Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot. View the video version of this column at or at USA TODAY’s YouTube channel at

Today: The Middle East challenge.

Cal: The countries collectively referred to as the Middle East have been a thorn in America’s side almost from our beginning. Thomas Jefferson sent frigates to the Mediterranean in 1801 to confront Barbary pirates who had been capturing merchant ships and holding crews for ransom. Sound familiar? Now we have to deal with Somali pirates, but the Obama administration has chosen not to engage them as Jefferson did. My question is: Does the U.S. have a policy for the region, other than demanding that Israel stop building “settlements”?

Bob: You have people-led revolutions spreading across the region, and you want to talk about pirates? OK then. Well, first, I believe it was President Obama who ordered the killing of Somali pirates after they took American hostages off of a merchant ship. Ah, the selective memory of the right. But to answer your broader question, no single policy can cover the entire Middle East. It is the most diverse and complex region in the world. What was the Bush regime policy in the region? Bomb Iraq and Afghanistan. Talk about Iran while doing little. Let Pakistan simmer. Ignore the rest.

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