MESH marks the Fourth of July by asking this question: Is the American era in the Middle East over? The argument was first made by Richard Haass in an article published in 2006:
The American era in the Middle East… has ended…. 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…. 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.
The theme continues to reverberate in a new article by Haass on “nonpolarity,” and in Fareed Zakaria’s book The Post-American World, which announces “the end of the Pax Americana.” (“On every dimension other than military power—industrial, financial, social, cultural—the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from U.S. dominance.”)
Has the American era ended in the Middle East? Is the obituary premature? Is it all hyperbole? Or maybe there never was an American era to begin with? MESH has asked a number of distinguished authorities for their views.
Update, July 17: At the invitation of MESH, Richard Haass replies here.
J. Scott Carpenter :: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” So telegrammed Mark Twain in response to “news” of his passing. America could respond similarly to Fareed Zakaria and Richard Haass, the latest in an inglorious parade of hand-wringers who see the waning of American influence in the Middle East and the world.
Contrary to Fareed’s assertions, there is no sphere in which the United States is not now dominant in the region and there’s no reason to believe its influence will be eclipsed by any other power or concert of powers. In a distinction without a difference, Richard asserts the end of the American moment and the beginning of a non-polar world—in which the United States has the predominant capacity to lead. In fact, there is no substitute for American leadership in the Middle East. Does anyone really believe China or Russia or Iran present serious long-term challenges to the United States? Or worthy models of emulation? Or solutions?
Iran? Sure, a dangerous nut case with nuclear dreams threatens the region, but America is leading the coalition to contain or confront it. Not even China or Russia seriously questions its leadership or the need for it. Politically, Iran is a model for no one. Its economy deteriorates by the day as its peoples’ restiveness grows. Fed up with revolution, they would happily embrace real democracy (and the United States) if permitted. At the same time, Sunni chauvinism in the rest of the region limits Shiite influence.
Russia? Its dual Czars, Medvedev and Putin, have restored Russians’ pride in their state, but the Kremlin’s pretensions of expanding its influence in the Middle East remain anemic at best. Just look at the weakness of Russia’s earnest but ineffective participation in the Quartet.
China? China has a thirst for energy that makes it a demandeur having little interest in actively shaping events in the region. Plus, China’s vastly undervalued currency and overheating growth promise future challenges that will keep its government focused internally. Earthquakes and floods are portents in Chinese political culture that its leaders are well aware of.
Europe? Europe craves American leadership and increasingly works in cooperation if not outright collaboration on key policies. It is true the EU has influence in the Maghreb thanks to its large economic transfers. but it has little weight in the Gulf and no ability to project power. With France under Elvis-loving Sarkozy, transatlantic cooperation under U.S. leadership is poised to take off. A U.S. diplomat in Paris recently told me the relationship has never been better or the areas of cooperation more diverse.
So why the angst? The United States faces real challenges but they are hardly the heralds of the end of U.S. influence in the Middle East—or the world. We have overcome worse and will do so again. As a leading media figure in Dubai told me two weeks ago, “Many people would like to believe America is down but it’s always a mistake to underestimate its resilience and power. And dangerous.” I, for one, agree.
J. Scott Carpenter is Keston Family Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a member of MESH.
Lawrence Freedman :: Few attempts to predict the future of U.S. power and influence in terms of the most recent trends, or as a transformational moment, have survived the events they have sought to anticipate.
Looking back, the U.S. position in the Middle East was, at different times, due to be eclipsed by the rise of a pro-Soviet pan-Arabism and then OPEC. Now it is the turn of Islamism and Iran. At the start of the 1980s the U.S. position looked poor as a result of the loss of the Shah and the debacle over Beirut. A decade later it looked good because of the successful management of the 1991 Gulf War and the effort which led to the Madrid Conference. As Saddam’s regime was toppled in 2003 for a moment U.S. power was presented as almost irresistible. As the rationale for the war was undermined by the failure to find WMD and the mismanagement of the occupation America’s reputation began to plummet. The Bush Administration appeared to have lost the plot in the war on terror, found little useful to do on the Israel-Palestine issue and kept on being wrong-footed by Iran.
