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
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT