The New Arab Wars | Marc Lynch

Summary of: The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East
By: Marc Lynch


In his book, ‘The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East’, Marc Lynch delves into the consequences of the Arab Spring and the subsequent turmoil that engulfed the region. The book takes you on a journey through the widespread protests for democracy and power-sharing, the rise and fall of various regional players, and the bitter proxy wars that have drawn nations and global superpowers into the chaos. Lynch’s vivid narrative highlights the complexity of political relationships, the shift in alliances and the role the United States played – or failed to play – in the reshaping of the Middle East. This book sheds light on a range of significant topics such as the Muslim Brotherhood, authoritarianism, and the role of external support in prolonging conflict.

The Arab Spring and Its Consequences

In 2010, the Arab Spring emerged in various Arab countries with millions of peaceful protesters united by their aspiration for democratic reform and the idea of recasting the Arab world. The uprisings were broadcast through Al Jazeera and first ignited in Tunisia and Egypt before hitting Libya. With NATO’s intervention, the rebels finally killed Qaddafi in October 2011, but democratic elections could not create a foothold for progressive change. Libya’s failure to make a transition from autocracy to democracy foreshadowed the devastation of the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. The Arab uprisings that began as a transnational diffusion ended in transnational repression and birthed transnational proxy wars. Despite enlisting foreign help from global powers such as the United States and Russia, regional doves and hawks also sought help from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, and Iran.

The Rise and Fall of Uprisings

The book explores the era of proxy wars where countries sought to extend their influence, resulting in the failure of uprisings. Small but wealthy states and non-state actors like the Muslim Brotherhood started to exert power, but their relationships proved undependable. Egypt is an example of a country that fell from Qatar’s political influence to a Saudi coalition after the Muslim Brotherhood’s fall. Gradually, peaceful protests were replaced with ideologically hardened activists, and the uprisings failed. The book highlights the potential and failure of the Arab Spring uprisings, which began with the exuberance of Tahrir Square and ended with public massacres in Rabaa Circle.

The Pitfalls of Proxy Warfare

In conflict-ridden countries like Libya and Syria, outside supporters fuel proxy relationships with local militias to secure their interests, leading to fierce competitions that hinder peace initiatives. The use of local proxies sustains a balance of power in the conflict, preventing any single militia from prevailing, regardless of affiliation or government. This method comes at a cost as it perpetuates the conflict and creates instability in the country.

The United States’ Troubled Relationship with Arab Allies

The article explores the United States’ failure to transform the Middle East during the Arab Spring, which resulted in strained relationships with Arab allies. The US strategy to back the “democratic process” was hindered by a proxy system and stasis, leading potential allies to view America as the “kiss of death.” The Obama administration was tied to unsuitable proxies, narrowing policy options. Traditional regional allies were tested when Obama recognized the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in Egypt and acknowledged the Ennahda in Tunisia. Arab leaders rejected America’s policy agenda, including promoting democracy, progress on Israeli-Palestinian talks, and a halt to the madness in Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia and Israel aimed to freeze Iran, return dictatorship in Cairo, and accelerate the war against Assad. The United States’ regional allies’ opposition to a nuclear agreement with Iran had nothing to do with an arms race but feared empowering Iran as an existential threat. The chaos roiling the region sprang from the United States’ failure to fully engage, but this was due to local allies with opposing “preferences” and misperceptions of both calamities and opportunities, undermining US power.

Syria’s Chemical Attack

At the height of the Syria conflict, President Bashar al-Asad orchestrated a devastating chemical attack that killed over 1,400 people. This act crossed Obama’s “red line,” and the United States prepared for military retaliation. However, there were doubts about whether Asad was truly behind the attack. Some speculated that other countries used it as a false flag operation, while others suggested Asad may have lost control of his forces. In the end, Obama’s pivot to Asia made him hesitant to engage in another conflict in the Middle East. Instead, he sought to enlist Congress in the effort, but ultimately, it was Russia who offered a solution. They would allow international inspectors to remove Syria’s chemical weapons, averting military action. The incident highlighted the complicated nature of U.S. foreign policy and the challenges of intervening in complex conflicts abroad.

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