Mass protests and regime changes in Arab countries are the biggest surprise of recent years. The U.S., however, has proved to be amazingly capable of finding flexible ways to react to and influence the outcome of rapidly developing events.
Looking forward, the Obama administration is getting rid of the excessive weight of a loyal Mubarak, a concerned Israel and, on a larger scale, the whole system of formal and informal alliances and coalitions in the region. The U.S. State Department and a major part of the intelligence community stood up for a more moderate approach that would stimulate a gradual transition. But Obama’s close advisers, most of whom are intellectuals of the new generation but without a special knowledge of the region or international relations, persuaded the president that with this very approach, the U.S. might stay in the events’ wake.
On Jan. 28, Washington had reached a conclusion that immediate political changes in Egypt would meet U.S. political interests. Obama said that by providing moral support to those who appeal for improvement in their lives, the U.S. is taking “the right side of history.” In Egypt’s case, this approach chosen by Washington has led the military government to power. Behind the tradition for America’s rhetoric was cold pragmatism. Washington knows well enough the instruments of its influence in the region. Close personal connections with the Egyptian military, which received education and armament from the U.S., has played a crucial role.
The U.S. is not capable of managing social and political processes in Arab countries. But, unlike other countries, it has exerted the skill of precise influence at key moments and at the right time. The EU has proved to be incapable of a swift response to the crises. The process of the “European-Mediterranean partnership” is absolutely useless here. Beijing was first concerned with a possible impact of the events in the Middle East and South Africa on the protest movements in China. In Russia, it appears that people are beginning to reflect on that same point. Instruments of Chinese influence in the Arab world haven’t been designed yet and in Russia they have already been lost.
The most dangerous thing that may happen to Washington is the revival of illusions that the U.S. is all mighty and destined to define inner processes of other countries. Neo-conservatives discern some elements of the George W. Bush policy on supporting democracy around the world in Obama’s actions, which have become more animated. This is alarming. The euphoria of the American liberals who prefer not to notice uncertainties and risks related to fast changes in the Arab world is disappointing. Obama’s policy is determined but cautious and, given the circumstances, looks rather good. For now, it’s being built upon a clear understanding of the U.S.’s limited potential and the maximum use of advantages. Russia is generally satisfied with such a policy.