2011 brought us the Arab Spring, a year of protests, turmoil, and revolution. 2012 will usher in the American Winter, a new era of withdrawal and separation for America and the Middle East. Contrary to conventional wisdom, America is poised to step back from the dominant role it has played in the Middle East since 1948.
The author has traveled to the Middle East for more than two decades during which time there was little change among the dictators, strongmen and mullahs that ruled the desert lands. The author has watched Dubai convert itself from a dusty port to a world-class city with the world’s tallest building and biggest airport. Like most people, he has observed the price of oil rise from $17 per barrel to $145 per barrel at its peak. At $80 per barrel, the developed nations of the world ship a trillion dollars each year to the Persian Gulf, representing the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.
It was said that the Arab people were not ready to embrace democracies like western civilizations. It was a clash of cultures like the Crusades a millennium ago. Suddenly, a political tsunami, known as the Arab Spring, swept away rulers in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. It threatens next to topple Assad in Syria and may yet undermine the Islamic regime in Iran.
The aftermath of the tsunami has been as unexpected as the Arab Spring itself. Ten months after its revolution, The Islamic Party of Tunisia, winners of that country’s free elections, will impose Sharia Law on its people. Sharia law is based on the Koran and the cornerstone of Islamic rule. The United States cannot complain. The elections were free, fair and represent the choice of the people. The Libyan National Transition Council announced they too would seek governance under Sharia law. Free elections are to be held in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is expected to become the dominant party in Egypt. Islamic law will be imposed on all Egyptian citizens in what was a secular country.
The Iraq Parliament refused to vote to keep American troops in that country, a decision that paves the way for closer relations with the Islamic government of Iran. In Afghanistan, President Karzai stated that in the event of a war he would side with Pakistan over the U.S. The Arab Spring, once believed to be a pro-democracy movement, friendly to the U.S., has not tilted that part of the world in our direction.
After two decades of military involvement, a trillion dollars spent and the loss of 5,000 soldiers, America ends up withdrawing from the Middle East with very little to show for its efforts. The fledgling democracies are not likely to be following the writings of Thomas Jefferson but the words of Mohammed and the strict laws of the Koran. The dreams of liberty and multiple democracies in the Middle East, unleashed by President Bush in 2003, have been replaced by popular votes for traditional rule under Islamic law. This could not have been foreseen by those – including many around President Bush – who believed that the people of the Middle East yearned for freedom as we did more than two hundred years ago.
Welcome to the American Winter. 2012 brings new political realities to bear. America can no longer afford to spend a trillion dollars on foreign adventures and nation building. Its domestic needs are too pressing. One way or another, under a President Obama or a President Romney, America’s military adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan will wind down. In particular, Americans have Muslim fatigue, and rightly so. The cost and duration of the war in Afghanistan, the nation’s longest, the war on terror, the nation’s most invasive, and the two Iraqi wars have exhausted its collective patience, squandered our treasure and divided the country. The never-ending Israeli-Arab conflict that drains $6 billion each year from our Treasury has little to show for the effort. Americans do not believe Muslims appreciate the sacrifice of blood and treasure made to save the Bosnian Muslims from the Serbs, rescue Kuwait from Saddam, free Iraq, remove the Taliban in Afghanistan and now evict Gaddafi from Libya.
Americans have had enough and, significantly, this now includes many conservatives who in the past supported interventions. Americans will never understand the Tunisians or the Libyans voluntarily voting to impose Sharia law on themselves. They especially are dumfounded by women who vote to legalize polygamy and agree to wear the burka. The American people are through with intimate ties to the Muslim Middle East. They are ready for the American Winter.
Overall, Americans will welcome a reprieve from the focus and expenditure of time and treasure on that part of the world. It will be good to take a break for a decade or two. It will be healthy for Americans to allow the Middle East to straighten out its own house. Our military has done a wonderful job decimating the terrorist infrastructure. Predator drones will keep Al Queda volunteers to a minimum. The CIA and FBI have infiltrated enough networks that they no longer have to play catch up. The Arab Spring will force Arabs to look inward to solve their own crisis and not to focus on American involvement in their affairs.
And for us, there’s the opportunity to turn away from dependence on this region. We now have the energy to power our own economy, yet another reason to take a walk from Arabia. There are more pressing security concerns – like our economy and mass unemployment at home – and the more potent challenge posed by China.
An American Winter is coming. The season couldn’t have turned at a more opportune time.
Robert J Cristiano PhD is a Contributing Editor at New Geography, the Real Estate Professional in Residence at Chapman University in Orange, CA, Senior Fellow at The Pacific Research Institute and President of the international investment firm, L88 Investments LLC. He has been a successful real estate developer in Newport Beach California for thirty years.