Who are the biggest losers and winners coming out of the Arab Spring?
The biggest loser, hands down, is Israel, followed closely by the United States. Iran is third. But there are also clear winners – and winning opportunities still for the US and Israel, if they adjust.
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The third-biggest loser is Iran. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 was perceived by Middle East populations (although assuredly not by the pro-American Arab dictators) as a stunning event marking a declaration of regional independence against the US dominance quintessentially exemplified by the Shah of Iran. The Islamic Republic championed the Palestinian cause when pro-American dictators dared not do so. Iran called for popular revolution and the rise of movements of national liberation like Hamas, and resistance to Israeli power like Hezbollah, that thrilled Arab populations mired in impotence.Skip to next paragraph
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Never mind that the Iranian regime in the last few years itself has betrayed so many of the values it champions abroad, such as freedom of the people. With the Arab Spring, Iran can no longer claim any monopoly, much less leadership, of an anti-despotic trend in the region. Indeed, if there is any model for the region, it is now Turkey, supremely successful in the economic and political spheres, and willing to speak with greater honesty, responsibility, and credibility about the failures of Israel – and Washington.
But Iran in the end is not an absolute loser because it still stands for national sovereignty and pride; its political system, for all its crudeness and shortcomings, is still more democratic than most other states in the Middle East today. It conducts important elections that matter.
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Winners? For sure, the Arab people, although the benefits of new political orders will not be evenly distributed and the path may be very rocky – as they exercise the first chance to learn how to exercise some form of sovereign self-rule. But they must do it for themselves; the last thing they need are yet more new regimes imposed upon them by Western powers pursuing narrow outside interests.
A second group of winners are the newly emerging medium powers – states like China, Russia, India, Brazil, Turkey, Canada and others in the G-20 – that now find themselves in a newly emerging multipolar world, with new room to play in a much more complex international game of balance of power. While the US is the net loser here in terms of loss of absolute hegemonic power, surely checks and balances on the international level are no less desirable than internally.
Europe, too, can find meaningful and responsible roles for itself within this new global order, but not if it still wistfully looks to NATO as a new and more artful way of imposing Western projects upon the Middle East.
Graham E. Fuller is former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA. His most recent book is “A World Without Islam.”