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events. It then assesses prospects for
the core states of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya,
Yemen and Bahrain, as well as implica-
tions for the region’s wild cards: Syria
and Iran.
Regional Issues
The Obama administration has as-
tutely concluded that the Arab Spring is
not just a series of discrete events over a fewmonths, but a
long process likely to span years or decades. It has also
rightly insisted that each country involved has its own dy-
namic, so Washington cannot follow a cookie-cutter ap-
proach in response. That said, there is a need for a
comprehensive look at the movement’s policy implications
for 2013 and beyond; here are some key judgments.
U.S. Power.
The Arab Spring has shown the limits of
American power in the Middle East. No longer does the
United States have the prestige and resources to dominate
Middle East affairs to the degree it has done ever since the
British withdrew from east of Suez in 1971.
In fact, neither the U.S. nor Europe has the financial re-
sources needed to shape prospects in these countries. Ac-
cordingly, significant investment will also have to come
from elsewhere, particularly the Persian Gulf states and
China — countries that do not share the Western interest
in reinforcing democratic values.
Nonetheless, Washington has great strengths it can
bring to bear. Bolstered by the size of its economy, its his-
torically unmatched capability to project power anywhere
around the world, its soft power assets and ability to set the
agenda, the United States will remain the preponderant
outside power in the Middle East.
The Rise of Others.
WhileWashington can wield sub-
stantial influence and leadership in the region, its involve-
ment will increasingly become a collab-
orative task. Over the past year or so,
Qatar has shown the role that a wealthy
if small state can play; Turkey has
emerged as a stronger player and a key
American ally in Middle Eastern diplo-
macy; andmost of the Gulf Cooperation
Council states have stepped into more
prominent regional leadership roles.
NATO’s operations in Libya have demonstrated that
leveraging unique U.S. military capabilities can, in effect,
be a force multiplier. The Arab Spring’s reinforcement of
collaborative approaches politically, economically and mil-
itarily will continue to put a premium on aligning China
and Russia either in support of, or at least not in opposition
to, what has to be done.
Energy and the Persian Gulf States.
The Saudis
and other major oil producers have been able to compen-
sate for the disruptions caused by Libyan unrest and play a
cooperative role in the implementation of both trade and oil
sanctions against Iran. Still, even those states face real lim-
its on their ability to act. In the long term, world energy de-
mand necessitates the development of both Iraqi and
Iranian energy reserves— the second- and third-largest on
the planet, respectively.
In terms of Persian Gulf security, the U.S. role remains
paramount. Though differences with the Saudis and other
Gulf states over the uprisings in Bahrain and Egypt, in par-
ticular, have caused tensions, unifying factors—such as the
desire to maintain an orderly oil market and common in-
terests vis-a-vis Iran, Yemen, Libya and Syria—are never-
theless likely to prevail.
Closer defense cooperation makes long-term sense
among the Gulf Cooperation Council states. But the de-
fault position of a hub-and-spoke security strategy in the
Persian Gulf—which the U.S. Central Command calls “bi-
lateral multilateralism” —may be the best we can do over
the next several years.
This approach gives the United States a crucial role in
regional defense and has already facilitated notable
progress toward coordinated air and naval defenses with
regional powers. The next administration should build on
this progress by allaying fears that defense budget cuts and
U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan will impel
Washington to isolate itself.
Middle East Peace Negotiations.
The aftermath of
the Arab Spring has worsened prospects for an Israeli-
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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A Y 2 0 1 2
F
OCUS
The Arab Spring has
shown the limits of
American power in
the Middle East.
Allen Keiswetter is a retired Senior Foreign Service officer
who spent most of his career (1967-2003) working on Mid-
dle Eastern affairs. A scholar at the Middle East Institute
as well as a senior consultant at C&O Resources, he has
taught at the National War College, National Defense In-
telligence College and the University of Maryland. This
article draws on a Scholars Paper titled “The Arab Spring:
Implications for U.S. Policy and Interests,” published by
the Middle East Institute in December 2011 (available at
www.mei.edu/content/arab-spring-implications-us-pol
icy-
and-interests).