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The Return of the Old Middle East

How to Win at Balance-of-Power Politics

Courtesy Reuters

As the United States has learned from its failures at transforming the Middle East, old-fashioned balance-of-power politics are once again driving events in the region.

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration hoped that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict would stabilize the region by marginalizing Iran and strengthening pro-American regimes, from North Africa to the Persian Gulf. In turn, the theory went, this would lead to unprecedented economic cooperation among states in the region and the emergence of what Shimon Peres, Israel's prime minister in 1995-96 and its president today, called a "new Middle East." The diagnosis was not bad, but the treatment did not work, and the patient remained as sick as ever.

Then, in the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration developed its own grand design for the region. The centerpiece of the plan was to replace the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq with a thriving democracy. A successful

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