For the moment the United States barely has a functioning government. Even Israel is currently conducting its regional diplomacy with barely a nod in Washington’s direction.
Does this all represent a trend or a blip? Early next year a new administration will be in place. Simply by being different to Bush, it will enjoy something of a honeymoon, though historically the first months of new administrations have been times of maximum error, so a lot will depend on how the new president responds to the first major crisis that comes his way.
Furthermore, as one of the big questions about the United States is always sticking power, continuing with the broad thrust of the current Iraqi strategy will be important, even while looking for a way to see the progressive reduction in the American role. Apart from the currently unanticipated events (Egypt? Yemen? Algeria?) that might change the political agenda dramatically, the most important known test will be Iran, as 2009 will be a critical year.
Obviously the context in which U.S. foreign policy operates changes all the time. There may be no other power in a position to displace America, but a lot will depend on the policy choices being made elsewhere in the region, including in countries with which current relations are poor. The safest bet for a historian is to observe that the future is likely to be as complex as the past.
Lawrence Freedman is Professor of War Studies, King’s College London.
Josef Joffe :: The United States is finished, its president, a pious idealist, the laughing stock of the world. This was the take on Jimmy Carter’s America after that Keystone Kops attempt (“Desert One”) in 1980 to free the U.S. hostages in Tehran. A few months into Reagan, who had quietly threatened obliteration of Tehran, the laughter had died.
Now it’s decline time again (it tends to come in twenty-year cycles). But you wonder what the “end of the American era in the Middle East” means? Is it like the end of the French and British era when they were forced out for good by the United States, in the wake of the Suez War of 1956? Hmm, let’s see.
Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the lesser Gulf states are all security clients of the United States. Israel, the regional superpower, is America’s “continental sword.” Turkey is an American ally, and Iraq an American possession, with 130,000 U.S. troops, where the war has turned in favour of the United States since last summer. Which leaves Syria, isolated, impoverished, and mulling a return into the Western fold. And Iran, the current would-be hegemon of the region.
Influence-wise, this is not a bad line-up, especially when considering that in the 1960s and 1970s, three key Arab players, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, were firmly ensconced in the Soviet camp.
Now let’s look at more tangible sources of influence: bases. Haifa is practically homeport of the Sixth Fleet, Bahrain is where the Fifth Fleet’s forward HQ is located. Qatar hosts an American air base that is said to be the largest outside the country, supporting up to 10,000 U.S. personnel. The UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi plus some smaller sheikdoms) also hosts a significant U.S. presence. The ports of Jebel Ali and Fujaira supply the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Al Dhafra Airbase serves as a major intelligence hub and as a staging grounds for tankers and UAVs. Oman has been an American base since 1979.
For a has-been power, the United States simply must have forgotten all those accoutrements of American influence strewn across the region. But this is no accident, comrades, as the Soviets used to say. The Middle East is to the 21st century what Europe was in the 20th: a key strategic stake and a main battle ground for hegemonial conflict. As a result, America’s shadow there will lengthen, Obama or McCain.
Another way to approach the issue of influence is to ask: Who else? The end of Britain and France in the region was marked by the permanent intrusion of the Unites States. Who would push out the United States? Or make it more practical: Who is going to assure regime survival in Egypt, Jordan et al? Not France, Britain or Germany. Who has the convening power to bring Israel and Palestinians to the bargaining table? Not China. Who can organize sanctions against Iran? Not Russia. Come to think of it: Who disposes of the world’s largest economy, the world’s largest military spending? None of the above.
The point is this: Under Bush, the United States has suffered a vast loss in legitimacy and reputation. But it has not lost its vast physical power, nor the sources of its global influence. The United States remains the default power—the power to which everybody will turn once the United States returns to the golden rule of all leadership: pursue your own interests by taking care of those of others.
Josef Joffe is the Marc and Anita Abramowitz Fellow in International Relations at the Hoover Institution, and a member of MESH.
Mark T. Kimmitt :: The era of Pax Americana in the Middle East is over? One has a hard time suggesting that such an era ever existed.
The post-World War Two era in Europe was, truly, Pax Americana: 60-plus years in West Germany, with over 500,000 American troops (and their families). Our security guarantees ensured that the Soviet Union was held in check, our presence ensured that American culture was predominant throughout the continent, our cross-Atlantic trade and social exchanges resulted in a continent that assimilated the American experience wholesale.
