All of a sudden it is Washington, not the Middle East, that appears stagnant. The revolts in Tunisia and Egypt – and the proliferating signs of unrest in the American sphere of influence in the Middle East – have occurred in spite of American power, not because of it, and they have left the US looking confused and isolated. America’s closest ally in the region is an expansionist, increasingly chauvinist Jewish state whose friendship is as much a liability as an asset. If Obama’s assiduous efforts to rebrand the American empire have made little headway, it is in part because they have not been accompanied by any serious rethinking of these strategic priorities: the grandeur of his rhetoric barely masks the poverty of his vision.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the Egyptian revolt is the latest expansion of a new dynamism. A Hizbullah-backed coalition government has come to power in Lebanon by constitutional means, upending Washington’s calculations and deepening Tehran’s influence; Turkey, under an Islamic government, has been pursuing an ambitious foreign policy that ignores the Washington grid. Even in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US can no longer count on the deference of the governments it helped to create.
Despite its uncontested military supremacy in the region, Washington can’t seem to translate its power into real influence, its dominance into lasting hegemony. Its help is rarely even sought in resolving disputes such as the recent tensions over Lebanon’s new government: a distinct preference for regional mediation has emerged.
The best that can be said of Obama’s Middle East policy is that he hasn’t got in the way of this trend as much as his predecessor did. He has been prevented from encouraging it by his own cautious instincts, and by the alliances with Israel that he inherited, the terms of which he is unwilling or unable to revise. The days of American hegemony in the Muslim East are not over, but for the first time in years, from Ankara to Cairo, from Tunis to Beirut, the outlines of a post-American Middle East can be glimpsed.
Adam Shatz in London review of Books. More Here.