Skip to main content

Middle East will muddle through 2013

By Aaron David Miller, Special to CNN
updated 8:51 AM EST, Fri December 28, 2012
Aaron Miller says a re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel will have no incentive to tackle tough issues with Palestinians.
Aaron Miller says a re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel will have no incentive to tackle tough issues with Palestinians.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aaron Miller: Predictions for dramatic change in Middle East are likely to be wrong
  • He says 2013 will be a year when U.S. avoids military action against Iran's nuclear program
  • Progress on peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians seems unlikely, he says
  • Miller: The lack of dramatic developments should be considered a positive

Editor's note: Aaron David Miller is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and served as a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Can America Have Another Great President?" Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Since leaving government almost a decade ago, my analysis of matters Middle Eastern has been, well, annoyingly negative.

And the reason? Best summed up in a line often attributed to Groucho Marx but actually uttered by Chico: "Well, who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

Aaron David Miller
Aaron David Miller

What I see is an angry, broken, dysfunctional region that wants to transcend itself and resolve the conflicts that hold it back, but just can't. And I'm not at all sure there's a whole lot America -- that indispensable nation -- can do about it.

Here are my predictions for 2013 on some of the key issues. This year's theme is muddle through --neither breakthroughs nor breakdowns.

Iran:

2013 -- The so-called year of decision -- war with the mullahs who rule Iran or the grand bargain -- will produce neither. President Obama will go to extreme lengths to avoid a military strike aimed at Iran's nuclear program and will not greenlight an Israeli one. Without that go-ahead, the Israelis will continue to agonize but not act. And the mullahs will be smart enough not to brazenly give either Jerusalem or Washington an easy excuse to strike.

2013 will be a year of....
CNN Opinion contributors weigh in on what to expect in 2013. What do you think the year holds in store? Let us know @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook/CNNOpinion

Bottom line -- 2013 will be a year of diplomacy, not war. To borrow a conceit from my friend New York Times reporter Elaine Sciolino, 2013 will witness the Tom and Jerry game in which cat and mouse in the old cartoon continue a never-ending game of almost gotcha. Who knows? If the Americans and Iranians try hard enough they might actually bump into one another and reach a limited deal to keep Iran a few more years away from getting enough uranium to make weapons. But if you're looking for final closure on this one, go talk to Dr. Phil.

Arab-Israeli peace:

Panetta: A nuclear Iran is unacceptable
Palestinians get U.N. upgrade
Iran's assault on civil society
Syrian rebels: Defection will spark more

The sun, moon, and stars really aren't aligned on this one for a big breakthrough. Where should I start? The January 22 elections in Israel will likely produce another Netanyahu government that has no incentive to destroy itself politically by tackling the big issues like Jerusalem and refugees, certainly not with the Iranian nuclear issue still open. And the Islamists -- Hamas and Egypt's Mohamed Morsy (who can barely bring himself to talk about a two-state solution) aren't in the giving mood either. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak to initiate much.

Bottom line -- The Americans will try and may succeed in getting the Israelis and Palestinians into a process to talk about borders and security. But the two-state solution is likely to remain too hard to achieve but too important to abandon. Persident Obama will probably not be earning his Nobel peace prize -- yet.

Arab spring/winter:

This is going to be a long movie. After all, it took the United States a century and half and bloody civil war to even begin to reconcile the promise of equality contained wiithin the Declaration of Independence with the legitimization of slavery contained in the Constitution, and we're still not there yet.

Still, nowhere in the Arab world do the trend lines look that hopeful. Neither in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, let alone Syria, do the Arabs have the three elements required to set their experiment with democratization and pluralism in the right direction: leaders who put the nation before their own political and religious parties' interests, institutions that are seen as inclusive and legitimate, and a mechanism to ensure that polarization doesn't spill out into the streets in violence.

Bottom line -- Buckle your seatbelts. No immediate convulsions and catastrophes. But in the new Arab world with Islamists rising, the political space for the United States is going to get a whole lot smaller and the dangers to our diplomats much greater. The key question is at what point the bell will begin to toll for the kings and emirs in Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, too.

The good news:

But all isn't totally gloomy. We're out of or getting out of the two longest wars in our history, we're reducing our dependence on Arab oil, al Qaeda has been weakened, and while we're not safe we're certainly safer here at home -- at least from foreign terrorists.

Bottom line -- With the notable exception of killing Osama bin Laden, President Obama hasn't had any spectacular successes in foreign policy, but more important, he has avoided spectacular failures. If he can continue to keep us out of trouble, particularly at a time when we need to be focused on repairing America's broken house rather than chasing around the lands of Araby trying to fix everybody else's, he'll have done pretty well. And who knows, if he's patient, maybe he'll even be able to turn one of those Middle Eastern migraines and root canals into an opportunity or two.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aaron David Miller.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT