Multipolarity and Middle East


Scott’s intriguing counterintuitive post got me thinking.  He thinks Obama should hold off on diving into a Middle East Peace Process.  It appears however Obama–at least in his public rhetoric–is headed in from the beginning.

The more I think about this issue, the more I think it’s a Middle East finger trap.  I still think I’m of the school that believes you have to get a Syrian-Israeli peace deal first before you can get a Palestinian-Israeli one.  [If you get Syria, you get Lebanon gets thrown into the deal as well.]  But after the recent Gaza incursions, the backdoor Syrian-Israeli peace talks mediated by the Turkish government appear dead.  Mostly the Syrians play the cat-and-mouse game of looking like they want peace and then not actually going for it.  If the Syrians brokered a deal with the Israelis, they would by Egypt tomorrow:  i.e. still a totally autocratic repressive, economically backwards regime, which should be a decent regional power, and all the fury will be turned on the government.  The Assad regime gets a pass on a great deal of its domestic repression by supporting Hamas, Hezbollah, as well as shrewdly staying connected to all sides in the Iraqi civil war (Kurd, Sunni resistance, and Shia government).

There’s always the Arab Peace Initiative.  Obviously there are a huge number of concerns with that document on the Israeli side.  Particularly since Hamas has never officially endorsed the plan.  Hamas did abstain from comment on it at the 2007 Riyadh meeting, which I take to mean that if it ever were actually enacted, they would have no choice but to ultimately accept it.

If Obama is going to go in for this, he has to take (I think) Walter Russell Mead’s advice and put the Palestinian political reality/needs first.  Mead is by no means some raging lefty.  That depends, I suppose, on whether Israel feels safer now or not relative to its Gaza operation.  Mahmoud Abbas is weaker than ever, which both Mead’s plan the Arab Initiative rely heavily on the Fatah movement.

In other words, I don’t know where Obama goes after doing whatever he can to make sure the ceasefire sticks for now.

It could be argued, however, that any non-involvement from the beginning on the part of Obama will be taken as a sign of the continuation of the Bush policy in the region.  Bush came into office and did nothing with the reegion, basically signalling to the Israelis that they could have a pretty much free hand in the region.  Whatever one’s views of the actions, that signal clearly led to Ariel Sharon’s trip to the Temple Mount, The unilateral pull out of Gaza, the Lebanon-Israel war, and then the Gaza bombardment. Well, at least Bush didn’t let the Israelis bomb Iran.

That being said, one constant in this whole bloody god-awful history of the region, is that the Arab regimes will talk a tough game but ultimately sell the Palestinians up the river as soon as they can.  A far darker possibility for Obama’s regime is the potential for one of the so-called (and not actually) “moderate” Arab regimes falling–most likely candidate being Egypt.  If that were to occur, who knows what happens then—increased voltality against Iran or at least Shia in the Gulf States?  Qatar trying to use the fight to gain leverage over Saudi Arabia by backing more resistance-based groups?   The rise of an Islamist regime in the region with The Muslim Brotherhood taking over in Egypt?  Who knows.

My fear more and more is that Obama is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

Here’s the wiki solution on escaping the finger trap:

The solution to escaping the trap is to push the ends inward toward the middle, which enlarges the openings and frees the fingers, before slowly twisting them out of the trap so as not to trigger the tightening reflex again. A second form of escape is to push one’s fingers together and then grab the ends of the trap with one’s middle fingers and thumbs. The fingers can then easily be pulled out.

If I’m right that the region is a finger trap (and I might not be), I still have no idea what the parallel equivalent is to the region.  Maybe I’m taking the metaphor too literally or it breaks down at this point.

Scott is right that there is the question of global, big power multipolarity with the US having to learn to live with China, Russia, EU in whatever form all these governments survive the economic crash. But there is multipolarity within the Middle East itself now.  In the US media it’s usually (and rather stupidly) portrayed as this axis of moderates versus axis of radicals with Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas lined up against Egypt-Jordan-Saudi Arabia.  But it’s far more complicated than all that–for one reason so many of those government are autocracies and do not represent the will of their citizenry necessarily.

Obama ran on a hardline position against Hamas and I can’t seem him (especially so early in his administration) doing anything but taking that kind of line.  Trying to balance Israeli and “moderate” Arab government into a process.  When he put in his calls he called Olmert, Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Mubarak of Egypt.  Surprise and surprise.  I don’t see how such a move does anything but grip the trap tighter.

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