No one has any idea what the Middle East will look like next year, much less in five years — especially the revolutionary players themselves.
There are not even the old familiar fault lines this revolutionary time around. Are the Sunni Gulf kingdoms eager to support revolutionaries in Syria and North Africa? Perhaps and perhaps not — given that the fall of strongmen like Mubarak, bin Ali, Qaddafi, and Assad may lead to Muslim Brotherhood–inspired Islamist governments, which would like to see the oil-rich monarchies become less Western and more theocratic. Or — though this is less likely — if pro-Western reformist movements were to prevail, such governments would like to democratize and secularize the Gulf. Who are our best allies in breaking up the dangerous Iran-Hezbollah-Syria axis? Islamist extremists who want to kill the hated Assad slightly more than they do us — at least for now?
Who can sort out Lebanon? Are Christians and Shiites there sympathetic to the tottering Assad dictatorship for protecting religious minorities and, in the case of the Shiites, helping to arm Hezbollah? Or do non-Sunnis also favor reform movements that seek the ouster of a despised police state, one that has a long history of killing Lebanese? Does a grateful Iraq feel that Syria has been more sympathetic to its Shiite government than its Sunni neighbors have been, or is it experiencing schadenfreude that its terrorists are now doing to Syria what Syria’s used to do to Iraq?
Will new Arab Islamist governments seek solidarity with the anti-Western Persian theocracy, or will they fall back into their religious and ethnic fears of Iranian Shiites? No one has ever quite fathomed whether Shiite and Sunni extremists hate Westerners more or less than they do each other. Does the supposed Arab Street desire to be free, especially in the age of globalized instant communications, and given its general repugnance for the sheer corruption of the moribund Arab dictatorships? Or will the Muslim Brotherhood simply tap that popular anger to abort the delivery of constitutional government — whether overtly, as in the case of the Iranian revolution and the one-vote-once Hamas takeover of Gaza; or more insidiously, as in the current Turkish government’s war against freedom of the press and independent opposition movements, or in the Karzai-Maliki paradigm of constitutional kleptocracy?
Amid this chaos there are a handful of constants that can guide U.S. foreign policy.
1. Arab governments, whether they take the form of one-man authoritarianism, monarchy, or theocracy, will remain anti-Israel. That is not to say that particular factions from time to time will not stealthily strengthen ties with Israel in order to punish shared enemies, but by and large the Arab Middle East will still detest Israel. The region’s unrepentant embrace of anti-Semitism, resentment over the economic power and success of Israel, and longstanding anger at the establishment of a Jewish state in the heart of the Arab Middle East trump all ephemeral changes in government. To the extent that a new Arab regime is elected by popular vote, and to the extent that it retains the loyalty of its people, anti-Israeli feeling will only escalate. Power to the people in the Middle East means more power to hate Israel.
2. The Arab Middle East will remain anti-American. We already see that Barack Hussein Obama had little, if any, success in winning over hearts and minds of the Arab Street after the exit of the Texas evangelical and Iraq-invading George Bush. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was greeted with crude chants of “Monica” from demonstrators among our supposedly secular, reformist allies in aid-receiving “friendly” Egypt. The new government in Cairo apparently wishes the release of the mass-murdering blind sheikh, who helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and who dreams of Jerusalem as the Arab capital of a West Bank state. It took the overthrow of the odious Moammar Qaddafi to ensure that a British Commonwealth cemetery from the Second World War would at last be desecrated — in Timbuktu/Bamiyan style. All we know of Syria with any surety is that Assad detests us, his Hezbollah partners detest us, his Iranian patrons detest us, the al-Qaeda extremists who seek to overthrow him detest us, and more reasonable reformist rebels either detest us for not helping them more overtly, or will soon find other reasons for detesting us when and if they should seize power. American aid; generous U.S. immigration policies for Muslims and Arabs; loud support for democratic movements; the removal of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi; past help to the Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Egyptians, Palestinians, and Jordanians; prior efforts to protect Muslims in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Somalia — all that earns little, if any, goodwill.
3. Oil, one way or another, will still affect all strategic thinking. Over the next decade, the huge new reserves of oil and natural gas found in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will — if fully exploited — revolutionize the fossil-fuel supplies of North America. Vastly increased daily production will allow the United States, inter alia, far more flexibility in its foreign policy, freed from fears of embargos, boycotts, and OPEC price-rigging. Add into the mix the unanticipated emergence of an energy-independent Israel, and access to Arab oil — and the power of Middle East petrodollars — may no longer dominate American foreign policy. For good or evil, in five years we may be no more concerned about the subversion of Arab Spring–type democratic movements than the present administration is today about the lack, or erosion, of constitutional government in nearby Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela.