By Dorothy A. Logan
Dr. Walid Phares’s presentation at the Heritage Foundation did not leave a lot of room for optimism, but the author’s one encouraging analogy comes from the term the West gave to the series of revolutions in the Middle East – it was a Spring.
Though the title says the Spring was lost, every spring is lost, each and every year. It is a cycle. Although some are saying what came out of the Spring of 2011 is now a Winter, what always follows winter? Well, that would be another Spring. The hope is that one of these times around, we may find the comfort and refreshment and abundance of a Summer in the hotly contested region.
The projections he made in his previous book, The Coming Revolution, and the lack of preparedness and thus the reaction of the United States and the West to the actual events, however, tend toward a bleak – or at least extremely challenging – future for the Middle East and Levant.
As the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been debated as pre-emptive, reactionary or just plain wrong, Americans apparently were not expecting the real social and political ramifications of our interventions in the region. The changes made for women in Afghanistan alone should indicate that the people there are ready for change. One aspect of the history making events of this century that the American people cannot grasp, however, is that stability takes time. Americans are of the “now” generation, but as Phares indicated, we will not end up with Sweden overnight or instantly. Even though it took nearly 100 years for France to stabilize after its first revolution, we have decided that because the region has not yet found its secular and democratic voice of peace – three years after the initial revolutions in the area (or 10 years after the invasion of Iraq) – there is no hope for them. Phares disagrees with other experts who argue that because the issues are cultural – thus the people cannot be trusted or relied upon to develop a sustainable democracy (at least not one without the Islamists winning the elections) – there is no solution to the instability there.
He does not argue, however, that military or “kinetic” action is what it takes to successfully transform a country or a region into a stable and peaceful democracy. He instead speaks of political change and Western engagement as the proper response to the readiness of the people to replace the status quo totalitarianism with something that may provide them with a normal life where they can send their children to school and take jobs without fearing suicide bombings.
Unfortunately, as Phares indicated with an answer to a question after his presentation, Americans and the West are not engaging the region and are instead in global retreat and disengaging from the very people we should be supporting: the civil societies and silent majorities.
He supports this claim by mentioning the SMS Revolution (the 2005 Cedars Revolution in Lebanon) and the Twitter Revolution (the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran). What the Middle East region has today that the French did not have 200-some-odd years ago is technology: cell phones that can text and social media sites that can organize. The success of such modern day tools in the protests preceding the Arab Spring led to the Facebook Revolution (Egypt’s initial Tahrir Square demonstrations).
Yet with millions of people mobilizing using this global technology, the West knows less about the actors and the events in the Middle East than we did during Poland and Czechoslovakia’s uprisings. He compares the public’s familiarity with the Solidarity Movement to that of the April 6 Movement. Everyone in the United States had heard of Solidarity (in Poland) during the 1980s; very few Americans even know where the April 6 Movement (or later the Tamarod movement) exists or what they stand for. He says this is true even though there was funding of institutions in both the U.S. and Brussels (home to the E.U.) to deal with civil societies. So why are we so disconnected from the actual events and players in the region?
There appears to be two major reasons for our inability to interact with those who actually led these revolutions (Phares focused on Egypt’s): First, this was not an organized resistance movement with organized political parties but instead a social uprising; and second, the academic community in the West did not produce reliable experts on the region. The Jihadist movement was, for decades, referred to by those graduating from Middle East Studies programs as involving Islamist revivalists without ever identifying what they were reviving; and books from the region itself in the 1990s ignored the plights of minorities there.
We still have a misinformation or misunderstanding problem here in the West. The top scholars may not like to refer to social media, but it is there that we can see in real time what the people of the region are saying and how they are reacting. Historians can only look backwards. And even though there is a saying that hindsight is 20/20, with the minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour updates available due to social media and the internet, we should be able to discern the connections on our own. Mainstream media outlets certainly are not doing it for us – and neither are most of our Middle East “experts.”
