WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: The Middle East Mess Part One: Over There.

Coming in the middle of the American campaign season and timed to coincide with eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the violence now shaking the Middle East has inevitably turned into a US domestic issue. I’ll write about that as the situation unfolds, but at the moment it seems most important to think about what is happening over there — and then to think about what this might mean for US policy or politics. . . .

If Americans are going to understand what’s going on and process it effectively, the first thing we’ve got to realize is that this isn’t all about us. The riots in Cairo are basically part of a local power struggle. Radical Salafists are in a power struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood; attacking the US embassy forces President Morsi (as the radical strategists presumably expected) to side with the US, however slowly or reluctantly. That’s a win for the radicals, who want to tar the Muslim Brotherhood as soft appeasers who side with the Americans against their own outraged people.

Striking at the embassy pushes Egyptian politics in a more radical direction short term, and over the medium term it weakens the Muslim Brotherhood and strengthens the more radical groups. After these last attacks, you are not going to see many tourists or foreign investors traipsing to Egypt anytime soon. The already struggling Egyptian economy has taken a hit that will cut employment. That’s going to hurt, and it’s going to reduce the popularity of the government, much to the benefit of the radicals who hope to replace it.

In many other places, from the West Bank and Gaza to Yemen and Tunisia, the protest movements are also more important for what they mean in local politics than about global policy.

Read the whole thing.