This past March, Natan Sharansky—the onetime Russian dissident and former Israeli politician—appeared at a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to discuss the Arab Spring. It was around this time that the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of force to help embattled Libyan rebels, the first signs of unrest appeared in the southern Syrian city of Dara’a, and Egyptians were preparing to vote on changes to their constitution.
On March 17, the U.N. Security Council voted to authorize “all necessary measures” to stop an impending massacre of Libyan civilians. Before long, a narrative had emerged explaining how President Obama had become enmeshed in another major conflict. According to this version of events, a heated debate had occurred between the administration’s realists—Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and his deputy, Denis McDonough—and its interventionists: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the genocide scholar turned foreign policy adviser Samantha Power; and the U.S.