Can the West and Russia find a common approach to the Arab Spring?

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Can the West and Russia find a common approach to the Arab Spring?
Published 29-01-2013, 10:35

Recent events in Mali, where Islamists fighters based in the northern part of the country have been repulsed by a France-led military intervention, and last week’s terrorist attack at a BP plant in Algeria are a direct consequence of the Arab Spring. More precisely, the 2011 demise of the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya has created an environment in which porous borders enable an unhindered flow of arms, fighters and cash throughout North Africa. Whatever reservations the Western powers may have had about Qaddafi, the fact remains that his regime kept a lid on his country’s volatile ethnic mix, thus helping to maintain the region’s stability. With the removal of his regime, Qaddafi’s own prediction that "Bin Laden’s people would come to impose ransoms by land and sea” has become the bitter reality.

As a result, against the background of ongoing civil war in Syria and persistent instability across the Arab world, yet another hotspot has emerged, this time in Mali. Having (just about) extracted itself from the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan, the West seems set to start sinking its blood and treasure into the sands of North Africa. Just as many analysts warned, George W. Bush’s "war on terror” is escalating into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Suppressed in one location, international Jihadism will simply migrate to another, exploiting the plentiful opportunities offered by the grinding poverty of failed states, bloody uprisings (such as that in Syria) and local conflicts (such as that in Mali).  

The West, and especially Washington, has made much of Russia’s (as well as China’s) opposition to its policies in Syria and the Arab world as a whole, castigating Moscow for allegedly supporting "bloody dictators” such as Assad. But increasingly, it appears that Moscow’s warnings about the folly of Western policies are justified. Not only does the bloodshed in Syria continue unabated; the Mali crisis shows that the West can at best score only short-lived Pyrrhic victories. The West has moreover received precious little thanks from the "democrats” it has helped to win power. That includes President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, who has pointedly failed to condemn the terrorist attack in Algeria. 

Drawing up an optimum strategy for the troubled Islamic world remains as topical an issue as ever, albeit a seemingly intractable one. On the one hand, the West clearly has a point. Popular revolts against corrupt dictators, often driven by economic grievances and the urgent need to modernize the states in question, cannot – and should not – be put down by brutal repression. On the other hand, Russia and China, both of which suffered a "lost century” due to revolutionary turmoil, have a point too – namely, that violence is not the answer and that political solutions and reconciliation must be pursued. Thus the search for an acceptable and effective balance between the necessary push for change and the need for stability goes on.


The instability on which Islamist terrorism feeds is driven by economic backwardness and poverty. Economic development, promoted by improved relations among the great powers, is the only realistic solution in the long run. What prevents Russia, China and the West reaching an understanding on this crucial issue?

Some argue that a new cold war between Russia and the West – one that makes any such rapprochement unthinkable – is inevitable because President Obama is a captive of the US industrial-military complex. But can this "immovable object” resist the "irresistible force” of America’s fiscal constraints?

The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Vlad Sobell, 
Editor, Expert Discussion Panel 
Professor, New York University, Prague  

Expert Panel Contributions

Dmitry Mikheyev
Former Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, teaches "Leadership in the 21st century” at various business-schools in Moscow

Why indeed don’t the great powers join efforts and help the warring sides of the Middle East countries to settle their differences? My answer:  Because they have radically different perceptions of chaos and subscribe to different philosophies of conflict management.
Whereas the Russians and Chinese look in horror as chaos spread and engulfs new states, Americans see a painful and messy yet ultimately healthy birth of democracy.
In Russian minds, TV scenes from the Middle East are reminiscent of the painful memories of their recent past. After all it was only in September 1999 that a 3,500-strong army from one Russian region (Chechnya) invaded another Russian region (Dagestan). In ten days Russians watched on TV how apartment buildings in Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk were blown up, causing 305 deaths.[1] Seeing the destruction of Damascus, Russians relive horrors of the second Chechen war, images of the Stalingrad-like ruins of Grozny. Following the hostage drama in Algeria they relive Beslan and Dubrovka. In the late 1990s, the country seemed on the brink of disintegration. Aslan Maskhadov’s government was not the only one pursuing a policy of friendly relations with Islamist governments, which were pushing Chechnya toward complete independence. Thirty regions of Russia actively conducted their own foreign policies. Tatarstan, for one, had "diplomatic missions” in sixteen foreign states.[2]
Only recently, after the overthrowing of the totalitarian order and the "wild democracy” of the 1990s, have Russians begun to tentatively enjoy stability, bourgeois prosperity and the liberties of  "sovereign democracy.” They shudder at the sight of pictures of destruction, lawlessness and chaos that the "wild democracy” of the Arab Spring brings to Russia’s neighborhood.  

