Page 18 - FSJ_May12

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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
likely continue to drive more protesters
into the streets. And as in Egypt or
Tunisia, Islamist parties will probably
benefit from the more open political
Wild Cards: Syria and Iran
In many ways, the Arab Spring ac-
tually began in Tehran three years ago.
The protests following the corrupt
elections of June 2009 pioneered the
use of social networking and information technology to or-
ganize non-violent demonstrations.
Regime changes in Iran or Syria would be real game
changers that would reshape the Middle East from the
eastern Mediterranean to the Gulf. Political geography
puts both countries at the core of American interests and
regional dynamics. Syria is central to the security of Israel,
prospects for terrorism, the stability of its neighbors
(Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon), and the fate of politi-
cal Islam. And Iran is pivotal for the
world energy market, the security of
the Persian Gulf and Israel, and the
success of nonproliferation regimes, as
well as Sunni-Shia and Arab-Persian
The chances of near-term regime
change appear much greater in Syria
than in Iran, but in both cases any
judgment would hinge on many un-
known and still unknowable factors.
For instance, envisioning the nature of a post-Alawite gov-
ernment in Damascus is not easy. While many believe that
Bashar al-Assad will not be in power when the Arab Spring
celebrates its second anniversary, no one can foresee clearly
how, or when, that desirable outcome will occur. In the
meantime, there are real fears that the situation will de-
scend into a regionalized conflict.
The primary U.S. issue with Iran is its nuclear program.
In President Barack Obama’s words, “loose talk of war”
raises the prospect of yet another theater of military action
for the United States. The potential of an Iranian break-
through on acquiring nuclear weapons is sobering.
An Unfolding Process
The major gain to date from the Arab Spring is that
more than a third of the 350 million Arabs living in the re-
gion today are freer than they were when the movement
took off in January 2011. But on its second anniversary that
number could be higher — or lower.
In the short term, states still in the process of democra-
tizing can be among the most violent in the world as they
work out their domestic political order and realign their re-
lations with other states. Thus, continued regional turbu-
lence is likely. But in the long term, a more democratic,
prosperous and accountable Middle East offers the
prospect of a region that enjoys better governance and re-
spects human rights. That would indeed be a positive out-
come for U.S. interests.
Whatever its result, the Arab Spring has set in motion a
realignment of the Middle East that could prove truly
transformational. As that process unfolds, American inter-
ests will not always align with each other or with those of
these countries. So the next U.S. administration, whoever
heads it, will have to, in the words of Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton, “walk and chew gum at the same
time” — just like this one.
In the Arab Spring
countries themselves, the
easy part may well prove
to be the overthrow
of the old regimes.