Except the second round of global economic gloom, 2011 gave America nothing but good news. It killed Osama bin Laden, dictators in the Arab World and North Korea fell automatically and American troops are out of Iraq. Unfortunately, Pakistan remains a problem in perpetuity. What remains to be seen is how America utilise these incidents of 2011 in the new year. And, how happy Osama bin Laden must be.
First, as the upheavals of 2011 in the Arab world look to stretch into 2012 we can expect a more chaotic democratic process, more Islamists and more volatile trouble. Things will never be the same. The 40 years of dictatorial decay is no more, but has left an unclear political future for the Muslims of the Arabia. Many Arab dictators are gone, few are fighting hard to keep their power; but who is coming at the central leadership is unclear.
Expect no or very little action from America. Remember no major oil exporting country has suffered regime change except Libya, and that required outside intervention, but not American. As long as America gets enough oil for its automobile industry and oil prices are high enough for the oil exporters, neither America will be bothered nor will oil regimes be worried. Both can work together to fend off legitimate demands of political liberalisation.
The year 2012 will test America’s democratic impulse. It failed miserably with its pre-emptive war in Iraq and elections afterwards. The demand for greater political voice is not going away. It is speaking even louder. What remains to be seen is how the West reads the Arab world in coming days and how the western media portrays it.
Second, Osama bin Laden must be the happiest man as all Muslim dictators are gone without having him fight and sacrifice Muslims. But unfortunately, the Arab world is listening only to the democratic voice and more importantly Islamist groups like Muslim Brotherhood and its variants al-Nahda in Tunisia and Justice and Development Party in Morocco are moving in the same direction.
However, al Qaeda, Iran and the official clergy of Saudi Arabia are the only voices who argue against democracy. This is a dangerous combination for the regional stability and in particular for winning hearts and minds of the masses that has been on the streets for over one year. Osama bin Laden idealised Muslim Brotherhood and made its philosophy a base for his personal jihad. So to say, how willing the Islamists will be to engage with America and American form of democratic politics and western style of economics. More importantly, America’s regional foreign policy goals than the autocrats they are replacing.
At the same time while the Arab world has opened its doors to democracy, American cultural influence can’t be ruled out. Islamists may provide better governance than their predecessor, but if the aim is to govern society with the help of Sharia, it might well instigate America to act leading to a second wave of religious and cultural confrontation between America and the Arab world.
Third, the herd mentality of the Arab revolutionaries has depicted the political character of the entire region. The sentiment and collective opinion of the revolutionary nations will impact the Israel-Palestine conflict creating regional and international problems and not just local.
If America involves itself in remaking the internal politics of the Arab world it will fail and if America plays on the Israeli side of the Arab politics it will fall on its face. The region’s political dynamics have changed. It is the mob and its sentiments that rule the revolutionary Arabs. It would be unfortunate if America has to use its military to force peace.
It is only the third option of allowing Arabs to decide their political fate i.e. politics in tandem with the book. In other words, an Islamic form of democracy allowing both religion and politics to take the centre-stage to govern societies. However, the fork in the road is the same factor i.e. how the Muslim Brotherhood and others steer the political process.
If the future political process is democratic without violence and much confusion, the Arab revolutionaries would win. But if the process turns violent and governed by the book it will be Osama bin Laden who would have the last laugh as the region would be thrown into chaos. The international community for sure does not want more trouble in the oil-rich region.
Democracy for the region is going to be a long road with many hurdles on the way.
Though much of American foreign policy in 2012 would be busy dealing with Middle East keeping in mind the upcoming presidential elections, both North Korea and Pakistan would require a much serious look.
The six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions would need to be brought back on track. America must not make this isolated country to talk democracy just to make its presidential elections campaign much more interesting.
The discovery of Osama bin Laden from Pakistan is a much serious concern demanding that Pakistani army’s nexus with terror groups be dismantled. Expect more drone strikes, but no real change.
It should be recognised that change is coming, but not stability. Both are mutually exclusive, but essential. Obama gave hope, but failed to bring change.
The "yes we can" speech has failed miserably and with American presidential elections next year expect some beautiful English and few surprises in US foreign policy as it seeks to reinstate its economic and military power.