Both GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appear to be totally ignorant of the complexities of the Middle East in the 21st century, and, indeed, of U.S. history in general ("The Obama doctrine: Passivity where leadership is needed," Oct. 14).
In the 1980s, pursuing a "contain the USSR at any cost" policy, we armed and trained the Afghan insurgents fighting Soviet occupation. These "freedom fighters," we now know, were the Taliban, who perpetrated some of the most horrific cultural and humanitarian crimes of the late 20th century and enabled the rise of al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the deaths of over 3,000 Americans on 9/11 and continues to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
In Syria today, another despotic dictatorship is being opposed by a heterogeneous coalition of insurgents that includes al-Qaeda operatives and other groups determined to take advantage of the chaos to further their own anti-American, anti-democratic goals.
In order to avoid history repeating itself, the United States must take a restrained, informed approach rather than the "shoot first, ask questions later" path advocated by Messrs. Ehrlich and Romney.
It is easy for a candidate to tell the president what to do when he doesn't bear any responsibility for the outcome.
What makes the stakes so high this time is that an extremist, anti-Western, Taliban-like state in Syria would share borders with our democratic allies, Israel and Turkey, threatening not only American and Israeli security but world peace as well.
B. Krueger, Ellicott City