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Crystal Ball 2008

12/30/2007

Uncertainty is even greater this year than in previous years. There are numerous stalled processes waiting to explode or peter out in just about every country as well as in important parts of the Muslim world outside of the Middle East.

A few relatively safe predictions that we can dare to make:

Israel
- Ehud Olmert will remain in power in Israel for another year despite Winograd report. USA wants him there.

Israel and the Palestinians
- No Palestinian state in 2008 and no peace agreement. I hope I am wrong, but wishing will not make it so. Neither Olmert nor Abbas can compromise on Right of Return or Jerusalem.

- Hamas remains in power in Gaza at least.

- Al Qaeda will show at least some presence in Palestinian areas. Palestinian sources report that Fatah al-Islam is established in Gaza. Bin Laden has mentioned "Palestine" as a target for his Jihad.

- Israel will dismantle at least some illegal outposts under US pressure.

- Israel will actually reduce, if not eliminate, settlement expansion. especially in areas outside of the security fence.

- Visit of President Bush will produce a great show of activity, but little real results.

- PA in West Bank will increase cooperation with Israel in security matters.

- Israel will relax security at some checkpoints in the West Bank.

- PA will not be able to eliminate terror groups such as Islamic Jihad in the West Bank.

- IDF will continue to arrest Islamic Jihad and other wanted people in the West Bank.

- Israel will not retake all of Gaza,

- Not a prediction - Israel may undertake a major operation with the goal of cutting off arms supplies and eliminating Qassam rocket firing - short of retaking the entire Gaza strip.

Iraq

- US troop "draw down" will occur as planned, regardless of objective security situation.

- Political situation will continue to be stalled and will be complicated by growing dissatisfaction of Kurds over Turkish incursions.

Iran
- NIE report has sabotaged any chance for an effective sanctions resolution against Iran.

- Israel will not attack Iran.

- USA will not attack Iran.

- Iran will continue enrichment of uranium, but will not have or announce nuclear weapons capability.

Lebanon
- Syria will not allow election of a president who does not reflect its interests, or a political settlement that doesn't guarantee a stranglehold on the government in line with the demands of the Hezbollah. This will preclude actual prosecution of guilty parties in the Hariri assassination as well as ensure Syrian control of important economic and political interests in Lebanon.

- France and others may go ahead with prosecution in the Hariri case, but without Syrian or Lebanese cooperation, nothing substantive will come of this case.

Afghanistan
- Situation will not improve and will probably deteriorate. May be exacerbated by events in Pakistan.

Non-Predictions

Pakistan
- No prediction as the situation following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is too unstable.

U.S. Presidential election
- No prediction, as the Republicans at present do not seem able to field a convincing candidate. A competent moderate would probably be able to beat either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton who are handicapped by race and sex respectively. These are still factors in the US. If he could overcome the slime that seems to be surrounding him increasingly, Giuliani could beat either Clinton or Obama on the strength of his major qualifications: Y chromosome and white skin pigment. These may be factors that change only 2.5% of the vote, resulting in a 5% advantage for Giuliani, but 5% is usually more than enough to decide a US presidential race. A Huckabee presidency would be interesting for the Middle East, as he seems to have no knowledge of our area whatever.

Wild cards
Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, is not getting any younger, and there is increasing clamor in Egypt to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel. US may decide to "engage" Iran and/or Syria, in order to isolate one from the other or to win a respite in Iraq. Syria would be offered concessions in Lebanon and a peace deal with Israel. Iran would be offered relaxation of sanctions and tacit US consent for nuclear development. Both would be asked to stop helping terrorists in Iraq. Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad and/or Fatah radicals may oust the moderate Palestinian government of Fayyad and Abbas, or Abbas may conclude another "unity" agreement with Hamas. These are possibilities to consider, not predictions.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000663.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 2 comments

Your predictions and observations about the U.S. elections were quite interesting. The first in a long series of party primaries was held last night in Iowa. The winners - Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee. The talking heads over here don't know what to make of it. For months they've painted both men as outsiders - Obama as an un-tested, un-proven novice and Huckabee as a former Batist minster with the skills of a preacher and the political knowledge of a dunce.

The reality here is much more complex.

Both men have tapped into a growing sense that the politics of division that has dominated the U.S. since Richard Nixon have failed. There's a deep sense that politics has abandoned the common man, that autocrats at all levels are far more interested in political power than they are in serving.

Obama has been preaching a message of hope and change. He talks of restoring America's moral authority in the world, about finding a just end to our involvement in Iraq, about health care and manufacturing jobs leaving America while corporate executives pull in 400 million dollar salaries for jettisoning the jobs. He talks about crossing party lines to solve problems.

