Tony Karon writes:
President Obama has reportedly told White House aides that he wants a “new Middle East policy” — one that urges beleaguered allies threatened by popular rebellions to “enact reforms that would satisfy the popular craving for change while preserving valuable partnerships on crucial U.S. interests, from soil security to counter-terrorism and containing Iran.”
But there’s not much “new” there, to be frank: The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it, has consistently urged Arab allies to make reforms, while prioritizing U.S. regional concerns such as oil, counterterrorism, confronting Iran and protecting Israel. What is new, of course, is the fear that Washington’s influence in the Middle East, which had already been waning steadily in recent years, is tied almost exclusively to regimes that are looking a lot more like relics of the past than stewards of the future.
And there may be no easy way for the U.S. to switch horses carrying its baggage of priorities, or even to shape any emerging democratic order to meet its own strategic requirements. Indeed, the reason Washington is so wedded to autocratic regimes of dwindling legitimacy and authority in the Arab world is the fact that not all U.S. priorities are shared by the Arab public.
No country pumping oil is going to resist the urge to sell it on world markets, so a regime change won’t likely endanger energy supplies. And countries that face a problem of extremist terrorism directed at their own populations will likely cooperate on that front – while the logic of deterrence and consequences can persuade others to prevent their territory being used to stage terror attacks on third countries.
But the idea that the newly empowered Arab public is going to produce governments that will march in lockstep with the U.S. on issues such as Iran and Israel is simply fanciful.