Dr. Phares briefly touched on the topic of a race between the silent majorities and the Islamists for control or influence over the outcome of each toppled regime. The Islamists were better organized at the beginning (as they were always a resistance movement, albeit one without popular support) than were the rest of society. The author of The Lost Spring argues that organization is important to who will ultimately win the race, but he also spoke of funding and media coverage and mentioned that those who are received by the West will be granted more visibility – and visibility will give them legitimacy. So are we helping the secular democrats organize? Are we funding their attempts to form political parties in opposition to the remnants of the regimes and/or the Islamists? Are we providing them with the visibility necessary to cultivate legitimacy?
Are we engaging or disengaging from civil societies and silent majorities in the region? And who is this silent majority? Dr. Phares defines the silent majority as those living in the vast space between the Islamists and the vocal democratic seculars, the masses who are driven by ideas and desires that do not fall far from the more “sophisticated” ideas of the West – they simply lack the political parties to articulate these ideas and desires. Are we partnering with those that will be most likely to meet their demands? Not at the moment.
This discourse on civil society seems most pressing, but that is not to minimize the other areas of discussion and topics of the book. Dr. Phares also touched on what happened in Tunisia, Libya, and the tragedy that is now Syria. But one thing is clear: there is a large chasm between what the Arab Spring actually was and how the West perceived it.
The author concludes with a projection that there will be another protest/demonstration/revolution in Iran – among other locales. Will the U.S. marginalize it or support it? How will the rest of the region react?
One last thought – a point that came up in during the question portion of the event – provokes pause. Iran. The theocratic Iranian regime is now influencing events all over the region from Iraq to Sudan. And we are funding them. They may reduce their uranium enrichment, but they continue to develop missiles, support Assad in Syria, and refuse to reform in regards to oppressing their own people. And we are funding them. Although Dr. Phares implies that the current administration is hoping to solve half the problems in the region by dealing with Iran, he makes it clear that if we do not perform a massive change in foreign policy – and soon – we will continue to have tremendous challenges in the Middle East regardless of who is in office during the next administration.
As Walid Phares launches his book into the space of ideas in search of life, I hope the next Spring is followed by an abundant and verdant Summer instead of the dismal Winter most of the region now finds itself in.
One of the greatest unanswered questions after the massive and violent changes that hit the Middle East in 2011, known to some as the “Arab Spring” and to others as the “Islamist Winter,” is how the West failed to predict both cataclysmic seasons in world affairs and to meet their challenges. The so-called spring didn’t last long, quickly unraveling into a collection of civil wars, civil unrest, and secessions. Phares argues that Washington is too hesitant to take action when necessary, that U.S. policy is highly disoriented on counterterrorism efforts, and that the effects of these errors have already proven costly. In Benghazi, U.S. foreign policy failed to see the explosions coming, didn’t meet the challenges of political transformation where and with whom it should, and failed in isolating the Jihadi terrorists worldwide. Too many strategic errors were committed. In this fascinating new book, Phares, the only expert who accurately predicted the Arab Spring, will foretell a major demise in U.S. and Western policies in the Middle East, unless a deep change in strategies and policies is made in Washington and around the world.
THE LOST SPRING
U.S. Policy in the Middle East
and Catastrophes to Avoid
It is my pleasure to let you know that my forthcoming book The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid will be in libraries on March 18, 2014. This new book, published by Palgrave-McMillan in New York, is an exclusive analysis of the evolution of the Arab Spring and its future. It also addresses other democratic revolutions, upheavals and civil wars in the Middle East, including events in Iran, Turkey, Sudan, and beyond.
In Future Jihad (2005), a book that was selected for the U.S. House of Representatives Summer Readings 2006, I projected the rise of the global Jihadist movement, including its surge in the West. My previously most recent book published in English, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (2010), predicted the Arab Spring, its successive waves, and the civil wars it would cause. I projected three cycles before they even happened: the rise of civil societies, the takeover by Islamists, and the comeback of the seculars to push back against the Islamists. And this is the very pattern we witnessed in both Egypt and Tunisia. My book in French, Du Printemps Arabe a l’Automne Islamiste (From the Arab Spring to the Islamist Fall), which was published in November 2013 in Paris and launched at the European Parliament in Brussels, described the global race between Islamists and seculars in the region.
