WASHINGTON - Surveying the greater Middle East, where chaos reigns from Egypt to Syria and where chances of war among many players are rising, you can hardly blame the typical American for wanting to wish it away.
But the 43 percent of U.S. voters who think that America is "too involved" in the Middle East, according to a recent Rasmussen poll, or the 58 percent who think that we should "leave things alone" in the Islamic world have it backward.
"Let me underscore the importance of the United States continuing to lead in the Middle East, North Africa and around the world," a departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it aptly at recent congressional hearings.
The tumult across the greater Middle East of late, which has emboldened America's state and non-state adversaries and worried our allies, shows what happens when the United States reduces its voice and footprint.
We want to believe that, as President Obama likes to say "the tide of war is receding," but the rest of the world hasn't received the memo. Quite the contrary, as the United States seeks a respite from the region's messiness, our reduced role is a big reason why dangers are mounting.
In Syria, for instance, our reticence to work with our European and regional allies to establish a no-fly zone that would throttle Syria's air force has left a predictable vacuum, with Syria's neighbors unable to more effectively pressure Bashar al-Assad or aid the rebels.
By enabling al-Assad to hang on, U.S. reticence has lengthened the bloodbath through which al-Assad has now slaughtered an estimated 60,000 of his own people while giving jihadists more time to position themselves to shape a post-Assad Syria in ways that we'll regret.
In Iran, the regime progresses in its nuclear pursuit, with no signs the economic and financial sanctions that are clearly impairing the nation's economy are deterring its leaders.
Meanwhile, with America's withdrawals from nearby Iraq and Afghanistan sending clear signals about our long-term commitment to the region, a dangerous Tehran seeks regional supremacy while Saudi Arabia and our other allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council struggle to counteract its expansionism.
In Egypt, the United States showers the Muslim Brotherhood-led government with economic and military aid, presumably to buttress regional stability by strengthening the regime and preventing a national collapse.
But Washington sends a disturbing signal to secular reformers in the region by staying largely mute as Cairo violates civil liberties and threatens to build a religious autocracy to replace its secular predecessor.
The world looks to America for leadership. The more dangerous is the region, the higher are the stakes when we decide whether to assume or avoid the role.
Today in the greater Middle East, we need more U.S. engagement, not less.
No: US must lead or dangers mount
Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service to give readers a broad view of issues.
Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.