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The Three-Track Middle East

LAGUNA BEACH – During a recent trip to the Middle East, I was struck by the growing gap between countries – so much so that, more than ever, I came away convinced that it makes no sense today to talk of the region as a coherent whole. Rather than pursuing internal convergence, this important part of the world is now following at least three paths, characterized by large divergences that will persist – and likely grow – for years to come.

On one path are countries like Iraq, Libya, and Syria, which are struggling to avoid the awful trap of becoming failed states. All of them share the unfortunate likelihood that their situation will become worse before it improves.

This group of countries is being dragged down further every day by a terrible combination of violence, political fragmentation, social disintegration, and economic implosion. Their ability to sort themselves out is weak and, in some cases, almost non-existent. Tragically, tremendous human suffering will likely persist, and the waves of human migration that this induces will place significant pressure on adjacent countries, particularly Jordan and Lebanon.

At the opposite extreme are countries that are going from strength to strength. Helped by higher oil revenues, countries like the United Arab Emirates are forging ahead with multi-faceted programs to diversify their growth engines, further strengthen their human and physical capital, and set aside even more substantial financial resources for future generations.