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The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun

Posted by alanmirs on March 27, 2011


 THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Life & Culture

The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun

For the U.S., democracy’s fate in the region matters much less than the struggle between the Saudis and Iran

By ROBERT D. KAPLAN

[IRAN] European Pressphoto AgencyIranians attend a Friday prayer service in February. If Iran’s theocracy prevails, it will signal a fundamental eclipse of American influence in the Middle East.

Despite the military drama unfolding in Libya, the Middle East is only beginning to unravel. American policy-makers have been spoiled by events in Tunisia and Egypt, both of which boast relatively sturdy institutions, civil society associations and middle classes, as well as being age-old clusters of civilization where states of one form or another have existed since antiquity. Darker terrain awaits us elsewhere in the region, where states will substantially weaken once the carapace of tyranny crumbles. The crucial tests lie ahead, beyond the distraction of Libya.

The United States may be a democracy, but it is also a status quo power, whose position in the world depends on the world staying as it is. In the Middle East, the status quo is unsustainable because populations are no longer afraid of their rulers. Every country is now in play. Even in Syria, with its grisly security services, widespread demonstrations have been reported and protesters killed. There will be no way to appease the region’s rival sects, ethnicities and other interest groups except through some form of democratic representation, but anarchic quasi-democracy will satisfy no one. Other groups will emerge, and they may be distinctly illiberal.

Whatever happens in Libya, it is not necessarily a bellwether for the Middle East. The Iranian green movement knows that Western air forces and navies are not about to bomb Iran in the event of a popular uprising, so it is unclear what lesson we are providing to the region. Because outside of Iran, and with the arguable exceptions of Syria and Libya itself, there is no short-term benefit for the U.S. in democratic revolts in the region. In fact, they could be quite destructive to our interests, even as they prove to be unstoppable.

The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun

 

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