The war unfolding in the Middle East marks a new era. For Israel and the Palestinians, it is the end of any prospect for peace. For Israel and Hizbullah, it is the beginning of a death struggle. For newly reborn Lebanon, led by a West-leaning government that sprang from last year’s anti-Syrian Cedar Revolution, it’s a loss beyond calculation. And for the United States, it’s the last gasp of a cosmically naive pipe dream. A Middle East Pax Americana, topped by a friendly post-Saddam Iraq with democracies popping up like mushrooms across a once autocratic landscape?

What rubbish. The United States is now bogged down, Israel is under threat, Lebanon is collapsing, Iraq is on the verge of civil war and Iran is fanning the flames across the region while pursuing its nuclear policy and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. And in those unfortunate places where elections have indeed been held, Islamists swept the ballots, surfing on popular resentment against America, Israel and the West.

One ponders the reasons for such a total mess. In the Middle East, at least, President George W. Bush has indeed accomplished what he promised–a clean break with the policies of his predecessors. After 9/11, the Decider concluded there was precious little to be negotiated in a part of the world that was the cradle of terrorism. Only shock and awe could accomplish anything and restore the credibility and global standing of a wounded superpower. Today, precious little remains of either.

The Iraqi quagmire is only Exhibit A. Washington has lost much (if not most) of its leverage in alienated Arab capitals–chiefly because neither Arab leaders nor populations at large see any longer the faintest sign of American evenhandedness. Since coming to power, the Bush administration has jettisoned the traditional U.S. role of (relatively) honest broker. It has become partisan, deaf to Arab views. It refuses almost completely to mitigate Israeli excesses, while the region slips further into chaos. (MORE)

Gilles Kepel is chair of Middle East studies at Sciences Po in Paris. His latest book is “The War for Muslim Minds.”


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