Skip to main content

Middle East will muddle through 2013

By Aaron David Miller, Special to CNN
December 28, 2012 -- Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)
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
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT