Copeland: If 9/11 defined the last decade, will the Arab Spring define the next?

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September 11, 2011

I have my doubts.

9/11 changed everything, and the consequences haunt us still.

The incident provided the neocons with the pretext  they needed to seize the day. On their watch, civil and constitutional rights were rolled back, the national security and surveillance state constructed, and the middle class hollowed out. As the USA lurched from Afghanistan to Iraq and back to Afghanistan in the context of pursuing its ill-conceived and  disastrous Global War on Terror, it squandered its unipolar moment and ruined its economy, its reputation, and its global leadership.

Assuming that the world can find a way out of the continuing economic crisis, itself a long term consequence of 9/11, exactly where the emerging heteropolar world order is going is anyone's guess.

We are entering uncharted territory, and the key challenge will be to manage the new accommodations peacefully.

Arab spring? Beyond cosmetic changes in the top level leadership of three countries in North Africa, what has really changed? To date, for the vast majority of those populations affected, not very much.  Uprisings and (partial) regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya are not to be confused with what happened in Russia in 1917, China in 1949, or Cuba in 1959. These were revolutions, and they represent something far more profound than anything we have seen to date in the Greater Middle East.

Meanwhile, little has come from the stirrings in Jordan, revolts in Bahrain and Yemen, and the full scale rebellion in Syria.

To date, while change has been elusive, what we have witnessed is a convincing expression of the people's thirst for political reform. Moreover, that conviction has been expressed in an overwhelmingly secular manner, with the more extreme iterations of radical Islamism notable mainly for their absence.

For analysts, that observation, which not coincidentally relates directly back to the consequences of 9/11, may represent the Arab Spring's more enduring legacy.