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Welcome to the Islamist Middle East and It's Not Going to Be Moderate

Ladies and gentlemen, liberals and conservatives, Obama-lovers and Obama-haters, no matter what your race, creed, gender, national origin, or level of unpaid college loans, two things should be clear to all of you:

First, to describe the Obama administration’s Middle East policy as a disaster -- I cannot think of a bigger, deadlier mess created by any U.S. foreign policy in the last century -- is an understatement.

Second, the dominant analysis used by the media, academia, and the talking heads on television has proven dangerously wrong. This includes the ideas that revolutionary Islamism doesn’t exist, cannot be talked about, is not a threat, and that extreme radicals are really moderates.

I won’t review all the evidence here, but it amounts to a retreat for moderates, allies of the West, and American interests coupled with an advance for revolutionary Islamists.

On the morning of July 23, 1952, the Middle East entered a new era. The Free Officers Movement took over Egypt and there followed more than a half-century of war, anti-Western hysteria, terrorism, repression, social stagnation, and the basic Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse type stuff in the Middle East. That was the Era of Arab Nationalism.

On February 11, or October 23, or November 28, 2011, the Middle East entered a new era. Whether you date it to the fall of Mubarak, the Tunisian election, or the Egyptian election, what do you think is going to happen in the next half-century in the region? This is now — I call it officially  — the Era of Revolutionary Islamism.

There is a great deal that will ensure the Islamists aren’t triumphant in the end, but there’s nothing that can stop them now from being dominant ideologically in the region and politically in the majority of countries between Tunisia and Iran, probably Afghanistan, and possibly Pakistan.

As early as the 1980s these trends were visible but the outcome was not inevitable.

There were four key elements in this victory for the Islamists.

First, the long, failed reign of Arab nationalist regimes went on in a downward spiral of increasingly less effective demagoguery, losing wars, and poor economic development performance as a demographic explosion took place.

Yet as late as 2000 the prospects for the Islamists looked poor. Almost a quarter-century after Iran’s revolution, they had not taken over in any other country except remote Afghanistan.

Then, second, the September 11 attacks revitalized the movement. Osama bin Laden lies moldering in the sea, but his movement goes marching on.

But while bin Laden lacked strategic flexibility, other Islamists were more effective.

And so, third, from Turkey came the idea of what might be called “stealth Islamism”: just pretend to be moderate and the suckers will buy it. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood guru, also contributed here: bin Laden is a fool, he said in effect, of course we should run in elections. We’ll win.