Kandahar — Trying to predict the end result of the turmoil in the Arab world is akin to trying to predict the final result of the French Revolution during its early days. When William Pitt, the British prime minister, peered across the channel at the chaos enveloping France, he could not have foreseen the rise of Napoleon, two decades of war, a million combat deaths, and all of it ending on a bloody field near Waterloo.
Similarly, it is impossible to predict the final outcome of the upheavals currently sweeping the Arab world. What is certain, though, is that what has happened so far is only the beginning. What lies ahead promises to be more revolutionary and more violent than anything the region has already experienced. When the dust finally settles, a new political paradigm will dominate the Arab world.
One may believe that this new paradigm is going to be democratic, and that its foundations will rest on a new and open societal structure. The road to this nirvana is, however, fraught with pitfalls. Moreover, it is almost impossible to see how we get to a democratic end state without tremendous levels of violence along the way.
Dealing with what may easily become a multi-generational collapse and rebirth of Arab society and its corresponding political order is going to take a well-thought-out and highly adaptive U.S. strategy, underpinned by accurate and timely intelligence. Of late we have been failing on both counts. Our strategy for Libya, for instance, might be adaptive in some ways, but we took so many options off the table at the start of our involvement that the regime’s survival remains possible. And when we are threatening to bomb both sides of a conflict, our strategy clearly is not well thought out.
Moreover, even if our stated policy aim of removing Qaddafi does come to pass, what follows? No one knows. Our intelligence agencies do not have a clue as to how all of this will end. This is rather remarkable, as, since 9/11, our national intelligence organizations have spent literally tens of billions of dollars watching and analyzing the Arab world. One can only stand in dazzled wonderment as to how a little thing like an impending multi-nation revolution got past them.
Now they are trying to play catch-up. In Egypt, for instance, we were first told that there is no reason to worry about the Muslim Brotherhood, as the military would not let it come to power. Then, when it became clear that the military and the Muslim Brotherhood had formed an alliance, we were told that bringing the Brotherhood into the government is the best way to control the organization. Unfortunately, that is precisely what Paul von Hindenburg told his supporters about Hitler and the Nazis when he brought them into the German government. It just might be that the military is luring the Brotherhood’s cadres into the open so as to deal with them at an opportune moment. It is just as likely that these disciplined cadres will, as the Nazis did, take over the state.
Truthfully, it probably does not much matter. The Egyptians who massed in Tahrir Square were not looking to replace Mubarak with a military dictatorship or an Islamic republic. They wanted a government capable of restoring economic growth and returning hope to the nation’s youth. Neither the military nor the Brotherhood is capable of meeting those aspirations. Despite a few years of above-average growth, Egypt’s economic problems remain profound and will not be solved overnight. Still, as the first flush of success fades, Egyptians are already wondering why their lives are not improving. It may not happen this year or even next, but, sooner or later, Egyptians will again take to the streets, in a process likely to repeat itself in increasingly violent spasms until either the nation is exhausted or a government truly representative of the people’s desires comes to the fore.
This pattern will be repeated throughout the Arab world for decades to come. For the Arabs are in the midst of a civilizational collapse the likes of which has not been seen since the fall of the Roman Empire. In 2005, I published an article titled “The Impending Collapse of Arab Civilization,” in which I called attention to the fact that after centuries of relative stagnation, the Arab world was reaching a point of collapse. Daily, it is becoming clearer that the point has now been reached.