Sunday, January 30, 2011

Down The Drain

My visit to Watching America held a couple of surprises. The main one was that already the world press is examining the tinder box of the Middle East from the standpoint of American foreign policy in that region. Italy's La Stampa was especially harsh in its assessment of what the current turmoil may result in.

Right now the international media focus is on Egypt, but Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen, and Jordan are also teeming with protests. The instability throughout the region is troubling not only the US, but Israel, for whom a lot of US policy has been shaped. That policy depended on cordial relations with Egypt and Jordan and at least polite relations with Syria and Lebanon. Now, with signs of a shift in power, especially in Egypt, decades old policies appear to be exhausted.

...the White House guarantees "U.S. support to those who demonstrate peacefully for freedom in Tunisia and Egypt." The truth is that, for America, the fall of the regime would mean the loss of the most important ally in the Arab world, with dramatic consequences for the whole picture of the Middle East. If the Muslim Brotherhood were to come to power in Cairo, they would hardly continue to participate in the international isolation of Hamas (who often invokes the "Brothers"). The unsafe position of Abu Mazen would get more and more unsustainable, and the same "cold peace" with Israel would be called into question.

So far, President Obama has been playing his cards close to his chest while he watches events unfold in Cairo. However, as the stakes go up and the violence increases, he's going to be hard pressed to continue the wait-and-see attitude.

The unfortunate part of all of this is that our decades old Middle East policies have effectively locked the current administration into a place from which the president cannot act boldly and may, in fact, be a place from which he cannot act at all without direct US intervention at the worst possible time.

The La Stampa article is pessimistic about the outcome of the various struggles now going on in the Middle East, and rightfully so.



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