Our presence in the Middle East during this same period was a fraction of our presence in Europe. Our troop numbers never exceeded the low thousands, except for the wars of 1990-91 and 2003 to today. Our security presence was mostly “over the horizon” and provided by maritime troops and aircraft afloat. A security shield to be sure, but nothing close to Pax Americana.
Today, the globalization of commerce and the insatiable worldwide demand for hydrocarbons will ensure that the Middle East remains an open playing field for commerce and industry, and no particular actor will have a hegemonic advantage in finance, culture or diplomacy. The only area in which the United States will enjoy a competitive advantage remains in security. The regional presence of U.S. forces, even in a post-Iraq environment, will sustain regional stability. However, the model envisioned remains a rotational model. Forces will rotate in and out on a scheduled basis, their families will remain in the United States, and exercises will be held in remote areas far from population centers.
That is hardly comparable to the Pax Americana of postwar Europe, but it is a model that has worked for decades in the past, and can work for decades to come. Less an end of an era, and more a continuation of the past.
Mark T. Kimmitt is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, and has just been confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.
Martin Kramer :: America’s era in the Middle East has only just begun. Until 2003, the United States was positioned off-shore, attempting to manage the region through diplomacy, aid, arms sales, and the occasional cruise missile. Since the Iraq invasion, the United States has immersed itself in the nitty-gritty of engineering the reconstruction of a major Arab state. In the process, it has made just about every possible mistake, but it has also learned almost every possible lesson, and we see the results in gains made in Iraq. The knowledge acquired in Iraq, by trial and error, has put the United States on par with Britain and France at the height of their sway over the Middle East.
The Middle East is full of what America wants and needs: dictatorships to be broken, oil to be explored and exported, a religion in need of reformation. For Americans, the Middle East will never be analogous to southeast Asia, no matter how sticky it gets. But it probably won’t ever get that sticky: the region is sufficiently fragmented that the United States will never manage to enrage everyone at once. The United States is likely to remain on-shore in the Middle East, overtly or behind a veil, for a long time to come.
Only Americans can put an end to the American era, by talking themselves out of it. Elie Kedourie, in his famous essay “The Chatham House Version,” showed how the spread of declinism in Britain’s political elite forced the country’s total and abject abandonment of every British position in the Middle East. The drums of retreat are now being pounded by the American equivalents of Arnold Toynbee. But when Britain pulled up stakes, it knew the vacuum would be filled by America. If we leave, it will be Iran. (Haass has called Iran “a classic imperial power.”) Here is my prediction: America won’t let it happen.
Martin Kramer is Olin Institute Senior Fellow at Harvard University and a member of MESH.
Walter Laqueur :: End of an era? This is not entirely wrong but a typical journalistic exaggeration (small earthquakes do not sell copies). Facing major economic problems and various setbacks in the foreign policy field, many Americans, including many belonging to the political class, favor retrenchment. “Measured disinvolvement” and “partial disengagement” were the terms used by the neo-isolationists in the 1970s.
But in truth there never was an “American era” and it is not over yet. (There certainly was no Pax Americana.) Had there been one, things would have happened—in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine—which did not take place. On the other hand, a certain weakening of the American position could lead to opportunities that did not exist before. Everyone is ganging up against a single superpower, whereas in future, with the appearance of new threats and the coming internal conflicts in the Middle East, America will be more needed and more in demand than before—unless it opts for isolationism and total withdrawal, which seems unlikely.
Whether these opportunities will be used depends partly on the balance of power (or its absence) in the Middle East in the years to come, on which one can only speculate. It depends above all on the political intelligence and farsightedness, will and steadfastness of the next president and his advisers and the support they will have. Sapienti sat, as the medieval monks used to conclude.
Walter Laqueur is Distinguished Scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and a member of MESH.
Robert J. Lieber :: The proposition that “The American era in the Middle East has ended” is part of a larger declinist argument. The United States does face serious problems at home and abroad, but there is an unmistakable echo of the past in current arguments.
