Saturday, May 14, 2011

Entering the second phase of the Arab Spring

Almost a decade later, Osama bin Laden, a man who wreaked havoc between civilizations is gone for good.
President Obama paid visit to New York City’s Ground Zero on Thursday, and met with relatives of the 9/11 victims. It was sober, a combination of commemoration and a low-key celebration event, which will hopefully come to be known as end of the 9/11 era.
 “The Arab Spring continue to create a lot of dilemmas for both the United States and Turkey,” said David F. Gordon, former director of policy planning under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, between 2007-2009, and currently Eurasia Group's head of research and director of global macro analysis, during our long phone interview in which we talked about the Arab Spring and bin Laden 's death extensively. Director of policy planning is known as the head of State Department’s internal think tank, and has a huge influence steering the overall policy of the U.S. administration in a strategic fashion.
  The Arab Spring has entered into the second phase
“During the first phase,” Mr. Gordon argued ‘‘the outlook was quiet optimistic following the fall of two backward looking dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. Countries like Morocco, Jordan and Qatar showed strong commitment for significant reforms, political mobilization even social mobilization appeared to be blooming. Now we are in a period to see if these countries can reap the fruits of these changes and what kind of regimes will emerge... it is still very uncertain.
“In this second phase, the challenges to the regimes in various states became much more conflicted. Out of three, Yemen, Libya and Syria, it appears only Yemen’s transition can effectively happen, though still uncertain. Libya is in stalemate, rebels in Syria seem not to have the ability to bring down the Assad regime. In Gulf countries, in Bahrain, Gulf Cooperation Council doesn’t allow Al Khalifa regime to fall, applying means to minimize the effect of revolts. Though Syria is the most uncertain place, it is the place where the outcome potentially would be the greatest. You might also neighbors drawn into the Syrian conflict, for instance Iran vs. Saudi Arabia.’’
I asked Gordon to assess U.S. policy so far towards the Arab Awakening. “The U.S. utilized a political and military pressure quiet well in Egypt and Tunisia for the peaceful transition. The U.S. dilemma is, on the one side it has to take in favor of democracy, but also has to remain ally with other non-democratic regimes in theGulf region especially. Now there seems to be tough challenges with the Syrian case as well. Syria now applies naked power to its own people. Though, I think Washington is precarious about what might come next if the Assad regime falls. We knew what it would be like post-Mubarak, given well respected individuals and institutions there, whom got together in post-Mubarak time, but Syria?’’
Gordon thinks it is extremely unlikely for the U.S. to get involved with any military intervention in Syria. “In Libya, the U.S. waited for the international consensus and there was even the Arab League urging for an action. In Syria, at most, there could be a humanitarian intervention and the U.S. can participate in such operations, there would be greater calls for financial sanctions, travel restrictions etc.’’
  What, if any, lessons learned from bin Laden’s death and Arab Spring
"If bin Laden had been killed in 2002, ‘03 or 04, there would have been substantial demonstrations across the world. In 2011, there is almost nothing. Bin Laden’s type of very extreme Islamism has been rejected. During the Arab Spring, perception (emphasized by Gordon) of Turkey is being discussed as a role model with its Islamic identity, thriving economy and open democracy. The lesson is here is that the extreme is loosing in internal struggles within the Arab Spring,” said Gordon.
“Another big picture problem between U.S. and the Islamic world relations since 9/11 is how to gather traction over the Palestine-Israeli conflict. Then two state frameworks was officially accepted during the last administration for the first time, but the Obama administration is facing the same challenge as the Bush administration did [finding the venue]. This conflict is a very central problem. The U.S. actually has much less leverage over Israel then the Islamic world would like to believe. There is big political constrain in Washington on the administration etc. Though this is something we need to keep working on."
Turkey’s Arab Awakening Policy
"Turkey is a rising power in the Middle East and it is really important for U.S. to cooperate with Turkey on many issues. Turkey just needs to learn how to deal with all these different policy matters at the same time. Arab Spring, just like the U.S., created many dilemmas for Turkey as well."
"Unfortunate reality is that it is increasingly the belief that Turkey’s potential accession to the European Union is not going to happen. Turkey is a crossroad country, economically dynamic, has strong trade ties with EU countries and U.S., and would have been much happier if the EU were to be more favorable towards Turkish accession. It is not our ability to make it happen."
  Arab Spring Quo Vadis?
 "I think that Arab Spring has net positive effects. I think in Egypt and Tunisia, where they are going is a more democratic and open political system over time. Morocco is also heading that direction. I think the Arab Spring has substantial impact on many states. Though there will not be any kind of unified transition across the region all at the same time. It will be much slower in the Gulf countries for instance," explained Gordon.
  Speaking with Michele Flournoy  
 I was invited to participate an off the record meeting that Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy conducted on Thursday morning with about two dozens of prominent national security experts. Flournoy was in Pakistan on Monday for periodic U.S.-Pakistan security consultations when she learned of bin Laden’s death and conveyed U.S.' tough messages to the Pakistani counterparts first hand.
From the conversation it appeared that U.S. doesn’t have any immediate, sharp policy change in Afghanistan or Pakistan following the killing. After closed meeting, Flournoy happened to share the first on-the-record comments from the Defense Department after bin Laden’s death with a few press participants after the event.
Flourney said they expect to see more “concrete” and “undeniable” cooperation from Pakistan and added that they do not have “definitive” evidence that Pakistanis knew Laden was indeed hiding there.
 While answering my insistent questions about releasing the photos of Laden, Flourney said “there is no one credible doubting bin Laden’s death.” When I disputed her account and argued that the problem is seriously being discussed in Muslim countries, including Turkey, Flournoy said, “in time [death] will become undeniably apparent. Al-Qaeda also will make changes in its leadership structure to reflect that truth. The same people, who doubt whether he is dead today, will probably look at any photo and doubt its authenticity.”
 There is indeed overwhelming evidence that bin Laden is dead. However, the U.S. administration has obligation to release photos for the public to know and see. Not that it would be any more convincing for conspiracy theorists, but still, let's face it, the U.S. also has its own credibility problems, following especially the on-going revelations of the Cablegate saga and many other events of the last decade.

1 Comment   


Guest - Abdullah Mutlu
2011-05-07 10:31:34
  Demolish is easier than establish. There are dictators in the Arab Countries. Some of them overthrowed. Will a democratic administration is able to establish? For this civil society should be strong, free (non-governmental), democratic. Yet we can not be hopeful well.

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