When Americans look at the Middle East, they see nothing unusual. They have always known that the world beyond their island of stability and prosperity is full of irrational hatred and passions and divergent religious and material interests. Religious as they are themselves, they believe that under the thin crust of order, the Satanic forces are relentlessly at work in the name of chaos. In their mind, conflict is the universal, fundamental and permanent state of affairs, while peace and cooperation are accidental and temporary conditions. According to Samuel Huntington’s "global chaos theory”, the world is an arena of conflict between order and chaos, between "the West and the Rest.”[3] For global chaos theorists, both liberal and conservative, only a benevolent hegemonic power with the help of "willing partners” can keep the world from falling into cataclysmic wars like the WWI and WWII. The US has no option but to push the recalcitrant world toward liberal democracy and thus ultimately bring peace, stability and progress.[4] 

As for the "chaos management” theory:  Many analysts overlook that it is not a recent invention. It was enshrined in the Constitution by the Framers, who assumed that chaos is a natural state of affairs because "Nature and our pre-history did not design men to be altruistic towards other men with different genes … We are genetically programmed to kill strangers, since they were once our rivals for nutrition and reproductive resources (women). Civilization is a project to prevent men from reverting to the law of the jungle.”[5] I think that this quotation from the contemporary historian Niall Ferguson defines very well the Anglo-American worldview, which, in turn, underlines the American democratic model.
As the Framers saw it, the democratic mechanism is not about the reconciliation of social groups’ antagonistic interests. Rather, it is about maintaining equilibrium by carefully balancing the power of organized groups or "factions”, as Madison called them. This "checks and balances” principle works not only domestically. It is an operational principle of "managing global chaos” as well. It works like this. The hegemon sides with the "oppressed” minority against its stronger "oppressor” and helps it to defeat the latter. The liberated minority swears allegiance to the hegemon; however, it is not allowed to grow sufficiently strong. The antagonists counter-balance one another under the supervision of the benign hegemon. This ingenious mechanism of chaos management could be traced to every country where America promotes democracy.
Instead of chaos management, Russia and China subscribe to a conflict resolution philosophy, which is rooted in the Orthodox Christianity and even more so in Confucianism. They believe that while animosity and strife are frequent and ubiquitous, they are nevertheless aberrations. The normal and ideal life is about love and harmony. Accordingly, conflicts should and could be reconciled through negotiation and mutual concessions. This philosophy naturally embraces the concept of the multipolar world. The collective leadership of the world's major powers could and should strive to settle local conflicts.
Today, both Russia’s and China’s strategic objectives are modernization, development and prosperity. Their "neo-imperialist” ambitions are decidedly regional and capitalist. Russia does seek to align former Soviet states, but this should be viewed as the perfectly natural desire to maximize her economic and cultural influence within the sphere of her immediate interests. Both countries are genuinely interested in order and stability and not just in the Middle East. They need a stable and predictable global environment as a prerequisite for long-term development.

For American political elites, the existence of several independent centers of power is a formula for chaos. Sharing power and responsibilities with the "authoritarian” Russia and Communist China is unacceptable. To "make the world safe for democracy," to use Woodrow Wilson's words, all forces of order and civilization must rally behind their leader. The civilized Europeans have accepted the American democratic model and leadership, and so must Russia, China and all the rest.

[1] Richard Sakwa, Putin: Russia's Choice (Routledge, 2004).
[2] Samuel Charap, "Inside Out: Domestic Political Change and Foreign Policy in Vladimir  Putin's First Term,” Demokratizatsiya, 2007, Vol.15, Issue. 3.  
[3]Samuel Huntington, "The Coming Clash of Civilizations: Or, the West against the Rest," New York Times, June 6, 1993. 
[4] Yahya Sadowski, The Myth of Global Chaos (Brookings Institution Press, 1998).
[5] Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (Penguin, 2007).

