It gets really tiring listening to the news sometimes. Especially with the Middle East. I’m a world traveler, I’ve been to 30 countries so far, and I’ve purposefully skipped the Middle East. The reason is because the area just doesn’t hold much interest for me, not being of any of the three major religions there, and because I have a tendency to be targeted by thieves, and I hear tell they are a little bit more aggressive in the Middle East.
But it always dominates the news, whether it’s Israel, Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan, if Afghanistan technically counts as the Middle East rather than Central Asia. So here, we’ll do a breakdown of the problems with the Middle East and their effect on the 2012 election.
Obviously. Had to start with this one. The problem with Iran is that it used to be balanced by a strong Iraq, led with Saddam Hussein, and now there is no other country in the region that can compete with it. Not distracted by Iraqi threats, the Iranians are freer to push their interests abroad, as they do with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sadrists in Iraq. And there’s the whole nuclear issue. What the US is doing: The US under Obama took a new approach to the Iranians instead of the somewhat belligerent approach of the Bush Administration, trying with soft power. Iran did what it always does and, when it made concessions, it would quickly take them back. While this has had a negative effect on the perception of Obama as an appeaser, it HAS put the international community more on the side of the US, and has gotten China and Russia on board for sanctions on the nuclear issue. Which is a decidely huge step, as long as rising powers like Brazil and Turkey don’t undermine it (cough. cough.) Verdict: If sanctions are placed on Iran regarding the nuclear program, it’ll be a point for Obama. Otherwise, tangible effects are yet to be seen and, while his approach may prove to be the right one, it’ll be a hard political sell.
Israel is having some rough diplomatic times under Netanyahu. The settlement row alienated him from Obama, and the flotilla raid alienated him from Turkey. Both were incredibly stupid strategic moves, especially when his number one existential threat is coming from Iran, not Gaza and the West Bank. If Iran gets near a nuke, he’ll be forced to attack, and the fewer allies he has, the more dangerous this becomes. What the US is doing: Obama has taken the irregular American position of actually being even-handed about the Israel-Palestine conflict. He decried the settlements (and rightly so), but didn’t condemn the flotilla raid off the cuff (a very smart move, given what an investigation could end up revealing, i.e., that the activists possibly DID fire the first shots). He played a numbers game and realized that he couldn’t sacrifice the opinions of 1 billion worldwide Muslims for the unqualified support of Israel’s 7 million, and he’s probably benefitted because of it. The Verdict: America is, a lot of the time, fanatically pro-Israel. And rightly so, the Israelis are important strategic allies and not to mention one of only two democracies in the region (the other is oft-overlooked Turkey). But the American right have painted Obama as an anti-Semite (a title designated for anyone who speaks ill of Israel or has the audacity to differentiate between the state and the Jewish religion), and since the Jewish community is usually left-leaning, this COULD seriously effect his numbers.
Iraq is being slowly transferred to Iraqi hands. Obama’s promise to pull out will only be partially fulfilled, as some troops will stay on in a security-force capacity for the indefinite future. It still isn’t stable by any means, and the recent election ended inconclusively with current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki losing out to Ayad Allawi, but demanding a recount, which could seriously complicate things. The American pull-out is set to be nearly well on its way in August, and if there isn’t a government formed by then… well, then yikes. What the US is doing: Pulling out. Obama’s campaign pledge was to end the war in Iraq, and he’s making good on it, at least as well as he can. His attentions are elsewhere: on Afghanistan. The Verdict: Who knows? This could end horrifically or seamlessly. The thing is, the draw-down will be on it’s way before the 2010 elections, and it will be finished by 2012. If it goes well, Yay Obama! If not… well, then yikes.
This is another wild card. On the one hand, it seems like many al-Qaeda leaders are being killed on a regular basis, but while the surge in Afghanistan may not be too little, it might be too late. Karzai isn’t much trusted outside of the Pashtun community (or within it, for that matter) and keeps alienating himself from Americans by doing things like blaming the widespread election fraud (that favored HIM) on the Americans, who he also accused of conspiring against him. The upcoming offensive in Kandahar will determine a lot, but really, Afghanistan might actually be unconquerable. We might be in a Vietnam here. What the US is doing: Surge + Diplomacy + Soft Power = God knows what. The Verdict: Unless things really collapse, you can spin it either way with this one.