The talk sounds familiar. Politicians have said these things before. But Obama is something new. He's an African-American. His father was born in Kenya, his mother here in Kansas where I live. He's young and vibrant. But, more importantly, he has the ring of authenticity that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards just don't have. Mrs. Clinton is being seen by many in her own party as an opportunist willing to say anything to get elected. She began by assuming that the nomination would be inevitable, that it would be a coronation. She held up her experience and compared to Obama's lack of experience. He countered by saying that experience has gotten us Cheney and Rumsfeld. She kept telling everyone she was candidate of party stability. Obama presented himself as the agent of change. When it became clear that his message was hitting home, Mrs. Clinton suddently became the agant for change. It was classic Clintonism. When one message fails, take on the message that is succeeding, regardless of whether or not you believe it.

Well, none of it worked. The primary reason was authenticity. The Democrats saw that Mrs. Clinton might be nothing more than a morally backrupt chamelion and flocked to Obama. Even women, which should have been her strongest constituency, voted for Obama over her. Whites (Iowa is about 94% white, 3% Hispanic, and 3% African-American) also voted for a black man over the woman whose husband was one hailed by black power brokers (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, et all) as "America's first African-American president."

On the Republican side Mike Huckabee had no money to compete with the patrician good looks and bankroll of Mitt Romney. But, he had a message. He presented himself as a pro-life candidate who didn't hate pro-choicers. He said that America was tired of the politics of left and right and was now wanting the politics of "up." He chastised the Bush administration for its bunker mentality on Iraq. He railed against the corporate fat cats who made millions while Americans in blue collar workers were being laid off by the thousands. He complained about a tax system that punishes productivity and rewards corporate interests seeking tax breaks and benefits to enhance profits. He said that Americans were tired of politicians buying votes with huge bankrolls, assuming that a lot of money and a political machine were the critical ingredients to success.

In one debate the media tried to trap him. He was asked about immigration (a big issue here in the heartland) and what Jesus would have done about immigration if he had been a politician. I think they assumed that they had a fundamentalist on the roasting spit and were going to catch him in his religion. Huckabee's response - "Jesus was far too smart to ever run for political office." The humor had two effects. It revealed the media as the ones trying to use religion as a wedge issue and it also revealed that Huckabee was far smarter than the media or his opponents had believed. Like Obama's answer to the question of experience, it got Huckabee far more support than all the money and political machinery could buy for Mitt Romney.

The talking heads understand Mike Huckabee less than they do Barack Obama. To them he's nothing more than a fundamentalist firebrand. This is where they've made a serious error in judgement. There's more to him than meets the eye. When he was recently asked why he was gaining support he said that he's far more in tune with the guy who's getting laid off than he is with the corporate fat cat. The powerful don't like him for that. The people here in America's heartland do. The powerful think that religious people support him because he's one of their own. There's only a very small grain of truth in that. He's being supported in part because evangelical Christians are tired of having the Republican Party tell us what we should believe and in part because we're tired of the powerful in the media, like Rush Limbaugh, dictating our theology as if they were our resident theologians. We're tired of the powerful assuming that if they tell us what we want to hear that they can get in power and then neglect us till the next election cycle.

Can either man win his party's nomination? The wheel's still in spin. But I can say that all the party machinery available is going to go after them tooth and nail.

Is either man the right man at the right time? There's no way to tell that either. They've passed the leadership tests to this point and have won against the politically powerful. That's enough for now.

As for what a Huckabee or Obama presidency would mean to Israel, it's all difficult to know. I think what both men represent here is a great sense that the time for a two-state solution and all the compromise that would entail needs to be pursued honestly. Perhaps an American leader without intimate "American" knowledge of the Middle-East or Isreal would be a benefit rather than a problem. Perhaps an American leader who listened to those in Israel who want peace would be a benefit. Perhaps our problem all along has been the geopolitical scheming that has prevented a solution. Perhaps an American leader who would get the pulse of the people of Israel would be a benefit. Perhaps a leader in Israel who also had a good feel for Israel's pulse would be beneficial.

Posted by Phil Dillon @ 01/04/2008 07:55 PM CST

Actually, your comment about Huckabee knowing little of your region, I think
it would be hard to find a candidate who knows less than George W. Bush did
when he became (I won't say 'was elected') president. My belief is that any
US president surrounds himself with people who know what to tell him to do.

Posted by D. West @ 01/13/2008 04:29 AM CST


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