Patrick Armstrong
Patrick Armstrong Analysis,
Ottawa, Canada

The "Arab Spring” is becoming rather wintry. I foresee three end-states, varying by country: return to the status quo of military-based kleptocracies tinctured this time with Islamism rather than national socialism; full Islamist takeovers; and continual chaos. The revolts are responses to the failure of the "Arab socialism” of Nasser’s coup in Egypt in 1952 and the Baath coups in Syria and Iraq and Qaddafi’s eccentricities in Libya a decade later. Despite the customary fly-blown promises of future happiness, the realities were military dictatorships, corruption, injustice and hopelessness. Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide in Tunisia lit the fuse.
Outside powers had no causative responsibility: it was a combustible mass awaiting the unpredictable event that would spark it off. The speed of development outpaced all Western reaction and there was nothing Western capitals could do either to speed or slow the flames.

In Libya the "West” (but note that Germany kept out of the operation) was animated by reports of humanitarian outrages, most notably that "Qaddafi is bombing his own people”. (But was he? "No confirmation” agreed US Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen. So what was a no fly zone supposed to achieve?) But the pressure "to do something” grew and, after seven months and an ever-escalating intervention, Qaddafi was killed: "we came, we saw, he died”. Cynics say oil was the "real” motive, but it would be absurd to argue that Libyan oil exports are more secure today. What national interest was there in overthrowing the eccentric, cruel but harmless (to us) dictator of Tripoli? What motive but transient humanitarian hysteria? That the intervention might make Libyans more miserable; that Libya might remain mired in devastation for years; that turmoil might spread are consequences no one considered in the passionate desire to "do something”. Now we hear similar reporting on Syria and the same demands to "do something”. But what if there is nothing any outsider can do but make it worse?

Moscow and Beijing take a more rational and self-interested position. Moscow is an intensely status-quo power: not only does it need peace and quiet to reconstruct but a historically-grounded pessimism tells it that much change is only change for the worse. China has few interests and has no desire to parade humanitarian pieties. And it too, has seen advertised better futures turn to dust.

The truth is that, short of picking a side and helping it win (something that did not work out well in Libya and would surely be worse in Syria) there is nothing outsiders can do to stop the fighting. Irreconcilable ends are struggling: the regimes are fighting for their lives and the jihadists for their Caliphate; neutrals are ground between these millstones.
Public opinion in the West is easily swayed by biased and hysterical reporting and Western governments feel compelled to "do something” (even without the licence to interfere everywhere given by the "smart power” theory). NATO has now accumulated several "humanitarian interventions” with bad results. Not that the excitable Western media remembers Somalia or Kosovo, let alone Libya. But Russian and Chinese public opinion is not so easily swayed and Moscow and Beijing have a more realistic view of national interest. Thus there will likely not be a meeting of minds on a common approach other than anodyne (and unheard) calls for ceasefires. 

And, I can’t help thinking, especially now that intervention in Mali has passed from possibility to actuality, that many a Western government is secretly relieved that it can blame Moscow and Beijing for blocking it from committing to another ill thought out "something” that will create another "something” later on.

Peter Rutland
Professor of Government
Wesleyan University

Nationalism hijacked in Mali

The core of the conflict in Mali is the nationalist secession movement of the Tuareg people, one that in recent months has been hijacked by Islamist radicals. Western powers were taken by surprise by the sudden emergence of an Islamist regime in northern Mali, and are scrambling to understand what has transpired there. Increasingly, the narrative is one of militant Islam. But the core of the conflict is the nationalist secession movement of the Tuareg people — one that in recent months has been hijacked by Islamist radicals.

In the Cold War, the West had a hard time separating out communism from nationalism. That failure led to a string of disastrous interventions, from Cuba to Vietnam. It was easier to see leaders such as Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh as tools of Moscow than try to deal with their legitimate nationalist demands.

The same mistake is now being made in the ‘‘war on terror.’’ For many years the international community largely ignored the demands for self-determination by the Tuaregs who inhabit the northern half of Mali, known as Azawad. The Tuaregs are nomadic pastoralists who number about 1.5 million and speak Tamashek, one of the Berber languages. They are ethnically distinct from Arabs, who make up the nations to the north, and the Africans who inhabit southern Mali and control the national government.

Across Africa and the Middle East, Western powers supported the post-colonial state with economic and military aid, which more often than not was used to crush self-determination movements by ethnic minorities. Some of these were well-known, such as the Kurds; others were more or less invisible to Western eyes, such as the Berbers and Tuaregs in North Africa.

