From the Straits of Gibraltar to the Hindu Kush, instability will afflict the Muslim world for a generation, and there is nothing that the West can do to stop it. Almost no-one in Washington appears to be asking the obvious question: what should the United States do in the event that there are no solutions at all?Read the whole thing.
No one, that is, but US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius March 22 that "the unrest has highlighted 'ethnic, sectarian and tribal differences that have been suppressed for years' in the region, and that as America encourages leaders to accept democratic change, there's a question 'whether more democratic governance can hold ... countries together in light of these pressures'." The implication [Ignatius writes]: ''There's a risk that the political map of the modern Middle East may begin to unravel too, with, say, the breakup of Libya.''
The Defense Secretary's Delphic utterance suggests that he has learned a great deal since the 1980s, when as the Central Intelligence Agency's Russia desk chief he refused to believe that the Soviet Union was headed for a crackup. This time he foresees the chaos to come. But Gates, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, already has announced his eventual departure.
The kibitzer corps of Western policy analysts is competing to offer putative solutions to the region's problems. What do you do when there isn't a solution?
...What might emerge from the Arab world two or three generations from now is beyond anyone's capacity to foresee. As individuals, Arabs are as talented and productive as anyone on earth. For the time being they are caught in the maelstrom of a failing culture. The social engineers of the neither the American left nor right will ''get them right,” in Undersecretary Burns' grammatically challenged expression.
Gates is right: the existing political structures will not hold. As he told David Ignatius, ''I think we should be alert to the fact that outcomes are not predetermined, and that it's not necessarily the case that everything has a happy ending ... We are in dark territory and nobody knows what the outcome will be.'' As I said of Egypt in my February 2 essay [Food and failed Arab states]: we do not know what kind of state will follow Basher Assad. We only know that it will be a failed state.
At a time when the argument is between those who say democracy will result from the current wave of protests and those who say the Islamists are waiting in the wings, it may be that the Middle East is more unstable than either side realizes--and it's future more uncertain.
That may not make Israelis' lives any easier, but it does make Israel's own future that much less uncertain.
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