And this brings us to the Middle East, where we know such crises will take place. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve written many times, but to put the whole thing into three sentences:
Israel, relatively moderate Arab regimes (including, yes, Saudi Arabia), and real moderate opposition movements know they cannot depend on the United States for the next four years and perhaps for much longer. To make things worse, the U.S. government is aiding their enemies. Consequently, they must act on their own to protect themselves.
For the Saudis, this can mean supporting establishment (Bahrain’s government, Lebanese Sunni Muslims) or even Salafist forces (as in the Syrian opposition) that they feel can be turned into clients. We all have good reasons for not liking the current Saudi regime but imagine the country being run and the oil money being in the hands of someone like Usama bin Ladin or the Muslim Brotherhood, dedicated to overthrowing all the other regimes in the region and forcing out U.S. influence.
For Israel, lacking a chance to build real alliances with Arab states or oppositions, it requires unilateral action.
Everyone else — including Christian minorities and women who want equality — is pretty much up the creek without a paddle. The democratic oppositions (and that includes Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon as well as Turkey and Iran) will have their hearts broken as they see their own countries lost to a long reign of even worse tyranny and their hopes for better days dashed. Countries as diverse as Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan will have to maneuver and use force to keep Islamists from taking over. In other words, you may be very courageous, but you will give some serious thought to running away as far as possible, to Europe, North America, or Australia.
It is very scary and even tragic for a lot of people.
Here, however, is the main point I wish to communicate: Americans can debate whether this shorter-term vacuum of responsibility and longer-term decline is happening, but much of the world already takes this outcome for granted.