Mali achieved independence from France in 1960, and the first Tuareg uprising broke out in 1962. A second rebellion in 1990 resulted in the 1991 Tamanrasset Accords promising the Tuaregs self-government, which were abandoned by the Malian authorities. After 2001 the United States stepped up its military aid to the Malian government in the name of the war on terror, though this assistance could have been just as easily used to crush Tuareg rebels as against Islamist radicals.

The third Tuareg rebellion, which broke out in 2006, was complicated by the rise of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), meaning that there was now a three-way struggle among Islamists, Tuareg nationalists and the Malian state.

At first the Tuaregs and Malians formed an alliance against the Islamists, but in 2011 the Tuaregs switched sides and aligned with the Islamists. A new Islamist movement emerged, Ansar Dine, led by Iyad Ag Ghali, who had been one of the leaders of the 1990 and 2006 Tuareg revolts.

October 2011 saw an influx of Tuareg fighters and Islamist radicals from Libya following the defeat of the Qaddafi regime. A new unified National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) was formed, and it started an all-out war against the Malian government in January 2012.

After a string of military victories, they achieved in a few weeks the goal that had eluded them for decades — the expulsion of the Malian Army from northern Mali. The humiliation of the Malian armed forces led to a coup in March that brought down the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Touré. The independence of Azawad was declared on April 6, 2012.

However, Ansar Dine and some smaller jihadist groups turned on the MNLA — a contest in which they had the advantage of economic and military support from the transnational Islamist network. They imposed harsh Shariah rule on the towns under their control, causing at least 400,000 residents to flee.

It was their continued advance south — to spread Islamist rule, not to secure independence for the Tuaregs — that triggered French military action this past weekend after months of efforts by the African Union had failed to organize a military intervention to deal with the problem.

The position of the US government (and the African Union) is still to ignore the Tuareg independence movement and instead call for democracy and reconciliation within a unified Mali. This despite the fact that previous attempts to form power-sharing governments repeatedly broke down due to failure to protect the rights of the Tuaregs.

At this stage, however, it might be too late for the Western forces that are entering the fray to distinguish and win over the moderate nationalists within the Tuareg ranks.

This article was published in the International Herald Tribune, 16 January 2013

Edward Lozansky
President American University in Moscow
Professor of World Politics, Moscow State University

Observing the current goings-on with the Arab Spring, both promoted and backed with Western money and weapons, it is easy to understand why Moscow listens with such suspicion to Washington’s preaching on democracy, human rights, and Western values.

In his recent inauguration speech, Barack Obama pledged to "support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East." Since he did not mention Russia or Europe, can we safely assume that America has decided to stop promoting democracy on Russia’s European territory and limit the process to Siberia? 

Speaking about values, it was the former (and most likely future) Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, who openly stated that the removal of the Libyan dictator Qaddafi had to do less with democracy than with French President Nikolas Sarkozy’s belief that under Qaddafi Italy controlled more Libyan oil and gas than did France.
Of course, Berlusconi is known for his eccentric statements, but I feel there is an element of truth in his words.

In any event, the results of the Arab Spring are certainly no cause for euphoria. Despair over the resulting chaos in the region is a much more fitting response.

While the US Congress is still debating who to blame for the killing of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and four other diplomats in Benghazi, European governments have urged their citizens to leave the Libyan city in response to what is described by Britain as "a specific and imminent threat to Westerners” in the wake of the recent deadly hostage siege at a gas facility in Algeria. Washington followed this up with its own statement that "the potential for violence and kidnappings targeting Westerners in Benghazi is significant."

The popular revolt that began in Cairo's Tahrir Square two years ago was portrayed in the West as the most inspiring event of the Arab Spring. What has followed has proved to be something entirely different: chaos with indiscriminate rampage and killings. Just tune in to what is going on in Cairo and in Port Said right now.

Some of the things happening in Egypt would be funny if they were not so depressing. When the US gave Egypt more than $60 million for (guess what?) "democracy promotion” (of course!), the local response was to prosecute both the American donors and Egyptian recipients of those funds, forcing Washington to pay a ransom to the Egyptian government to free the American hostages. 