My new book of 2014 is taking analysis and projections even further. It explains why the West and the United States failed to predict the Arab Spring and why they failed to handle it effectively. The book also addresses the direction these upheavals are headed and how to correct U.S. policy before irreparable catastrophe strikes the region. From bloody and expanding civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya to the fight against terror in Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia; from genocide in Sudan, Darfur and beyond to the persecution of Christian and ethnic minorities and the rise of al Qaeda and Hezbollah; so much in the region appears hopeless, but one must also recognize the emergence of reformers, women, minorities and civil societies.
In The Lost Spring I tackle the deep impact the “Islamist lobby” in the West has developed regarding U.S. foreign policy and show the link between petrodollars influence, Middle East studies, and the political weapon of Islamophobia—designed by this influential network to weaken American support to Middle East, Arab and Muslim democrats actively opposing Salafists, Khomeinists, and Jihadists.
In essence, I argue that the Obama administration made strategic mistakes from the moment it took power in 2009—by striking the wrong alliances while simultaneously abandoning friends and ideological allies. I share with readers what could have been more effective policy had the election of 2012 had swung in the other direction. As a senior national security and foreign policy advisor of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, I had prepared alternative ideas for the Middle East — ideas a Romney administration could have adopted.
Nevertheless, the book argues that although there is still a chance to avoid catastrophe if the current administration and Congress implement dramatic change in foreign policy, there will be a high price for the next administration to pay if Washington maintains its current direction.
I know readers will enjoy reading this historical-future analysis, and I am looking forward to their reactions and the debate it will generate.
Walid Phares, Washington, D.C.
PROFESSOR WALID PHARES
Professor Walid Phares has been an advisor to the US House of Representatives Caucus on Counter Terrorism since 2007 and is the Co-Secretary General of the Trans Atlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism since 2008.
He is Fox News Terrorism and Middle East Expert since 2007 and has been MSNBC-NBC Terrorism Analyst from 2003 to the end of 2006.
He taught Global Strategies at the National Defense University in Washington DC since 2006, lectured at the National Intelligence University since 2008 and he has been a Professor of Middle East Studies, Ethnic and Religious Conflict at the Department of Political Science at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) from 1993 to 2006. Professor Phares has also been a senior lecturer on the War on Terror and Global Conflicts at the LLS Program of FAU and the IRP Program at the University of Miami. Previously he taught at Florida International University in 1991 and 1992 and at Saint Joseph University in Beirut in the 1980s.
As an international expert on conflicts and Terrorism, Professor Phares lectures on US campuses, nationwide, and internationally including in London, Stockholm, Brussels, Strasbourg, Mexico, Geneva, Paris, Prague, Budapest, Mexico, Lisbon, Sao Paolo, Montreal, Rome, Berlin, Madrid, Nicosia and Beirut. He published several books and articles including in the Middle East Quarterly, Global Affairs, Journal of Middle East and South Asian Studies, Journal of International Security Affairs, Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, Homeland Security Today, and other specialized journals. He has been interviewed by national and international networks including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, NBC, PBS, Discovery Channel, C-Span, BBC TV (English-Arabic), Sky News, France 24 (English, Arabic, French), CTV, CBC, Canada Global TV, al Jazeera, al Hurra, Abu Dhabi TV, Dubai TV, al Arabiya, LBCI, Russia Today TV, Voice of America TV, as well as local ABC, CBS, PBS, NBC and others. He appears on European, Arab, South Asian and Latin American outlets and is a frequent contributor to many US and international radio programs including BBC English and Arabic and French Canadian Radio.
Dr Phares Op. Eds. have been published in the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, Houston Chronicle, Denver Post, Le Devoir (Montreal), Le Figaro (France), as well as many dailies weeklies in the US and around the world including in Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Lebanon, etc. He has been interviewed and quoted in printed media around the world including in Brazil, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, etc.
