Even as Washington struggles to come to terms with the Arab Spring, the Middle East is imperceptibly moving to a post-American era. Both allies and adversaries in the region are growing largely indifferent to America's prohibitions. And as the Middle East's shifts become more pronounced, it will become ever more difficult for the United States to pursue traditional security concerns such as disarming Iran or reinvigorating the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Let's take a tour of the region:
On the surface, there is nothing particularly novel about Iranian or Syrian hostility to the United States. The theocratic Iranian state has long abjured America's entreaties and seems determined to obtain a bomb at all cost. The Syrian regime has always been more ambivalent, but pledges of moderation made to successive U.S. administrations have somehow never materialized.
In any case, given the changes in the region, both of these states are now essentially beyond America's diplomatic outreach. The clerical rulers of Iran, sensing an opportunity to project power in an unsettled region, will not allow themselves to be seen as conceding to American mandates. In Damascus, Bashar al-Assad's brutal repression of his citizens has simply put him beyond the pale. Should he manage to survive, the so-called “Syria option” — whereby Israel and Syria trade land for peace — is all but dead.