This weekend’s closing of US embassies in the Muslim world and the British embassy in Yemen combined with the warning to Americans about overseas travel is another reminder that the Islamist terrorist threat has not gone away. But the relative calmness with which this news is being treated is a reminder that the politics of the situation is very different now than it was ten years ago.
One of the things that has changed is that it is hard to find anyone who is optimistic about the Middle East anymore. The Iraq War was borne out of optimism, the neo-cons were convinced that the Middle East could be democratised. But that optimism has now gone. Indeed, the decision of the military to remove Egypt’s democratically elected president was greeted with almost audible relief by Western governments.
As Walter Russell Mead likes to say, ‘It’s as if the Middle East were simultaneously experiencing the French Revolution and the Thirty Years’ Wars.’ It would be a brave thinker who confidently predicts how this ends. But the one thing that is certain is that this will not be a smooth process.