April 01, 2013

U.S. Strategy after the Arab Uprisings: Toward Progressive Engagement

By Marc Lynch

Source: The Washington Quarterly

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Two years into the wave of upheaval sweeping the Arab world,new regional dynamics have become clearer, as have unresolved tensions incurrent U.S. policy toward the region. Given the scale and velocity of political turmoil associated with the Arab uprisings, the Obama administration has understandably adopted a largely reactive approach, attempting to adjust U.S.policies to a rapidly changing environment. It has been more successful in thoseefforts than is commonly recognized, maintaining effective pressure against Iranand al-Qaeda while helping to broker meaningful political transitions in Tunisia,Egypt, Yemen, and Libya.

But now there is a sense of drift overtaking American strategy for the region. The time has come for the Obama administration to articulate a more coherent, overarching, positive agenda for the new MiddleEast.The United States must frankly and carefully specify its vital national interests at stake in the Arab world, the resources it is able and willing to commit to pursue them, and the inherent contradictions among some of itsobjectives. We reject the popular argument that Washington must return to amore assertive and militarized regional grand strategy: the United States cannotafford deeper military involvement in regional conflicts or massive economic assistance to transitional countries.

Furthermore, newly empowered regional publics embittered by decades of experience with heavy-handed U.S.interference and support for dictatorships have little interest in a domineering style of Americanleadership. We also reject a return to embracing dictatorship in the name of stability, the seemingly easier alternative of relying upon alliances with conservative regional powers toenforce the status quo. The coming years are likely to see continuing waves of popular mobilization and political instability that could well consume even themost powerful conservative Gulf states. On strategic as well as normative grounds, there is no return to the old authoritarian bargain.

  • Marc Lynch