Monday, December 5, 2011

How Arabs’ domestic instability become international affair

I was in Gaziantep, a Turkish city close to Syria’s Aleppo, where Turkish, Arab and Western intellectuals discussed political trajectories of Arab nations in transition for three days.

The name “Arab Spring” was a subject of debate more than anything else. This is not because it is important to define the political upheavel in these countries accurately; it is more about correctly understanding what really these countries are going through amid this instability. Fear of sectarian clashes, terrorism, radical Islamic resurgence, domination of military over key parts of governments were challenges participants hoped won’t become real as a result of these uprisings.

I wrapped up what we had discussed in the conference here. Turkish columnists and academics were particularly struck by the fact that Turkey is not really alluring and attractive to Arabs for their post-revolution countries. Similar ideas were voiced during the conference which put Turkish counterparts in the defensive: “We are not exporting any models. But you are more than welcome to use our experience, we might be a source of inspiration in many ways,” Erşat Hürmüzlü, Turkish President Abdullah Gül’s Middle East adviser told participants.

Another discussion was focused on Israel. Some claimed that Israel is the chief culprit for authoritarian trends in the Middle East – something Israeli participants protested.

But one thing remained vague and participants did not answer to this very crucial question: Why did domestic affairs of Arab countries have become such a big international affair? With its present nature and dynamics, it is unprecedented and extraordinary in the history of mankind to observe a process in which domestic affairs of one country push other nations to a shift in their foreign policy, sometimes damaging fragile balance of power in the region.

It definitely has many explanations but it seems realists will particularly have hard time in explaining why this is the case. I think one of the most significant requirements of conducting an effective foreign policy is to know your adversary – Arab Spring dilutes this. The current unrest raises questions, transforming leaders we know into something else, putting decision-makers of other countries in limbo.

International politics is a game and you would want players of this game to react in situations “expectedly.” Uncertainity the Arab Spring produces makes it hard for other leaders to make effective foreign policy decisions. Countries shift their foreign policies not because they are very much concerned over killings and violence in countries hit by the Arab Spring fever, it is because decision-makers hate uncertainties.

Removing leaders who are sources of uncertainty and unpredictability in dealings with these countries is a good way to explain why states change their foreign policies as a response to instability in other countries.

It is easier now to sell foreign policy choices back at home to public. The rationale the claim behind this shift in foreign policy is simple: They kill, we protest. But this is not the entire picture. China's Mao killed millions of people and only few years later, the U.S., leader of the free world, started reconciliation with the Asia's behemoth. The true logic is this: They kill, create uncertainty. We want to remove the source of unpredictability to make correct foreign policy decisions.

This is the sole reason why Iran starts getting concerned over Assad's killing in Syria. Iran's leadership also fears of uncertainty and wants to see a clear picture in politics of its key ally in the region.

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