By Barry Rubin
Events in the Middle East have moved so quickly that one almost needs a daily scorecard to keep up. This article will try to give a basic picture of what has, and hasn’t, changed.
Iran has benefitted by gains made in Bahrain (though Saudi intervention blocked its clients from taking power), Lebanon, and Yemen along with indirectly in all of the other places except Syria. Moreover, Tehran can take satisfaction in the removal of Egypt, its most important Arab foe, from the anti-Iran and pro-U.S. category to, at best, a neutralist stance.
And all Islamists can take pleasure in the dramatic decline of U.S. credibility and alliances, with Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and probably soon Yemen no longer cooperating with U.S. policy at all.
–Backing for all practical purposes Syrian repression of its own democratic upsurge because it sees dictator Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer.” (Ironically, Mubarak was much more of a reformer than Assad, at least on social and economic issues.)
–Intervening in Libya, an operation to which none of the Islamists are opposed because they hope to benefit from it. In addition, the U.S. forces could get bogged down in there. Isn’t the Libya war just another version of the invasion of Iraq except with less rationale, less to gain, and more to lose?
–Distancing itself more from Israel than any previous administration has for the last 50 years.
What’s there for a revolutionary Islamist not to like? Obviously, they’d like an end to U.S. sanctions on Iran and other things but, generally speaking, American policy is terrific from their standpoint.
Jordan: While the monarchy should survive, the Brotherhood there is more active and demanding. It also undermines another anti-Iran Arab state that is pro-Western. Two points to Brotherhood and one each to Iran and Hamas.
Lebanon: Everyone seems to forget Lebanon, which went from having a moderate government friendly to the West to being a country now largely controlled by Hizballah and other Syrian clients and in the Iranian-Syrian sphere. The moderates (Christian-Sunni allied forces) tried to build protests against the new regime but failed. One point to Iran. Minus one to the United States.
Libya: Hard to say since the opposition is complex. On the other hand, it is not clear that Western interests will benefit and the impact of the Western intervention is unclear. While Muammar Qadhafi was historically an anti-Western sponsor of terrorism, he hasn’t caused much international trouble in recent years. No points awarded yet.
Palestinian Authority/Peace Process: The Palestinian Authority knows that it will never face a rebellion from being too hard-line but only if it is perceived as too moderate. If the peace process wasn’t dead before, it certainly is now. One point to Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran. Minus one to the United States which has now sabotaged once again its own peace process effort.
Syria: This is also complicated. Syria is an ally of Iran, Hamas, and Hizballah. Thus, its destabilization is not in their interests. But what if an Islamist government comes to power, probably a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated one (though non-Brotherhood Islamists could also play a leading role Minus one for Iran and Hamas, but plus one to the Brotherhood.
Tunisia: While Islamists are weak in Tunisia, the fact that they can operate legally now and that Tunisia will probably move into a neutral-type stance is a gain for Islamists and a defeat for the West. Score one point for Brotherhood and Iran.
Obama Administration Factor: The United States has lost four friendly regimes–Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Turkey (some would add Yemen)–as well as the confidence of three others–Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia (one might add Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). With the Palestinian Authority seeing that it can–and in some ways must–ignore U.S. requests to do anything, that is another defeat. For general loss of credibility, minus one for United States.
For failing even now to understand the material in this article–and thus by not recognizing defeats or errors being unable to correct them, another minus one for the United States.
Muslim Brotherhood: 8
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.