As NATO announced the official end of its mission in Libya and the transitional government named a new prime minister, speculation surrounding the applicability of this model elsewhere in the region continued, even as NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Monday that "NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria." Government scandals and shakeups rocked Iraq and Iran, while Palestine's membership to UNESCO sparked a firestorm in Washington. And U.S. counterterrorism officials have set their sights on the top bomb maker of al Qaeda's Yemeni branch as violence continues to spread throughout the country. What should the U.S. responses to these disparate challenges have in common? They should be viewed through the prism of U.S. national interests, not ideological and political distractions.
This weekend marked an important moment for the future of the Middle East. Tunisia held the first election since the "Arab Spring" uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisia, where the protests began, held an orderly election amid scenes of public rejoicing just nine months after the fall of its prior government. As expected, the moderate Islamist al Nahda party is reported to have won the most votes, receiving a plurality of votes and joining a coalition with liberal parties. Bipartisan experts have stressed that the role of political Islam will increase in the Middle East as part of the process of democratization. The U.S. response must be calm and pragmatic, while at the same time holding all parties to their pledges to work within norms of democracy and pluralism. What happens next in Tunisia - and the Western reaction - will be critical signals about the prospects for democratic and economic reform across the Middle East.
As attention in the U.S. is focused on the alleged Iranian terror plot, Tunisia prepares to hold the first post-Arab spring elections this weekend - the fruits of its leading role and a bellwether for transition across the region. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a surprise visit to Libya to pledge U.S. aid to the transitional government. Israel and Hamas completed the first part of their prisoner exchange, securing the release of Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinians, and highlighting a new mediating role for Egypt. Elsewhere the news was less positive: the threat of open civil war between Syrian protestors and Assad forces is increasing daily; community relations are worsening in Egypt; and the violence in Yemen worsens.
Tonight in Las Vegas, the Republican presidential hopefuls are holding another debate. As the New York Times writes today: "For a while, we were concerned that the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were not saying much about national security and foreign affairs. Now that a few have started, maybe they were better off before. Certainly, the Republican hopefuls have put to rest any lingering notion that their party is the one to trust with the nation's security... the candidates offer largely bad analysis and worse solutions, nothing that suggests real understanding or new ideas."