Hands Off the Arab Spring

The prevailing narrative in the United States is that this year’s “Arab Spring” revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere will result in a net loss of American influence in the region, and that this will, in turn, harm US interests. According to RAND senior political scientist Dalia Dassa Kaye, however, the Arab Spring may have just accelerated a series of existing trends. Still, there are activities in which the United States should and should not engage while attempting to retain its influence in the region, argued Kaye last week at AFA’s Global Warfare Symposium in Los Angeles. The United States will have to continue its military relationships with some leaders who clearly are not committed to democracy. By leveraging these relations in Egypt, for example, it may be able to keep the pressure on Egypt’s military to follow through with reforms and an orderly transition to democracy, she said. Bigger picture, the United States shouldn¹t push too hard since it’s not popular even in the region’s “friendly” nations, noted Kaye in her Nov. 18 address. Appearing to be heavy-handed or meddling can easily backfire, she said. A lower profile could even come with benefits, she quipped, because Arab publics might no longer blame the United States for everything.