While there are challenges to the U.S. Middle East role, no other country has anything like its influence and impact there. As an unmistakable symbol, no other country could have convened the Annapolis Conference last November and on short notice attracted leaders from some 60 countries including China, Russia, the EU and virtually the entire Arab League. Iran does pose a severe regional danger, but Richard Haass’ claim that its “effort to become a nuclear power is a result of nonpolarity” fails to take into account that Tehran’s covert program began more than two decades ago when there was plenty of polarity. Indeed, Haass himself concedes that the U.S. “will continue to enjoy more influence in the region than any other outside power.”
Previous crises have involved challenges more daunting than those of today. For example, the 1973-80 period included the Yom Kippur War and Arab oil embargo, two oil shocks, Watergate and the Nixon resignation, a humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam, the Iranian revolution, the seizure of the U.S. embassy hostages in Tehran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a severe economic downturn at home (with figures for recession, unemployment and inflation far beyond anything likely to occur in the current period), and Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech.
Fareed Zakaria refers to the U.S. as an “enfeebled superpower.” But the idea that shifts in the distribution of power would deprive America of its world role isn’t novel, and was common in the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1972 President Nixon depicted an emerging balance among five major powers: the U.S., Russia, China, Europe and Japan. But despite the rise of the “BRICs” (Brazil, Russia, India, China), the growing importance of an expanded EU and a flourishing East Asia, other powers are not balancing against the United States. No other country comes close to combining all the power attributes of the United States and none has emerged as a true peer competitor. And important regional powers (Japan, India, Indonesia, Germany, France) have even improved their relations with Washington.
In an article in the summer issue of World Affairs, I make the case that declinist arguments exhibit a-historicism, over-reaction to singular events, and a lack of appreciation for the adaptability, robustness and staying power of the United States. Declinist forecasts in previous eras have been wrong, and it is a good bet that the current crop will prove to be similarly mistaken.
Robert J. Lieber is Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University.
Michael Mandelbaum :: The American role in the Middle East has been the product, since the 1950s, of three conditions. The first has been political instability there with the associated threat of regional domination by a power hostile to Western interests—variously the Soviet Union, Nasser’s Egypt, Saddam’s Iraq, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such a threat would have been of strictly local concern but for the second condition: the location, in the Middle East, of the largest readily accessible supplies of the world’s most valuable mineral. A hostile power dominating the region would be in a position to deny oil to, and thus gravely damage, the rest of the world. It was, therefore, necessary to prevent such a circumstance, and in the absence of any other force able to perform this task, it fell to the United States—the third defining condition.
Through deterrence, proxy wars, and direct military intervention, American power has preserved a certain order in the Middle East and assured the global economy reliable access to petroleum. In this way the United States has supplied one of the several governmental services it provides to the rest of the world, which for the most part neither acknowledges nor appreciates them and contributes almost nothing to paying for them. (The full version of this argument is set out in my 2006 book The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-first Century.)
The two most consequential events of recent years—the American struggles in Iraq and the skyrocketing price of oil—have not abolished the three conditions. If anything, they have aggravated the first two: Iran looms as a larger threat to the region, and the global supply of oil is more precarious because there is so little spare capacity. As for the third condition, the “realist” approach to the understanding of international relations would predict that, in the face of the Iranian threat, the Arab oil producers would band together to form an effective military bloc and make common cause with the two regional powers that are also wary of the Islamic Republic, Turkey and Israel. Readers of this blog will not need to be persuaded of the implausibility of such a scenario.
To be sure, the United States is not certain to continue as the regional gendarme, but if it fails to do so this will not be because conditions in the Middle East and the global economy no longer require one, or because some other country or group of countries has assumed the role. Rather, it will be because, frustrated by Iraq, angry at the hemorrhaging of wealth to the oil producers, and preoccupied with domestic concerns, the American public declines to continue its fifty-year pattern of engagement in the Middle East. In that case, a new era will indeed have dawned, an era all too likely to make Americans, Middle Easterners, and others nostalgic for the old one.
Michael Mandelbaum is Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and a member of MESH.
