This paper discusses the role of the Arab Spring in American foreign and domestic policies and the effect the revolutions in the Arab world have had in the United States. The work analyzes the situation before and after the Arab Spring, comparing the American position in both cases, and provides reasoning for the influence the Arab Spring had on the United States. The paper reveals that the Arab Spring has had a tremendous external impact on America as it led to significant changes in the political image and international policy as well as caused a number of internal changes. The citizens of the United States reacted to the Arab Spring by supporting the Arabs’ freedom quest as well as joining the local protests in America. The Arab Spring also played an important role in defining and reshaping the American foreign policy as it showed the flaws and limitations of the country’s role in international affairs.
Keywords: Arab Spring, Middle East.
The Effects of Arab Spring on the United States
It is difficult to overestimate the consequences that the Arab Spring led to and effect that it made on the entire world. The protests that had started locally soon became an international phenomenon, whose influence spread throughout the planet. Although the implications of the Arab Spring are controversial, the occurrence was doubtlessly a way of the citizens of the involved countries to show their desire to live in democratic states with more democratic authorities. The United States also experienced a dramatic effect of the Arab Spring; the event impacted the nation’s domestic and international policies as well as shifted the political rhetoric that dominated in the country. The Arab Spring showed that the United States was no longer as influential as it used to be in the Middle East and the world in general a few decades ago. It was also revealed that other international players were start to occupy the key roles at the world’s political stage now. It also demonstrated that the country needed a more intervention-oriented policy, which was, however, rejected by the political elites and the society. With the current approach to the situation in the Arab world, which combines neutrality and ignorance of the local events, the Unites States continues losing its influence as well as complicates the existing unstable political situation in the world. The analysis of the impact of the Arab Spring shows that the United States needs to change its international policy in order to remain influential and maintain the role of soft power that promotes democratic developments in the world.
The beginning of the Arab Spring was met with suspicion in the United States; the American public was closely watching the developments in the Middle Eastern and Northern African countries because many Americans perceived the revolutions as a quest for freedom and democracy and supported them (Hamid, 2015). The start of the revolution was viewed as a positive shift in the region, and the Western society expected that the dictators, who ruled many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, would leave their positions giving way to a more democratic system in the countries. However, the Arab Spring led to opposite results in many countries, where the political system was opened to Islamist parties, whose aims were to radicalize and shut down the countries turning them into even more authoritarian states. The fact that so many Islamist organizations became powerful in different regions had a huge impact on America because it created more insecurity in the world as well as the increased the level of terrorist threats (Hamid, 2015). The Arab Spring itself was mainly believed to be a revolution, which only worsened the situation of the protesters, whose countries did not become any more democratic (Hamid, 2015). Instead, they lost the freedoms that existed in the countries and became more autocratic. The rise of the Islamist parties only led to the further radicalization of the states. These effects had an indirect influence on the United States and the rest of the world by marking a dangerous trend in the world politics, with a great number of countries becoming more right-wing-oriented and less peaceful due to the radicalization and decreasing tolerance. However, for the United States, the indirect influence was not the only issue; the events also impacted the country directly in terms of safety and international relations.
Thus, the threats from the region, as well as its increasing instability, affected the United States by demanding a more militarist approach to the situation in the Arab world as well as the necessity to strengthen the security in the country itself. The United States needed to respond to the situation in Syria, which required military intervention and more radical actions from the American government. With the rise of Islamist parties, Americans felt the fear of new terrorist attacks hitting their country, which required a governmental response (Keiswetter, 2012). The United States maintained an influence over the countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which the government executed through soft power influence; the relative balance was shaken after the revolutions and the election of new parties. The biggest challenge was the increasing Islamist threat that developed in Syria. Radical Muslim groups not only created chaos in the region but also challenged the entire world’s order and stability. Alongside terrorist threats in America, the government faced the need to send its troops to stabilize the process in the region; however, as the current developments show, the measures taken failed, and the long-awaited peace in Syria did not happen. As a consequence, the United States lost its influential position as one of the world leaders in dealing with the Syrian crisis. The Arab Spring seriously damaged the American image as the world police officer and showed the country’s leaders the need to change their political direction and approach to dealing with international crises in new ways (Keiswetter, 2012). The consequence of the Arab Spring turned out to be reputational for the United States as a result.
