* CFR on the Middle East: THE END OF AN ERA * (?)


Richard Moore

        Summary: The age of U.S. dominance in the Middle East has
        ended and a new era in the modern history of the region has
        begun. It will be shaped by new actors and new forces
        competing for influence, and to master it, Washington will
        have to rely more on diplomacy than on military might.

We're seeing this same message from lots of top insiders lately. This one, from 
the President of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, seems 
particularly significant.  (See also accompanying posting: "Brzezinski: It is 
time to plan for an American withdrawal from Iraq".)

I hope all of this implies that there will not be an attack on Iran, by the US 
or by Israel. But can we be sure? It could be a deep game. Consider the scenario
that led up to the US entry into World War II. Roosevelt knew when the attack on
Pearl Harbor was going to occur (we had broken their codes), he was eager to 
enter the war, and he invited the Japanese to a peace conference in Washington 
for the same time as the attack. He was therefore able to tell the American 
people (not in these exact words):  "Even as we were actively seeking peace, 
they stabbed us in the back." 

Sensible observers agree that any attack on Iran would be nuclear, and would be 
enabled by a false-flag incident, such as the sinking of a US carrier by Israel,
to be blamed on Iran. If this happens, in the midst of highly-visible 'peace 
overtures' by the US toward Iran, then we have a replay of the Pearl Harbor 
scenario. If Bush can say, "Even as we were actively seeking peace, they stabbed
us in the back", with thousands of US sailors and pilots killed in the attack, 
then people would be ready to accept a  nuclear response. The carrier would be 
the 'Battleship Arizona' all over again.

We can't rule this scenario out, as there are four carrier task forces in the 
region of Iran at the moment. There must be some reason for this unprecedented 
concentration of forces.


Original source URL:

The New Middle East
By Richard N. Haass
From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2006

Summary: The age of U.S. dominance in the Middle East has ended and a new era in
the modern history of the region has begun. It will be shaped by new actors and 
new forces competing for influence, and to master it, Washington will have to 
rely more on diplomacy than on military might.

Richard N. Haass is President of the Council on Foreign Relations.


Just over two centuries since Napoleon's arrival in Egypt heralded the advent of
the modern Middle East -- some 80 years after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, 
50 years after the end of colonialism, and less than 20 years after the end of 
the Cold War -- the American era in the Middle East, the fourth in the region's 
modern history, has ended. Visions of a new, Europe-like region -- peaceful, 
prosperous, democratic -- will not be realized. Much more likely is the 
emergence of a new Middle East that will cause great harm to itself, the United 
States, and the world.

All the eras have been defined by the interplay of contending forces, both 
internal and external to the region. What has varied is the balance between 
these influences. The Middle East's next era promises to be one in which outside
actors have a relatively modest impact and local forces enjoy the upper hand -- 
and in which the local actors gaining power are radicals committed to changing 
the status quo. Shaping the new Middle East from the outside will be exceedingly
difficult, but it -- along with managing a dynamic Asia -- will be the primary 
challenge of U.S. foreign policy for decades to come.

The modern Middle East was born in the late eighteenth century. For some 
historians, the signal event was the 1774 signing of the treaty that ended the 
war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia; a stronger case can be made for the 
importance of Napoleon's relatively easy entry into Egypt in 1798, which showed 
Europeans that the region was ripe for conquest and prompted Arab and Muslim 
intellectuals to ask -- as many continue to do today -- why their civilization 
had fallen so far behind that of Christian Europe. Ottoman decline combined with
European penetration into the region gave rise to the "Eastern Question," 
regarding how to deal with the effects of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, 
which various parties have tried to answer to their own advantage ever since.

The first era ended with World War I, the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the rise
of the Turkish republic, and the division of the spoils of war among the 
European victors. What ensued was an age of colonial rule, dominated by France 
and the United Kingdom. This second era ended some four decades later, after 
another world war had drained the Europeans of much of their strength, Arab 
nationalism had risen, and the two superpowers had begun to lock horns. "[He] 
who rules the Near East rules the world; and he who has interests in the world 
is bound to concern himself with the Near East," wrote the historian Albert 
Hourani, who correctly saw the 1956 Suez crisis as marking the end of the 
colonial era and the beginning of the Cold War era in the region.

