Understanding Middle Eastern Tumult

Lynch, Marc - side angle.jpgA revolution in Tunisia in December of 2010 is seen today as the beginning of the Arab Spring, a series of riots, revolts and protests that swept through the Arab world.

Marc Lynch wrote about the upheaval in The Arab Uprising, which hit shelves in the spring of 2012, just as the wave of protests began to fade. Lynch described the revolutionary change and the prospects for democracy, though he continued to harbor doubts about Syria. That book ended with the hope that the Arab Spring would bring long-term fundamental changes to the region, yet warned that many regimes would not easily relinquish power.

The latter has proven true. Egypt’s revolution resulted in a military coup. Yemen is the setting of a proxy war and Syria has descended into a catastrophic civil war from which recovery could take at least a generation. Lynch’s latest book, The New Arab Wars: Anarchy and Uprising in the Middle East, seeks to explain why it all happened and where the world goes from here.

Lynch is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. He is also the director of the Project on Middle East Political Science and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He first became interested in the Middle East during a summer college internship in the 1980s, in which he worked on U.S. policy towards the war in Afghanistan and the Iran-Contra affair. He started studying Arabic and traveled to Egypt in 1991.

Lynch, Marc - New Arab Wars.jpgWorking among politicians and policy makers in the nation’s capital has shown Lynch the profound disconnect between Washington insiders and the rest of America regarding what to do about strife in the Middle East.

“I do think there is a profound skepticism about the Middle East across the country these days,” Lynch says.

“The invasion and occupation of Iraq soured many Americans on the idea of intervention in the region, and the rise of ISIS and failures of the Arab uprisings have only compounded that skepticism. In Washington (outside of the Obama administration, at least) there’s much greater enthusiasm for intervention in Syria and a more aggressive policy across the Middle East than there is outside the Beltway.”

For many Americans, keeping track of the players in a conflict occurring halfway around the world may seem pointless. But Lynch argues that it’s important for everyone in the United States to cultivate a better understanding of what’s happening in the Middle East.

“There’s no way to really insulate the United States or Americans from what happens there, whether it is jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS or refugee flows or the price of oil,” he says. “It’s also important for a well-informed public to act as a check on the interventionist preferences of the foreign policy community.”