Aaron David Miller :: The notion of an American era in the Middle East has always been an illusion, certainly if that implies American dominance over a region that, since the end of World War Two, has become too complex, too dysfunctional and too ornery ever to be controlled or shaped by a single outside power. A better way to describe American influence would be a series of “American moments” when the United States succeeded in Arab-Israeli peacemaking (1973, 1979, 1991) or war making (1991) which temporarily boosted American credibility and influence in discrete areas. Clearly since 1991, we’ve had very few of even those moments. For eight years under Bill Clinton we failed at Arab-Israeli peacemaking; and for eight years under George W. Bush we failed at making war in a region critical to our national security interests. As a result, we are neither feared nor respected to the extent we need to be.
At the same time, we need to understand that we are in an investment trap in this region; we can’t fix it and we can’t escape it. We must however do a better job of protecting our interests. If we presume to be a great power, we should start acting like one: defining policies driven by American interests, not Arab or Israeli interests; and not allowing our domestic politics or grandiose schemes of a new Middle East to substitute for smart and tough-minded policies. This region is not a land of wonderful diplomatic and foreign policy opportunities; it’s a trap, but one in which we have no choice but to compete and survive. My concluding advice: read history; see the world as it is not the way we want it to be; and above all avoid big ideas (this region hates them) and failure. In life, the world’s most compelling ideology isn’t nationalism, democracy or even capitalism. It’s success, because success generates power and constituents. Failure generates the opposite.
Aaron David Miller is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Joshua Muravchik :: Seeing things that are not apparent on the surface is the essence of the analyst/pundit business. That’s why they pay us the small bucks.
It is, however, an inherently dicey business. The farther an observation is from the surface, the more impressive or exciting it is, but also often the more difficult to prove or disprove and often, also, to make any use of. Usually, the grander the generalization, the vaguer the terms.
The all-time master of this art was Karl Marx who discovered the laws of history, and although the terms were never defined clearly nor their relationship to each other, and although the specific embedded predictions have not come true, his immense influence endures even, dare I say, in the august center of learning that MESH calls home.
There is a huge audience eager to know the future which is why many times more people read the astrologers’ columns than ours.
America’s dominance of the world scene has been underway for 60-plus years, and this period has been punctuated by numerous sightings of the country’s decline. No doubt they will prove true, whether in a decade or a century or a millennium.
I didn’t know that the American era in the Middle East commenced in 1991. I ask myself what I would have done differently or advocated differently or written differently these last 17 years had I known it. I also wonder whether Saddam or Khamenei or Bashar or Nasrallah or Yassin or even Arafat, despite spending many nights at the White House, knew that that was the American era. If so, what would they have done differently had it not been? And if not, what difference does it make that it was?
As for the American era having just ended or being in the process of ending, what does that tell me? Does it mean that if we drop bombs on Iran’s nuclear facilities, they will not explode? And if they do explode and we block Iran’s hopes for a bomb; and if, as now seems possible, we come away from Iraq with a win, will our era be over nonetheless? And if it is, despite our gaining our policy objectives, what difference would that make?
Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a member of MESH.
Robert Satloff :: Cheer up, America, the doomsayers are wrong: America’s moment in the Middle East is not about to go the way of Britain’s, at least not anytime soon.
Despite all the hand-wringing of recent years, certain truths about Middle East politics and America’s role in it are enduring. These include the following:
• Militarily, from thousands of miles away, America remains the most potent force in the Middle East. While the sagacity of how it employs this force is at times open to question, the fact of America’s military superiority is beyond dispute.
• Diplomatically, America remains the party to whom both Arabs and Israelis turn as the indispensable actor in “the peace process,” the “honest broker” that can reduce risks, condition the environment, bridge gaps, subsidize agreements and oversee their implementation.
• Ideologically, America remains the lodestar for the region’s beleaguered democrats as well as the preeminent satanic foe of the region’s radical Islamists. Despite the misadventures of the “freedom agenda,” civil society groups across the Middle East continue to dismiss fashionable parlour-talk about Washington’s “kiss of death” and instead seek our support and blessing for their causes; despite our alleged weaknesses, our enemies still rank “Death to America”—and not “death to nonpolarity,” for example—as their most cherished motto.