During the Cold War, as had been the case previously, outside forces played a 
dominant role in the Middle East. But the very nature of U.S.-Soviet competition
gave local states considerable room to maneuver. The high-water mark of the era 
was the October 1973 war, which the United States and the Soviet Union 
essentially stopped at a stalemate, paving the way for ambitious diplomacy, 
including the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord.

Yet it would be a mistake to see this third era simply as a time of well-managed
great-power competition. The June 1967 war forever changed the balance of power 
in the Middle East. The use of oil as an economic and political weapon in 1973 
highlighted U.S. and international vulnerability to supply shortages and price 
hikes. And the Cold War's balancing act created a context in which local forces 
in the Middle East had significant autonomy to pursue their own agendas. The 
1979 revolution in Iran, which brought down one of the pillars of U.S. policy in
the region, showed that outsiders could not control local events. Arab states 
resisted U.S. attempts to persuade them to join anti-Soviet projects. Israel's 
1982 occupation of Lebanon spawned Hezbollah. And the Iran-Iraq War consumed 
those two countries for a decade.


The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union brought about a 
fourth era in the region's history, during which the United States enjoyed 
unprecedented influence and freedom to act. Dominant features of this American 
era were the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait, the long-term stationing of U.S. 
ground and air forces on the Arabian Peninsula, and an active diplomatic 
interest in trying to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all (which 
culminated in the Clinton administration's intense but ultimately unsuccessful 
effort at Camp David). More than any other, this period exemplified what is now 
thought of as the "old Middle East." The region was defined by an aggressive but
frustrated Iraq, a radical but divided and relatively weak Iran, Israel as the 
region's most powerful state and sole nuclear power, fluctuating oil prices, 
top-heavy Arab regimes that repressed their peoples, uneasy coexistence between 
Israel and both the Palestinians and the Arabs, and, more generally, American 

What has brought this era to an end after less than two decades is a number of 
factors, some structural, some self-created. The most significant has been the 
Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq in 2003 and its conduct of the 
operation and resulting occupation. One casualty of the war has been a 
Sunni-dominated Iraq, which was strong enough and motivated enough to balance 
Shiite Iran. Sunni-Shiite tensions, dormant for a while, have come to the 
surface in Iraq and throughout the region. Terrorists have gained a base in Iraq
and developed there a new set of techniques to export. Throughout much of the 
region, democracy has become associated with the loss of public order and the 
end of Sunni primacy. Anti-American sentiment, already considerable, has been 
reinforced. And by tying down a huge portion of the U.S. military, the war has 
reduced U.S. leverage worldwide. It is one of history's ironies that the first 
war in Iraq, a war of necessity, marked the beginning of the American era in the
Middle East and the second Iraq war, a war of choice, has precipitated its end.

Other factors have also been relevant. One is the demise of the Middle East 
peace process. The United States had traditionally enjoyed a unique capacity to 
work with both the Arabs and the Israelis. But the limits of that capacity were 
exposed at Camp David in 2000. Since then, the weakness of Yasir Arafat's 
successors, the rise of Hamas, and the Israeli embrace of unilateralism have all
helped sideline the United States, a shift reinforced by the disinclination of 
the current Bush administration to undertake active diplomacy.

Another factor that has helped bring about the end of the American era has been 
the failure of traditional Arab regimes to counter the appeal of radical 
Islamism. Faced with a choice between what they perceived as distant and corrupt
political leaders and vibrant religious ones, many in the region have opted for 
the latter. It took 9/11 for U.S. leaders to draw the connection between closed 
societies and the incubation of radicals. But their response -- often a hasty 
push for elections regardless of the local political context -- has provided 
terrorists and their supporters with more opportunities for advancement than 
they had before.

Finally, globalization has changed the region. It is now less difficult for 
radicals to acquire funding, arms, ideas, and recruits. The rise of new media, 
and above all of satellite television, has turned the Arab world into a 
"regional village" and politicized it. Much of the content shown -- scenes of 
violence and destruction in Iraq; images of mistreated Iraqi and Muslim 
prisoners; suffering in Gaza, the West Bank, and now Lebanon -- has further 
alienated many people in the Middle East from the United States. As a result, 
governments in the Middle East now have a more difficult time working openly 
with the United States, and U.S. influence in the region has waned.


