What will the Middle East look like in a decade or so? The Central Intelligence Agency's National Intelligence Council asked the National Defense University to gnaw on this question and the twelve essays making up The Middle East in 2015 are the result. Chapters cover Egypt, Israel, the Palestinians, Iran, Iraq, the Gulf monarchies, Algeria, and Morocco, along with contributions on arms control and the Israel-Turkey relationship.
The picture that emerges is one of a region ripe for change. When discussing politics, society, and economy, the authors document the poor performance and dismal prospects if the present course—well described by one author as "immobility"—continues. In country after country, the basic question the authors pose is, can the regime survive? Can the present order continue? Depressingly, that is true for U.S. friends at least as much for those hostile to the United States. Indeed, the pessimistic tone extends to the analysis of Iraq: Yaphe and Adeed Dawisha ask if another Saddam is on the horizon, after this one is overthrown. Ironically, the only notes of optimism are about the Levant, where several authors hold out the hope that by 2015 the Palestinian issue will be well on the way to resolution and the Arab-Israeli conflict will no longer be the defining element in regional politics—hopes that look less foresightful today, after more than two years of sustained violence and such deep disillusion, than in the more hopeful moment in 2000-1 when these essays were written.
It is noteworthy that this book, written before September 11, 2001, barely touches on the terrorist threat from the Middle East. Indeed, the authors lightly skim over the risks of violence from Islamists, which they seem to regard as a spent force. Were they to reconvene today, one suspects, at least some of the authors would be even more pessimistic than they were three years ago.
If what the CIA presented to the president as the most likely path for the Middle East reflects the forecasts of these authors, then it is little wonder that the Bush administration is contemplating making a major commitment to promoting the transformation of the Middle East.