He has served as a strategic analyst and briefer to Governments, International Organizations, NGOs and media of the ongoing world conflicts, including on Terrorism and the War of Ideas particularly since 2001. His research focused mainly on ideologies and strategies of international regional and local Jihadist groups, as well as Islamist political strategies in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia and within the West.
He testifies to and conducts briefings at the US Congress, the European Parliament and Commission, and the UN Security Council, as well as to US State Department and other foreign ministries worldwide and to officials on Counter Terrorism in Europe and the United States. Dr Phares was an advisory board member of the Task Force on Future Terrorism of the US Department of Homeland Security (2005-2007) and a member of the NSC advisory task force on Nuclear Terrorism (2006-2007)
Dr Phares also lectures to and advise the US Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security, as well as regional commands such as CENTCOM, SOUTHCOM, AFRICOM, on academic research on Terrorism. He has served as an expert on Terrorism with the US and European Governments and briefed law enforcement agencies, including INTERPOL since 2003. Dr Phares serves as an academic advisor to several Human Rights and Middle East and Africa communities groups.
Dr Phares academic field covers comparative politics and conflict and strategic studies. His current research interest focuses on the Jihadist movements and strategies worldwide, Human Rights under Islamist regimes, ethnic minorities, women, and democratic movement and processes within the Greater Middle East and the Muslim world, Terrorism, as well as the international relations of Civilizations.
Since 1979, Dr Phares has published ten books on Middle East Conflicts and International Terrorism. His first post 9/11 book with Palgrave St Martin, Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America, published in November 2005 was a Foreign Affairs best seller in 2006. The paperback Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West was published in November 2006. A Spanish version was published in 2008. The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy was published in March 2007. The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad was published in March 2008. Dr Phares books were featured on summer reading lists in the US Congress and the UK House of Commons in 2007.
His last book in English published in 2010, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, predicted the Arab Spring and projected the ongoing revolts in the Greater Middle East. A Russian version was published in 2011. Dr Phares published a book in French in November 2013, Du Printemps Arabe a l’Automne Islamiste, analyzing the race between Islamists and seculars in the Greater Middle East.
His new book The Lost Spring: U.S Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid, published in March 2014, explains the failures of the West in predicting the Arab Spring and the other Middle East revolutions, the abandonment of democracy movements in the region, the influence of the Islamist lobby in the West and possible alternative policies to avoid catastrophes.
Born and raised in Lebanon, Dr Walid Phares was educated at St Joseph and the Lebanese Universities of Beirut where he obtained degrees in Law and Political Science as well as a certificate in Sociology. He obtained a Masters in International Law from the Universite de Lyons in France and a Ph.D. in International Relations and Strategic Studies from the University of Miami.
He practiced as a Lawyer in Beirut, served as an analyst editorialist and was the publisher of several weeklies and monthlies in Arabic, French and English (1982-1987).
He published his first book, al Taadudiya fi Lubnan (Pluralism in Lebanon in Arabic) on the Multi-ethnic identity of Lebanon and the Middle East as well as on the relationship between Civilizations in 1979, followed by a number of books and articles in the Arab and international press since 1980 including Hiwar Dimucrati (Democratic Dialogue, 1981) and al Thawra al Islamiya al Khumaynia (The Islamic Khomeinist Revolution, 1986). As a lawyer and a writer in his native Lebanon, he launched a social democratic Party, formed a coalition of Middle East minorities NGOs and served in a national coalition of political parties that called for the withdrawal of the Syrian occupation and the disarming of Iranian-backed Terror organizations in the 1980s. He lectured in a number of countries in the Middle East and worldwide (France, Belgium, UK, Switzerland, Brazil, Uruguay, Cyprus and Canada).
Relocated to the United States in 1990, he taught at various universities in the 1990s, appeared as a Middle East expert with media and served as an expert on country conditions at US Immigration Courts as of 1994.