Friday, March 23, 2012

Mideast Sectarian Threat and Opportunity

If Washington aspires to change the world and implement a positive-sum grand design, current conditions in the Mideast not only present a potentially fatal threat but also offer an unusual opportunity.

Several conclusions that, in combination, amount to both a serious warning and an opportunity for Washington seem possible to derive from the current Mideast mess without delving into endless details:

1. Bahrain is a festering sectarian problem that will, one way or the other, be addressed for it currently has lots of antagonisms without any equilibrium; 
2. The same is true of Iraq, except that more so, thanks to the vicious terror campaign al Qua'ida is apparently promoting there, a campaign that will likely not dissipate simply because most Americans want to pretend it does not exist;
3. The Syrian disaster is worse still, with sufficient bloodshed so that anything could happen and no one is likely to be immune;
4. All those problems in Shi'i Saudi Arabia not only still exist but are getting worse to the degree that Riyadh resists addressing them in a manner sympathetic to the residents;
5. U.S. military involvement in warfare in Yemen is creeping up; 
6. Iran and Israel, via Larijani's historic offer in his interview by Christine Amanpour of a positive-sum deal on nukes and Dagan's historic 60 Minutes interview dismissing the idea of an Israeli attack on Iran, have suddenly and publicly positioned themselves for compromise.

The Threat. Add it up and you have the following threat: if all the pieces fall wrong, and the tight linkages among the various Mideast factions make it likely that they will, all the Shi'a of the region could be up in arms simultaneously. Among other problems, that would not exactly facilitate Obama's reelection.

The Opportunity. But this all adds up another way as well, leading to the following opportunity: a bit of U.S. initiative across the board to address Shi'i grievances might significantly reduce the likelihood of the looming sectarian disaster. It is doubtful that Washington has the capacity to solve any of the various problems, but it now does have the ability either to turn the heat up or turn it down. Of critical importance is that it has the opportunity to respond rationally to the entirely rational Iranian offer, simply by saying, "I call your bluff." Washington has this opportunity now because the recently retired chief of Mossad Meir Dagan has just provided Washington with a very public blank check to tell Iran that "we" now admit that attacking Iran would not be the appropriate way forward, so therefore we are open to a negotiated solution that includes both nuclear transparency by Iran and national security for Iran.

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