Friday, May 1, 2009

Obama's Very Unhappy Future in the Middle East

Ari Shavit of Haaretz has written an important article that should be read widely. I’ll also say I think he is too pessimistic but makes a hugely significant point.

The title tells it all: Obama in 2012, after he fails to deal with Iran

Briefly, he sketches out a near-term future based on President Barack Obama’s current regional policy. Projecting “back” from the end of Obama’s first term, Shavit writes that Iran obtained some nuclear weapons but had not (so far) used them.

I’ve also talked about what Iran having nuclear weapons means in terms of disaster for the region and world. It seems impossible to get governments, media, and analysts to talk about all these aspects aside from the potential use of this weapon against Israel. Failure to do so will be disastrous.

Shavit dramatizes the story with specifics: Smaller Gulf Arab states become virtual protectorates of Iran, Saudi Arabia buys nuclear weapons, Egypt is radicalized, Hizballah takes control of Beirut, Israel-Palestinian violence erupts. The price of oil surges upwards, Afghanistan goes up in flames, and Pakistan collapses.

What went wrong? “In the summer of 2009, the president had to make the most courageous decision of his life: to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If Obama had decided…to impose a political-economic siege on Tehran, he would have changed the course of history [and]…prevented regional chaos, a worldwide nuclear arms race and an American decline.”

I know that this will seem exaggerated to many people. But, then, they don’t know the Middle East well enough.

This does not mean an attack on Iran is something to be urged, especially at present. It would be better to have a strong international effort using sanctions and other pressures. But it might be too late for that.

The critical moment was when the Iranian leadership decided to back Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection. The reason is not so much that he is an extreme individual (to put it mildly) but that the decision signals the regime believes that a radical policy carries few costs and many advantages.

Meanwhile, the new U.S. annual report on terrorism has been published Here.

This is its summary of Iran’s role:

“Iran remained the most significant state sponsor of terrorism. Iran has long employed terrorism to advance its key national security and foreign policy interests, which include regime survival, regional dominance, opposition to Arab-Israeli peace, and countering western influence, particularly in the Middle East. Iran continues to rely primarily on its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force to clandestinely cultivate and support terrorist and Islamic militant groups abroad, including: Lebanese Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups such as HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, certain Iraqi Shia militant groups, and Islamic militants in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and elsewhere. Throughout 2008, the Qods force continued to provide weapons, training, and funding to Lebanese Hizballah to advance its anti-Israeli campaign and undermine the elected Government of Lebanon.”

Do you think U.S. engagement with Iran is going to make all of that—or even a small part of it—go away?

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