Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Middle East Rethinks its Options

By Alan Caruba

If it isn’t a shooting war, the media and presumably many Americans are just not interested in the Middle East. Have you noticed how little news is being generated there of late?

True, Americans are rightly focused on the monstrous healthcare “reform” bill being imposed on the vast majority that opposes it, but we are transferring several thousand more troops to Afghanistan and we still have several thousands more in Iraq. I keep thinking that the mere presence of all these active fighting units continues to give Iran pause with regard to its nuclear hegemonic ambitions.

And, yes, we were just treated to President Mamoud Ahmadinejad ranting about efforts to impose sanctions, but it appears that the present world leaders are pursuing the same disastrous policies that preceded earlier wars when dictatorships were given meaningless warnings to cease and desist from developing a war machine. The prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons and their delivery systems fits that description.

The more general lack of coverage may well have to do with the way American news organizations have slashed their foreign bureaus and, in my opinion, the notion that, if Americans are not dying in action in sufficient numbers, there’s no need to pay the Middle East much attention. During the height of the Iraq war, every single casualty rated page one coverage.

War in far off places is the price a great nation pays to maintain its position in the world and America is no exception. President Obama’s reluctance to acknowledge or act decisively on this bodes ill, though he has shown great enthusiasm for measures to reduce the Earth’s temperature a degree or two centigrade.

It was news, however, that the aged and ailing president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, received a visit from the Iranian speaker of its parliament, Ali Larijani, in Cairo on December 20 and, despite the fact he rarely travels these days, Mubarak flew immediately to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Arab emirates to discuss what must have been deemed a major turn of events.

Close observers have concluded that the Iranians are trying to ease the tensions their bellicosity has aroused throughout the Middle East. This is not surprising given the fact that it has few real friends throughout the region with the exception of Syria and the terrorist groups, Hezbollah and Hamas, wholly-owned Iranian subsidiaries.

Moreover, Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah are believed to have given up hope of any effective action by America or Israel, to deter Iran’s nuclear program. I have thought in the past that Saudi Arabia would grant air space permission for an Israeli attack, but this option appears to be off the table.

The apparent movement toward coexistence with a nuclear Iran marks a significant downgrade of Washington’s influence in the region and would further isolate Israel if that is possible. The weakness displayed throughout Obama’s first year in office has likely convinced Middle Eastern leaders that they are on their own so far as any protection the U.S. might provide.

The Middle East has been in flux ever since the end of World War One when France and England divided up the spoils of the Ottoman Empire, creating new nations as colonial outposts. World War Two did nothing to reduce the never ending turmoil and the emergence of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948 led to a series of wars that Arab nations lost and the Palestinian pretext to refuse recognition.

Overriding all other interests the West has in the Middle East is the fact that it sits on top of one third or more of the world’s the known reserves of oil.

About the only card the West holds at this point is the fact that the Iranians lie about everything. Since this is well known to the region’s leaders, they will proceed with caution regarding any promises or deals they offer. Lacking their own nukes, they don’t have much bargaining power. They will soon have far less.

All of which explains why we should be more vigilant about events there, even if they do not include firefights, bombings, and other mayhem.

No comments: