by Rami G. Khouri, for the New York Times:

BEIRUT — This week will see the close of one of the most dramatic decades in recent history, and much of the action — mostly for worse — has taken place in the Middle East.

A journalist colleague from Europe asked me the other day whether I agreed that nothing much had changed in the Middle East since 2001 — because the region continues to be dominated by autocratic and dictatorial leaders and the rippling tensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict persist.

I disagreed, suggesting that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath had brought about significant changes in the region, mostly negative ones.

The most important single policy change has been the normalization of foreign military powers entering the region and attacking at will under the guise of responding to the 9/11 terror attack against the United States.

American and British armies lead the way in Iraq and Afghanistan. The militarization and globalization of local tensions in Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia and Yemen in recent years reflect the latest phase of this process.

Parallel to Anglo-American militarization of the region has been deep Western acquiescence to Israel’s aggressive and deadly policies toward Palestinians and other Arabs. The two savage wars Israel launched against Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2008 are central episodes in the new regional landscape of the past decade, which now includes Israel’s continuing siege of Gaza.

Western militarization in our region also translates into broad support for local autocrats and security-minded regimes that run roughshod over their people’s rights. This hardening of Arab security regimes and political dictatorships responds to short-term foreign aims, but betrays the hollowness of the Western (and occasional Arab) rhetoric about promoting democracy and human rights in the Middle East.

This American-led militarization of Middle Eastern policy reflects a deeper problem, which is the broad inability of the United States and other Western powers to develop a coherent policy toward the scourge of terrorism.

As the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan now show, anti-American sentiments have increased among many people in those lands where American troops have attacked and stayed for years. The terrorism problem is also bigger today than it was in 2000, and more difficult to defeat, due to the proliferation and localization of terror groups that are often inspired by Al Qaeda types but also motivated by the presence of foreign armies.

The natural military resistance against invading armies spills over to aggravate political threats to the integrity and stability in some countries, where the legitimacy and efficacy of the central state may not resonate deeply with all citizens.

Many Middle Eastern countries are much more polarized than they were 10 years ago, as tough security-minded governments tend to concentrate their controls on smaller areas of the country. The cumulative integrity and stability of Middle Eastern countries are less impressive now than they were a decade ago.

A third major change in the past decade has been the expanding influence of Iran throughout the region, which was accelerated by the Anglo-American destruction of Iraq’s Baathist regime. Iran’s penetration of the Arab world has made it a major player in the region, and has helped shape a new regional cold war that has sharply divided the Middle East into two ideological camps that occasionally battle each other militarily — either directly (Lebanon, Palestine) or through proxies (Yemen, Somalia, Iraq).

A fourth important development has been large-scale popular and political resistance to American-led policies that often include Israel and conservative Arab regimes. The massive use of U.S. military power and political arm-twisting has triggered a meaningful response by once docile Arab, Iranian and Turkish populations that reject being victims of foreign militarism and neocolonialism. Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah tend to lead such forces, but others are also involved. This resistance helps define the regional cold war. It has also triggered counter-resistance against it from many quarters of society that do not relish an Islamist-, Iranian- or Syrian-led Arab world — resulting, for example, in the Saad Hariri-led election victory in Lebanon last summer.

The fifth significant new factor in our region is the expansion of Turkish influence, which is mostly a positive development. Government policies and public opinion in Turkey both reflect key trends in the Arab world, including rejecting American and Israeli policies when these are seen to be inappropriate for Turkish national interests.

Our region has changed significantly in the past decade, mostly for the worse. This is a good time to reflect on the causes of our deterioration, so that we and our leaders do not collectively act like buffoons and simply perpetuate the mistakes that have defined our inauspicious start of this third millennium.

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