It is also fitting to recall that the most trusted and important Western allies in the Arab Spring revolt are Saudi Arabia and Qatar – the two "greatest regional democracies”, as everyone knows. Meanwhile, in Syria, the most active of the so-called "rebel fighters” supported by the West are those trained and armed by Al Qaeda. One of these groups, the Nusra Front, numbers among the most effective anti-Assad organizations. According to many observers, this group most likely will hijack the revolution and emerge as the dominant force in Syria after President Assad is ousted.
One wonders, what conclusions are to be drawn from all this? Should America, as President Obama pledged, continue to support "democracy” and human rights in the region with even greater vim and vigor? Or should it take a deep breath and think about the likely consequences?

The overriding question here is this: did the overthrow of Middle Eastern dictators – Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi, and Mubarak – with Western moral, financial and often military support benefit the people in these countries or, on a larger scale, world security?  Will the most likely overthrow of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad contribute to peace, stability and democracy in the region?

Unfortunately, at this point, the answer is negative, despite the huge human and material losses incurred both by America and its allies and by the Arab countries themselves.

It may sound uncomfortable to many, but unfortunately the following conclusion is inescapable: democracy has no universal meaning; its role may vary from region to region depending on history, culture, religion and even climate, as well as many other factors that may be unique to a particular nation and culture.

All this makes sense, of course, if we are indeed talking about democracy and not about geopolitical gains or, as Silvio Berlusconi claims, about more mundane matters like oil and gas.

Ekaterina Blinova
Fellow of the American University in Moscow
Nizhniy Novgorod

Can the West and Russia find a common approach to the Arab Spring?

The situation in Africa and in the Middle East is predictable. On the one hand there are growing Jihadist forces (armed with European weapons); on the other hand there are the weighty economic and political interests of the EU and the US in both regions. Since the epoch of colonialism, the territories of Africa and the Middle East were in the sphere of vital interest for the Western countries (the European and subsequently also the US).

I cannot agree with the statement that Islamist terrorism is "based mostly on economic backwardness and poverty”. It is not an economic but a political and ideological problem. It is driven by the absence of a strong ruling force, an authoritative leader (a state or a group of states) that could join the Arab and African Islamic world in some sort of political and religious union. A pertinent example of such an "Islamic super-power” was the Ottoman Empire, which controlled both Africa and the Middle East. Right now the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is restoring the old concept of "Pan-Turkism”. According to this concept, several former members of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and the new states of Central Asia, such as Kazakhstan, will provide the basis for a new "Turkic Commonwealth”. With the support of the US and NATO, Erdogan has an opportunity to implement this very ambitious plan. Some experts suggest that this project is being carried out as an alternative to the "Eurasian Union” of Vladimir Putin.

At the same time, as I have already mentioned, the West, Russia and China have their own interests in the African continent and the Middle East, but the global players have already realized that they possess no "instruments” to manage the dangerous processes that are taking place in the Islamic world. And by the way, the situation in Syria appears to be much more complicated than before: strikingly similar "Jihadist warriors”, who caused the bloodshed in Mali (and whom the French Air Forces are fighting), continue to terrify Syrian civilians and are still called "fighters for the freedom of Syria” by the Western mass media. It is very important right now to call these Jihadist gunmen by their real name – terrorists. This will help us choose the right strategy for the resolution of the Syrian conflict.
While some experts blame the US for supporting the "ultra-Islamic” rebels, it is clear that Washington is unable to influence these militant groups: the rising tide of discontent with American policy in the Islamic world proves this is the case. And this gives Russia and China the opportunity to play the role of peacemaker. The West must take into consideration these great powers’ advice and proposals on the situation in the Arab World. If it did, we would have the basis for a "multi-polar” dialogue and effective collaboration.

Professor Nicolai N. Petro 
Department of Political Science 
University of Rhode Island

This foreign policy conflict, along with others, is rooted in the unwillingness of the Western powers to see Russia and China play a greater role in the resolution of international conflict. In the "who is up” and "who is down” rhetoric that seems to dominate in Washington, the focus is on short-term gains, not long-term strategies. There is a perpetual rush to "do something,” rather than to promote a comprehensive political settlement, which could take decades.

Russia’s policy has been much more sensible. It has called for all groups to talk with each other without preconditions. Leading Western powers soon abandoned this course and decided to support one side in the conflict. It is not surprising they are now frustrated with the results. The solution, according to domestic critics, is to be more involved and to "do something” to end the tragedy. The fact that they have no clear idea of whom to support, how to help those whom they think they need to support to stabilize Syria, or any notion of what repercussion such a political change would have for the region, does not concern them in the least. Moral outrage simply replaces sound intellectual argument. They represent a strand in American politics that, in the words of noted international relations theorist Kenneth W. Thompson, seems irresistibly drawn to "an excess of hubris in putting means before ends, procedures ahead of purpose, and success above virtue.”   