According to the researchers, the Arab Spring was a major tool that demonstrated how little influence the United States government kept over the Middle East and North Africa (“Arab Spring,” 2013). For the liberals, who pushed for a less interventional policy, it signified the weakness of the government in defending its citizens even within the borders of the United States as it exhibited the inability to adequately react to terrorist threats. For those pushing for a more interventional policy, this was a sign of the government’s deficiency when dealing with international crises and the inability of the American elite to defend its interests in the world (Phillips, 2012). For decades, the United States has had a big influence over the region due to the British role in the Middle East and North Africa. Nevertheless, the impact has been declining for years.
The Arab Spring also affected America in another way, directly linked to the previous one; it showed the necessity to change the American foreign policy into a more efficient one. During the Arab Spring, the American elite chose the strategy of neutrality, which equaled to ignoring the events and letting them go out of control. The American politicians decided to let the revolutions take their tolls in the regions without expecting the huge Islamist rise afterwards. However, the American neutrality turned out catastrophic because the country did not only fail to prevent radical changes in the region but also lost its influence and became more vulnerable to terrorist threats. Scholars agree that for a country such as the United States, it is impossible to have a neutrality policy because it qualifies as a weakness in a situation like the Arab Spring (Amos, 2012). The United States needs to be involved in various international developments either as a soft power directing and guiding the political process, a military party, or a balanced observer and partner that stimulates peace talks and implementation of international agreements. In the case of the Arab Spring, the United States did not choose any of those roles; as a result, the country failed internationally because its values and interests were not protected. The United States ignored the threats that were coming from the region and indicated the inefficiency of such an approach toward international developments. Therefore, the Arab Spring served as a key indicator that proved that the American society was expecting a different reaction to the world events. The Arab Spring also showed the necessity to develop a new anti-terrorist strategy in the United States because the existing one did not respond to the new threats that emerged after the events in the revolutionary region. The Arab Spring was followed by instability in other areas, like Ukraine, and the United States had to respond to the crises there as well learning from its ineffective experience in the Arab world (Amos, 2012).
Besides the international consequences, the Arab Spring affected local Americans by inspiring various protests across the country. For example, at the beginning of 2011, many activists gathered in different American cities to oppose specific political decisions. The biggest protests were connected to the regulation on collective bargaining; those protests attracted the union representatives, civil society members, and common citizens. For example, nearly 100,000 people gathered by Wisconsin capitol in 2011 in order to contend the bill proposed by Governor Walker (Amos, 2012). Similar rallies took place in other cities across the country. One of the many reasons for the protests was the Egyptian revolution, which inspired many Americans who were already dissatisfied with some of the economic and social developments in the country. The protests had similarities; they were focused on human rights, democracy, and more freedom for workers and labor unions. During some of the protests, the participants had the flags of Egypt with them as to signify the connection between the revolution in Egypt and the events in America. Also, the protesters used social media to coordinate their movements similarly to how it was done during the Arab Spring (Camia, 2011). In 2011, the United States also experienced the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was a protest against specific financial policies within the country as well as the increasing economic problems. The movement started out after the Arab Spring and reflected these events at the beginning due to the number of protesters and the demand for justice and equality for all. The internal protests in America, however, never involved as many protesters as there were in the Arab Spring revolutions; they were much smaller and less aggressive. Also, in the case of the Occupy movement, it proved unsuccessful and did not lead to any significant changes within the country ending with the failure of the protesters. Thus, the protests outcomes did not bring much changes for the United States although they were in line with the Arab Spring.
Hence, it is easy to see that the Arab Spring has had a significant impact on the United States, its economy, politics, and role in the world. The country has changed because of the events on other continents and still struggles with the continuing consequences of the Arab revolutions. The first effect the United States experienced was the increasing instability and fear of terrorism in the nation. The American government also received extensive criticism for its foreign policy, the neutral character of which bordered with ignorance and demonstrated the country’s seizing influence in the world affairs. In addition, the American public was shown that the country no longer had the needed resources to keep its influential position in the world yet was supposed to respond to new developments that occurred after the Arab Spring. A set of domestic protests took place in the United States as a result of the Arab Spring strengthening the devastating effect the revolutions had on the state.