• Culturally, America too remains the most admired, as well as the most feared, country in the Middle East. On the one hand, tens of thousands of Middle Easterners are shelling out billions of dollars for one of our principal exports—American-style education—which (depending on the actual quality) will ensure American cultural dominance for at least the next two generations. And, on the other hand, there is compelling evidence that it is Hollywood—and neither the Sixth Fleet, nor Israel’s F-15s nor the eventual fall of oil prices—that drives fear into the heart of Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Did America overreach in the Bush Administration? Well, we certainly made huge mistakes, from the execution of the post-war in Iraq to the topsy-turvy, elections-first effort on democracy promotion. But with a measure of wisdom, some of these errors are repairable while others can be overcome. In the larger sense, there is little reason to believe that they herald the impending demise of our unique role in both the minds and imaginations of Middle Easterners. On this Fourth of July, that’s something to celebrate.
Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a member of MESH.
Harvey Sicherman :: By my count, the American era, a/k/a the American empire, has risen and fallen several times since the end of the Cold War. This is a nice little industry for some authors (similar to the “transatlantic crisis”) and, unlike other industries, it never knows a recession. So, a pox on the pax.
The real issue is whether the United States, alone or in combination, can secure its interests in the Middle East. Three have endured since the late 1940s: access to oil; security of Israel; and a region not dominated by hostile powers. Other interests have come and gone, including “modernization.” Democratic transformation, too, may soon join its predecessors on the heap of foreign-induced reform in the Middle East, always a chronicle of dashed hopes and unintended consequences. But these have not displaced the critical threesome.
Do we have access to oil? Yes. Is Israel secure? More or less. Does a hostile power dominate the region? Not now. The prolongation of this situation depends, however, on our capacity to secure Baghdad, find some solution to the Palestinian problem, and take the Iranians down a peg, possibly through (1) a reduction of their influence in Iraq, (2) financial penalties that accelerate Ahmadinejad’s wrecking of the economy, or (3) a bloody nose that brings home to them the danger of their nuclear and terrorism enterprises. Can enough of this be done to secure our interests? Of course. Will we do it? I surely hope so.
Harvey Sicherman is president and director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and a member of MESH.
Richard N. Haass :: Is it over for America in the Middle East? Of course not. And no one to my knowledge is arguing that it is. I certainly am not; as I wrote in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, “The United States will continue to exert more influence in the region than any other outside power….”
But this is not the end of the discussion. U.S. influence will decline from what it has been. We are at the end of one historical era (unipolarity) and the outset of another (nonpolarity). This is true generally and for the Middle East.
So what is the problem? Few of those commenting here seem to understand the distinction between an end to an era and an end to influence. What makes an era is that the character of what is being discussed (in this case, a part of the world) is both clear and enduring. There can be exceptions, but they are just that: exceptions to a prevailing pattern.
The previous era in the Middle East was dominated to an uncharacteristic degree by the United States. It was the result of the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union. But it was also the consequence of concerted American effort, be it to reverse Saddam Hussein’s conquest of Kuwait or to promote peace between Israel and its neighbors.
The era came to an end both for structural reasons—globalization, the shifting balance between energy supply and demand, the weakening of some national entities and the strengthening of other national and non-state actors alike—and for reasons related more to U.S. policy, in particular the Iraq war and the lack of priority accorded the “peace process.”
The new era will be one in which U.S. power and influence will be considerable but on balance less dominant. Other actors, including Iran, a divided but assertive Iraqi government, Hezbollah, Hamas, national oil companies and the governments behind them, sovereign wealth funds, terrorist organizations, China, Russia, the EU, political factions within Israel, religious authorities, and the Muslim Brotherhood, will count for more.
What does this mean? It means the United States will not be able to insist on what it wants or shape events as much as it would like. It is an open question whether the United States can stop Iran’s nuclear progress, cobble together a viable and independent Iraq, broker peace between Israel and Palestinians, or promote reform and guarantee stability in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. U.S. ability to do such things in the past was never total, but whatever it was then, it is less now. This is not an argument for standing aloof—to the contrary, neglect is almost always counter-productive, and how policy is designed and implemented will make a difference. But it is my judgment that American foreign policy and those making it will have to contend with a less benign environment, including more constraints and greater opposition, factors that are likely to raise costs and lower results.
Richard N. Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.