The outlines of the Middle East's fifth era are still taking shape, but they 
follow naturally from the end of the American era. A dozen features will form 
the context for daily events.

First, the United States will continue to enjoy more influence in the region 
than any other outside power, but its influence will be reduced from what it 
once was. This reflects the growing impact of an array of internal and external 
forces, the inherent limits of U.S. power, and the results of U.S. policy 

Second, the United States will increasingly be challenged by the foreign 
policies of other outsiders. The European Union will offer little help in Iraq 
and is likely to push for a different approach to the Palestinian problem. China
will resist pressuring Iran and will seek to guarantee the availability of 
energy supplies. Russia, too, will resist calls to sanction Iran and will look 
for opportunities to demonstrate its independence from the United States. Both 
China and Russia (as well as many European states) will distance themselves from
U.S. efforts to promote political reform in nondemocratic states in the Middle 

Third, Iran will be one of the two most powerful states in the region. Those who
have seen Iran as being on the cusp of dramatic internal change have been wrong.
Iran enjoys great wealth, is the most powerful external influence in Iraq, and 
holds considerable sway over both Hamas and Hezbollah. It is a classic imperial 
power, with ambitions to remake the region in its image and the potential to 
translate its objectives into reality.

Fourth, Israel will be the other powerful state in the region and the one 
country with a modern economy able to compete globally. The only state in the 
Middle East with a nuclear arsenal, it also possesses the region's most capable 
conventional military force. But it still has to bear the costs of its 
occupation of the West Bank and deal with a multifront, multidimensional 
security challenge. Strategically speaking, Israel is in a weaker position today
than it was before this summer's crisis in Lebanon. And its situation will 
further deteriorate -- as will that of the United States -- if Iran develops 
nuclear weapons.

Fifth, anything resembling a viable peace process is unlikely for the 
foreseeable future. In the aftermath of Israel's controversial operation in 
Lebanon, the Kadima-led government will almost certainly be too weak to command 
domestic support for any policy perceived as risky or as rewarding aggression. 
Unilateral disengagement has been discredited now that attacks have followed 
Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza. There is no obvious partner on the 
Palestinian side who is both able and willing to compromise, further hindering 
the chances of a negotiated approach. The United States has lost much of its 
standing as a credible and honest broker, at least for the time being. 
Meanwhile, Israel's settlement expansion and road building will continue apace, 
further complicating diplomacy.

Sixth, Iraq, traditionally a center of Arab power, will remain messy for years 
to come, with a weak central government, a divided society, and regular 
sectarian violence. At worst, it will become a failed state wracked by an 
all-out civil war that will draw in its neighbors.

Seventh, the price of oil will stay high, the result of strong demand from China
and India, limited success at curbing consumption in the United States, and the 
continued possibility of supply shortages. The price of a barrel of oil is far 
more likely to exceed $100 than it is to fall below $40. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and
other large producers will benefit disproportionately.

Eighth, "militiazation" will continue apace. Private armies in Iraq, Lebanon, 
and Palestinian areas are already growing more powerful. Militias, both a 
product and a cause of weak states, will emerge wherever there is a perceived or
an actual deficit of state authority and capacity. The recent fighting in 
Lebanon will exacerbate this trend, since Hezbollah has gained by not suffering 
a total defeat, while Israel has lost by not realizing a total victory -- a 
result that will embolden Hezbollah and those who emulate it.

Ninth, terrorism, defined as the intentional use of force against civilians in 
the pursuit of political aims, will remain a feature of the region. It will 
occur in divided societies, such as Iraq, and in societies where radical groups 
seek to weaken and discredit the government, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 
Terrorism will grow in sophistication and remain a tool used against Israel and 
the presence of the United States and other nonindigenous powers.

