The Myth of the Arab State

Across the Middle East, states are becoming decentralized and fragmented.

Good riddance to the authoritarians. But America will no longer get the pass that it did from some of them on its most unpopular policies, such as support for Israel and opposition to Hamas. Rising Islamist currents will further constrain these regimes’ cooperation with the United States. And decentralized states unable to control weapons flows and territory could become easy targets for Sunni and Shia insurgents.

The United States will continue to manage through these tests and challenges. It won't be pretty. But America will remain oddly afloat in this messy, broken world through a number of factors—its geographic distance from the region, its growing independence from Arab hydrocarbons, its relative success in protecting the homeland from terror, the very dysfunction of some the Arab states themselves and their ultimate need for U.S. support and largesse.

But the reality is that we are stuck in a region we can neither abandon nor fix. Worse, we're trapped there as one regional order with which we had grown quite comfortable gives way to another with a very uncertain future. America could never save the Arabs. That isn’t new. What is new is that the dysfunction now gripping the Arab world may well mean that the Arabs will have a much more difficult time saving themselves.

Aaron David Miller is Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He served as an adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations.