The Arab Spring is doing what revolutions usually do: making officials in Washington worry. The State Department has no idea what direction events from Libya to Turkey will take and is hunkering down to prepare for every possible scenario. The New York Times reports on some of the scenarios the State Department is considering:
What if the Palestinians’ quest for recognition of a state at the United Nations, despite American pleas otherwise, lands Israel in the International Criminal Court, fuels deeper resentment of the United States, or touches off a new convulsion of violence in the West Bank and Gaza?Or if Egypt, emerging from decades of autocratic rule under President Hosni Mubarak, responds to anti-Israeli sentiments on the street and abrogates the Camp David peace treaty, a bulwark of Arab-Israeli stability for three decades? […]Diplomacy has never been easy in the Middle East, but the recent events have so roiled the region that the United States fears being forced to take sides in diplomatic or, worse, military disputes among its friends. Hypothetical outcomes seem chillingly present. What would happen if Turkey, a NATO ally that the United States is bound by treaty to defend, sent warships to escort ships to Gaza in defiance of Israel’s blockade, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to do?
As regular readers know, Via Meadia thinks the Arab Spring will not usher utopia into the Middle East, and some of the scenarios troubling the State Department are worth the worry. But what the US needs to do at this point is to step back and look at our core interests in the region and analyze recent developments from that point of view.The big picture offers some hope. At its core, the US ambition is to secure a favorable balance of power in the Middle East that keeps the oil flow secure while promoting the kind of social and political development that over time could turn a Hobbesian balance of power into something more Lockean. Nothing that has happened to date in the Middle East blocks those goals, and many current trends in the region promote them.Change is always harder to manage than the status quo, and some of the changes in the Middle East, like Turkey’s newly discovered flair for unpredictable diplomacy, are particularly tricky. There are some tough moments ahead, and there will be desk officers in the State Department who lose out on sleep. But the old Middle East was hardly a field of dreams for American foreign policy; at Via Meadia at least we are not feeling nostalgic.