Tenth, Islam will increasingly fill the political and intellectual vacuum in the
Arab world and provide a foundation for the politics of a majority of the 
region's inhabitants. Arab nationalism and Arab socialism are things of the 
past, and democracy belongs in the distant future, at best. Arab unity is a 
slogan, not a reality. The influence of Iran and groups associated with it has 
been reinforced, and efforts to improve ties between Arab governments and Israel
and the United States have been complicated. Meanwhile, tensions between Sunnis 
and Shiites will grow throughout the Middle East, causing problems in countries 
with divided societies, such as Bahrain, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

Eleventh, Arab regimes are likely to remain authoritarian and become more 
religiously intolerant and anti-American. Two bellwethers will be Egypt and 
Saudi Arabia. Egypt, which accounts for roughly one-third of the Arab world's 
population, has introduced some constructive economic reforms. But its politics 
have failed to keep up. On the contrary, the regime seems intent on repressing 
what few liberals the country has and presenting the Egyptian people with a 
choice between traditional authoritarians and the Muslim Brotherhood. The risk 
is that Egyptians will one day opt for the latter, less because they support it 
outright than because they have grown weary of the former. Alternatively, the 
regime might take on the colors of its Islamist opponents in an effort to co-opt
their appeal, in the process distancing itself from the United States. In Saudi 
Arabia, the government and the royal elite rely on using large energy proceeds 
to placate domestic appeals for change. The problem is that most of the pressure
they have responded to has come from the religious right rather than the liberal
left, which has led them to embrace the agenda of religious authorities.

Finally, regional institutions will remain weak, lagging far behind those 
elsewhere. The Middle East's best-known organization, the Arab League, excludes 
the region's two most powerful states, Israel and Iran. The enduring 
Arab-Israeli rift will continue to preclude the participation of Israel in any 
sustained regional relationship. The tension between Iran and most Arab states 
will also frustrate the emergence of regionalism. Trade within the Middle East 
will remain modest because few countries offer goods and services that others 
want to buy on a large scale, and advanced manufactured goods will have to 
continue to come from elsewhere. Few of the advantages of global economic 
integration will come to this part of the world, despite the pressing need for 


Although the basic features of this fifth era of the modern Middle East are 
largely unattractive, this should not be a cause for fatalism. Much is a matter 
of degree. There is a fundamental difference between a Middle East lacking 
formal peace agreements and one defined by terrorism, interstate conflict, and 
civil war; between one housing a powerful Iran and one dominated by Iran; or 
between one that has an uneasy relationship with the United States and one 
filled with hatred of the country. Time also makes a difference. Eras in the 
Middle East can last for as long as a century or as little as a decade and a 
half. It is clearly in the interest of the United States and Europe that the 
emerging era be as brief as possible -- and that it be followed by a more benign

To ensure this, U.S. policymakers need to avoid two mistakes, while seizing two 
opportunities. The first mistake would be an overreliance on military force. As 
the United States has learned to its great cost in Iraq -- and Israel has in 
Lebanon -- military force is no panacea. It is not terribly useful against 
loosely organized militias and terrorists who are well armed, accepted by the 
local population, and prepared to die for their cause. Nor would carrying out a 
preventive strike on Iranian nuclear installations accomplish much good. Not 
only might an attack fail to destroy all facilities, but it might also lead 
Tehran to reconstitute its program even more covertly, cause Iranians to rally 
around the regime, and persuade Iran to retaliate (most likely through proxies) 
against U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Iraq and maybe even directly against 
the United States. It would further radicalize the Arab and Muslim worlds and 
generate more terrorism and anti-American activity. Military action against Iran
would also drive the price of oil to new heights, increasing the chances of an 
international economic crisis and a global recession. For all these reasons, 
military force should be considered only as a last resort.

The second mistake would be to count on the emergence of democracy to pacify the
region. It is true that mature democracies tend not to wage war on one another. 
Unfortunately, creating mature democracies is no easy task, and even if the 
effort ultimately succeeds, it takes decades. In the interim, the U.S. 
government must continue to work with many nondemocratic governments. Democracy 
is not the answer to terrorism, either. It is plausible that young men and women
coming of age would be less likely to become terrorists if they belonged to 
societies that offered them political and economic opportunities. But recent 
events suggest that even those who grow up in mature democracies, such as the 
United Kingdom, are not immune to the pull of radicalism. The fact that both 
Hamas and Hezbollah fared well in elections and then carried out violent attacks
reinforces the point that democratic reform does not guarantee quiet. And 
democratization is of little use when dealing with radicals whose platforms have
no hope of receiving majority support. More useful initiatives would be actions 
designed to reform educational systems, promote economic liberalization and open
markets, encourage Arab and Muslim authorities to speak out in ways that 
delegitimize terrorism and shame its supporters, and address the grievances that
motivate young men and women to take it up.

