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Friday, April 15, 2011

Some sober analysis of the "Arab Spring"

From Michael Scott Doran in an IHT/NYT op-ed:
The turmoil in the Middle East is not unique. Half a century ago, a similar series of revolutions shook the ground beneath the Arab rulers. The immediate catalyst was the Suez crisis. After Gamal Abd al-Nasser, the charismatic young Egyptian ruler, nationalized the Suez Canal in July 1956, the British and French, in collusion with Israel, invaded Egypt to topple him. They failed; Nasser emerged triumphant.

...In the 1950s, the dominant ideology, pan-Arabism, focused on external threats: gaining independence from imperialism and confronting Israel. In contrast, today’s revolutionary wave is driven by domestic demands: for jobs and political representation. Yet the underlying ethos of both revolutionary waves is very similar. Then, as now, the people in the street believed that the existing order was dominated by corrupt cliques that exploited the power of the state to serve their own interests. In addition, then, as now, the revolutions tended to topple leaders aligned with Washington.

Although there is no personality like Nasser towering over the revolutionary events, there is one state taking a leaf from Nasser’s book: Iran. Under Nasser, Egypt opposed British and French imperialism, which it worked to associate in the public mind with Israel. Iran is taking a similar stand today against Britain’s “imperial successor,” the United States. And like Nasser, Iran has created an anti-status-quo coalition — the resistance bloc which includes Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The bloc’s strategy seeks to turn the anarchy of the Middle East to the disadvantage of the United States. As the revolutionary wave expands political participation, the bloc will insinuate itself into the domestic politics of its neighbors. In countries divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, it will use terrorism and work closely with partners on the ground who are willing to make direct alliances, as we have already seen in Iraq and Lebanon. In more homogeneous countries, such as Egypt, the bloc will resort to more subtle and insidious means — for example, inciting violence against Israel through Hamas, in an effort to drive a wedge between Cairo and Washington.

Although the resistance bloc may not be as influential as Nasser was, it is nevertheless poised to turn the turmoil of the region to the detriment of American interests.

And from John Bolton in the WSJ:
Since the "Arab Spring" began four months ago in Tunisia, U.S. media have focused constantly and generally optimistically on the turmoil in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the rising threat of an Iranian Winter—nuclear or otherwise—is likely to outlast and overshadow any Arab Spring.

Iran's hegemonic ambitions are embodied in its rapidly progressing nuclear-weapons program and its continued subversion across the region. In a case that emphasizes the fragility of aspiring democracies, Iranian Winter has already descended upon Lebanon, where Iran's influence has helped replace a pro-Western government with a coalition dominated by Tehran's allies, including Hezbollah. Last week, departing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri condemned Iran's "flagrant intervention" in his country.

In Syria, despite substantial opposition to the Assad dictatorship, regime change is highly unlikely. Iran will not easily allow its quasi-satellite to be pried from its grasp, and is reportedly helping the Assad regime quell this week's protests.

Then there's the Victoria, a ship containing tons of weaponry bound for Hamas that the Israeli navy seized last month. The episode recalls the Karine A, a weapons shipment from Iran to the Palestine Liberation Organization seized by Israel in 2002. Clearly Iran has a penchant for arming Sunni and Shiite terrorists alike.

...America's failure to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions—which is certainly how it would be perceived worldwide—would be a substantial blow to U.S. influence in general. Terrorists and their state sponsors would see Iran's unchallenged role as terrorism's leading state sponsor and central banker, and would wonder what they have to lose.

The Arab Spring may be fascinating, and may or may not endure. Sadly, Iran's hegemonic threat looks far more sustainable.

I touched on these themes in an earlier post that concentrated on how a resurgent Muslim brotherhood can only help Iran, despite the Shi'a/Sunni rift.

Read both articles (you need to find the Bolton article in Google in order to read the whole thing - the title is "Iranian Winter Could Chill the Arab Spring" so search for that.)

(h/t David G)