Karon: false choice between Iran and the US for Arab states

Tony Karon has a nice analysis up at Abu Dhabi’s the National. Many pundits in the U.S. have delivered the verdict that Iran won in the Arab uprisings. But Karon spots a false choice, and once again Turkey is the critical example.


Viewed through the prism of a zero-sum conflict between a US-led alliance of Arab autocrats and Israel against an Iran-led “resistance” camp, the Arab rebellion has been nothing short of catastrophic for the anti-Iran forces. Not only has the Egyptian uprising swept away one of the key antagonists of Iran in the person of Hosni Mubarak; the fact that two Iranian warships were allowed to sail through the Suez Canal en route to Syria last week was a clear signal that the new military rulers in Cairo hope to normalise ties with the Islamic Republic, and are unlikely to support a regional strategy of confronting Tehran, much less take the lead in promoting one. Even before Egypt and Tunisia, the anti-Iran camp had suffered major setbacks in Lebanon and Iraq. Events in Bahrain, Jordan and elsewhere suggest that Arab leaders pressing hardest to confront Iran are in deep trouble.


But whatever its current state of progress, Iran’s nuclear development is simply not a priority for the newly empowered Arab public, and more accountable Arab governments are likely to distance themselves from Washington’s regional strategy, pretty much as Turkey has done. That’s precisely why so many US and Israeli observers paint the Arab rebellion as a win for Iran. But that conclusion is based on the flawed premise that a setback for the United States is automatically a gain for Iran. The Arab declaration of independence from Washington is anything but a declaration of loyalty to Tehran. Turkey may have built new trade and diplomatic ties with Tehran and opposed the US policy on Iran, but it has not broken ties with Washington. Its policies are genuinely independent, geared towards resolving problems rather than power bloc politics.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. [Comment not for publication] – Am I somehow misreading this post? You have two identical paragraphs that make the anti-Karon case and don’t mention Turkey at all.


  2. Two points: First, it’s too early to tell if the Arab rebellion is a catastrophe for the anti-Iran forces, though I would say preliminary indications are that it will be.

    Second, I don’t think the Turkish analogy works because a) there’s little to indicate that Egypt or the other Arab states will be able to achieve the stability that Turkey has, and b) the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has far less resonanance in Turkey than it does in the Arab world or even Iran.

    The key point, I believe, is who wins out in the Arab world — moderates or Islamists. My instinct and my belief is that the latter will come out on top. The establishment of stable democracies in the Arab world is to my mind almost inconceivable. That leaves a choice between a return to military rule, or the victory of Islamist forces. A return to military rule — i.e., the state of affairs before Tunisia — is possible, but would be inherently unstable. Islamist rule means implacable hostility to Israel and the US (at least so long as the US remains Israel’s protector).

    For Karon’s thesis to work, the Arab states (or at least the most important of those currently experiencing ferment, Egypt and Iraq above all) must develop into stable democracies. I wouldn’t bet on that happening, no matter what odds you gave me.

  3. Jon, I don’t know that Palestine looms any less large for Turkey than for other states. That was
    Turkey’s territory for a millennium. But, unlike the rest of the region, Turkey wasn’t divided and colonized for 90 yrs like the rest of the ME/Ottoman Empire. So, I agree with your main point regarding the democracy and statecraft challenges of these other countries.

    Interesting how Algeria is fitting a bit funny into these equations, they are on a different timeline than the other countries in the Area. The also have natural resources and may be able to weather these crises. I think Boutiflika was trying to invest in his country, and I’d estimate that they’d increased their housing stock by 50% over the last 5-8 years.

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