As for the opportunities to be seized, the first is to intervene more in the 
Middle East's affairs with nonmilitary tools. Regarding Iraq, in addition to any
redeployment of U.S. troops and training of local military and police, the 
United States should establish a regional forum for Iraq's neighbors (Turkey and
Saudi Arabia in particular) and other interested parties akin to that used to 
help manage events in Afghanistan following the intervention there in 2001. 
Doing so would necessarily require bringing in both Iran and Syria. Syria, which
can affect the movement of fighters into Iraq and arms into Lebanon, should be 
persuaded to close its borders in exchange for economic benefits (from Arab 
governments, Europe, and the United States) and a commitment to restart talks on
the status of the Golan Heights. In the new Middle East, there is a danger that 
Syria might be more interested in working with Tehran than with Washington. But 
it did join the U.S.-led coalition during the Persian Gulf War and attend the 
Madrid peace conference in 1991, two gestures that suggest it might be open to a
deal with the United States in the future.

Iran is a more difficult case. But since regime change in Tehran is not a 
near-term prospect, military strikes against nuclear sites in Iran would be 
dangerous, and deterrence is uncertain, diplomacy is the best option available 
to Washington. The U.S. government should open, without preconditions, 
comprehensive talks that address Iran's nuclear program and its support of 
terrorism and foreign militias. Iran should be offered an array of economic, 
political, and security incentives. It could be allowed a highly limited 
uranium-enrichment pilot program so long as it accepted highly intrusive 
inspections. Such an offer would win broad international support, a prerequisite
if the United States wants backing for imposing sanctions or escalating to other
options should diplomacy fail. Making the terms of such an offer public would 
increase diplomacy's chances of success. The Iranian people should know the 
price they stand to pay for their government's radical foreign policy. With the 
government in Tehran concerned about an adverse public reaction, it would be 
more likely to accept the U.S. offer.

Diplomacy also needs to be revived in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is
still the issue that most shapes (and radicalizes) public opinion in the region.
The goal at this point would be not to bring the parties to Camp David or 
anywhere else but to begin to create the conditions under which diplomacy could 
usefully be restarted. The United States should articulate those principles it 
believes ought to constitute the elements of a final settlement, including the 
creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines. (The lines would have 
to be adjusted to safeguard Israel's security and reflect demographic changes, 
and the Palestinians would have to be compensated for any losses resulting from 
the adjustments.) The more generous and detailed the plan, the harder it would 
be for Hamas to reject negotiation and favor confrontation. Consistent with this
approach, U.S. officials ought to sit down with Hamas officials, much as they 
have with the leaders of Sinn Féin, some of whom also led the Irish Republican 
Army. Such exchanges should be viewed not as rewarding terrorist tactics but as 
instruments with the potential to bring behavior in line with U.S. policy.

The second opportunity involves the United States' insulating itself as much as 
possible from the region's instability. This would mean curbing U.S. oil 
consumption and U.S. dependence on the Middle East's energy resources, goals 
that could best be achieved by reducing demand (by, say, increasing taxes at the
pump -- offset by tax reductions elsewhere -- and promoting policies that would 
accelerate the introduction of alternative sources of energy). Washington should
also take additional steps to reduce its exposure to terrorism. Like 
vulnerability to disease, vulnerability to terrorism cannot be entirely 
eliminated. But more can and should be done to better protect the U.S. homeland 
and to better prepare for those inevitable occasions when terrorists will 

Avoiding these mistakes and seizing these opportunities would help, but it is 
important to recognize that there are no quick or easy solutions to the problems
the new era poses. The Middle East will remain a troubled and troubling part of 
the world for decades to come. It is all enough to make one nostalgic for the 
old Middle East.

www.foreignaffairs.org is copyright 2002--2006 by the Council on Foreign 

Escaping the Matrix website     http://escapingthematrix.org/
cyberjournal website            http://cyberjournal.org
subscribe cyberjournal list     mailto:•••@••.•••
Posting archives                http://cyberjournal.org/show_archives/
  cyberjournal forum            http://cyberjournal-rkm.blogspot.com/
  Achieving real democracy      http://harmonization.blogspot.com/
  for readers of ETM            http://matrixreaders.blogspot.com/
  Community Empowerment http://empowermentinitiatives.blogspot.com/
  Blogger made easy             http://quaylargo.com/help/ezblogger.html