An optimal strategy that involved Russia, China, and the West would require a shared vision of the future. Such a shared vision would, in turn, require a willingness to acknowledge the merits of opposing arguments and to moderate ambitions. Moderation of any sort, however, seems to be in short supply in Washington these days.

Dale Herspring
University Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Kansas State University

Yes, Russia and the West can cooperate, but a lot depends on how one defines a "common approach." Take Mali, for example. Russia voted in the UN Security Council with the US in support of France's actions in Mali; and like Canada, the UK and Germany, it (initially) offered the use of two transport planes to ferry French troops and supplies from France to Mali.

As long as the US is not directly involved and running the show, the Russians will be cooperative. Moscow does not want to see the triumph of Islamic terrorists any more do than Paris, Ottawa, Berlin or Washington.

The key is to avoid a situation where there is a US-Russian confrontation. For example, Syria is clearly such a situation. In Mali, both countries feel threatened. Libya is another example of a situation where Russia feels threatened. The idea is to get the two countries working together in areas where they both feel threatened. Such situations can lead to "confidence-building measures" on the ground.


Anatoly Karlin

Da Russophile 


It is true that many Muslims in the Middle East want their aging strongman rulers out, and democracy in. Even Osama bin Laden, who purportedly "hates us for our freedom”, once mused that the reason Spain has a bigger economy than the entire Arab world combined was because "the ruler there is accountable.”And this is also part of the reason why we should refrain from fetishizing "democracy” as the solution to all the region’s ills.
That is because liberal democracy as we know it in the West, with its separation of powers – in particular, that of the Church and state – isn’t at the top of most locals’ priority lists. It only really concerns the liberal youth who initially headed the revolt, while the other 95% of the population is concerned with more trivial things, like unemployment and food prices. As per the historical pattern with the French and Russian revolutions, the Arab Spring happened during a period of record high grain prices. And now as then, a revolution won’t magically create jobs or fill bellies.


In today’s Egypt, it is not foreign-residing technocrats like El Baradei, with his 2% approval ratings, who become President; nor is the cultural discourse set by young Cairo women who strip nude against patriarchy. Remove a secular, modernizing dictator from a country where 75% of the populations supports stoning for adultery, and sooner rather than later you get restrictive dress codes for women (de facto if not de jure), attacks against Christian minorities, and bearded Islamists worming their way into power.

As for Syria, the biggest practical difference is that the liberal minority in the opposition was sidelined even before the fall of the dictator, as it is the Islamists who are now taking the lead in the fighting against Assad.

Will the new regimes that emerge out of the Arab Spring be anywhere near as accommodating with the West as were the likes of Mubarak, or even Assad – who, as Putin reminded us, visited Paris more times that he did Moscow? Will religious fundamentalists be able, or even willing, to build up the (educational) human capital that is the most important component of sustained economic growth? Will they even be able to regain control of their borders, or will they end up like Libya, an anarchic zone disgorging Wahhabi mujahedeen into neighboring countries that don’t really want them?

Western policy-makers do not seem all that eager to consider these questions. Maybe they think they can manipulate the Arab Spring to serve their own interests – after all, Assad’s Syria is an ally of Iran, supplies Hezbollah, and has security relations with Russia and China. They may be calculating that the geopolitical boon from removing the Alawites from power outweighs the costs of Islamists taking over in Damascus. Certainly there are grounds to doubt that genuine concern for democracy explains French, British, and American actions: After all, the two dictatorships friendliest to the West, Bahrain and Yemen, were actively supported in their crackdowns.

If the above interpretation is anywhere near true, there can be little hope for Russia and China finding common ground with the West. It would imply that the Middle East is a chessboard for Great Power games – and chess isn’t a game that you typically play to draw. The one thing everyone should bear in mind, though, is that no matter a man’s ideological leaning, he resents being a pawn. This is a life truism that was demonstrated in the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, that is being played out today in Mali, and that will continue to reverberate so long as the crusaders – for they are widely seen as such – remain in Dar Al-Islam.

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