The popular revolutions sparking off in the Arab nations shaking the strong grip of dictators also shook the Western powers in their wake. The prospect of losing monopoly over oil pricing and export, the growing influence of Iran and lack of political support for Israel and even active hostility among Arabs at the level of state along with society sends a chill down the spine of the Western powers.
Egyptian uprising toppling Husni Mubarak holds the prospect of Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. Hizbullah has been able to stamp its authority in Lebanon capturing the centre-stage in the governing dispensation. The shi’ite character of popular convulsion in Bahrain is sure to draw strength and sustenance from Iran when push would come to shove. Syria and Iraq already hobnobbing with Iran demonstrate Iran’s growing clout in the region. This is being perceived as “shi’ite arc in the region by some quarters in the West. Now the uphill task for the US and its butterfly allies is to contain Iran’s influence-both real and perceived in the Middle East.
In order to meet this eventuality the question of right and wrong, just and unjust once again seem to be placed at the altar of expediency. President Obama in his inaugural address said categorically while setting the tone for his foreign policy and domestic priorities, “Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.” His words and commitments stand on a thin ice if weighed against the stance on the events unfolding in the Middle East. This is brought out by overaction in case of Libya and inaction in case of Bahrain and half-hearted pushing and prodding in case of Egypt to ease Mubarak out of power. What is turning out to be a ray of hope for the Arab masses amid this gloom and doom is perceived to be the era of darkness by the US in particular and its allies.
The real challenge now for the major powers of the world is to align their interests with the desires and aspirations of the Arab societies not Arab regimes. They have to address the Arab streets not power corridors to chum up with the rulers who stand discredited and condemned in the eyes of their masses. Both the Arab nations and the Western stake-holders would be better served if a synergy comes about between what the people of the region want and how outside powers are going to meet their interests. It is not advisable to ignore altogether the stakes and interests of the US and other outside actors but at the same time it is not wise to pursue selfish motives on the part of these outside powers. The US along with like-minded states should be the partner in democracy not the sugar daddy of unrepresentative regimes. Coalition of the willing must replicate itself in terms of coalition of supporters of democracy. Military action against Libya coupled with kid-glove treatment of Bahrain and Yemen and negligence on Syria call into question the motives of the US and its Western partners in almost every global venture.
The current Arab democratic uprisings once again pose a litmus test for the US’s rhetoric for democracy and human rights. If this time the US fails to act in a meaningful way, its image would be further dented in the Arab world which already stands stultified after the invasion of Iraq and its long-standing and unconditional support for Israel. The task at hand for the US and allies is to help the Arab spring of revolution which in short term may pose an obstacle to the US in the region, but over time the equation would square up between the US and these democratic regimes. This is possible because when exuberance and enthusiasm of revolutionary fervor dissipates in the face of cold logical calculations, governments coming to power after popular revolution come down to real business and recognize their limits. It would be very difficult for incoming democratic governments to offend and ignore the US, then the alternative for them would be to have friendly relations with the US for their own survival and prosperity. In such a scenario both sides ought to work for smooth and viable transition whereby creating a political dispensation culminating in democracy. Responsibility lies more with the US as it holds more cards to play its hand and being more powerful it has to be more proactive to facilitate the transition to democracy.