive action — to intervene militarily in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi — unquestionably defined events there, although the unending conflict and instability since were hardly the preferred outcome.

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