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Barack Obama: Maybe he can't

11/10/2008

We can all celebrate the victory that Barack Obama has won for African Americans, and breath a sigh of relief that an incompetent regime is gone. But let's face it: Unless Barack Obama really can walk on water, it is doubtful that he can fulfill even a fraction of his campaign promises.

Obama's victory was fueled in part by America's -- and the world's -- economic disaster. A majority of America voters believed that with a fairly large recession coming, big tax cuts were out of the question. McCain helped sabotage his own campaign when he told cheering Republicans again and again that he was going to cut taxes. But Obama's great vision of hope requires a lot of money and that money just isn't there any more. For us in the Middle East, a warning light should be blinking too. Foreign policy will cost money too, and the US doesn't have it.

In the Middle East, Obama is already being criticized based on inappropriate and contradictory standards, even though he has not even begun to govern. The appointment of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff, a domestic administrative office, has drawn fire from Arab states because Emanuel's father is an Israeli and Emanuel is a (perish the thought!) Zionist and it has been criticized by neocon right-wing Zionists because Emanuel supports the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Both complaints are out of line. We cannot imagine the furor that would erupt if the United States criticized a friendly Arab government because they had hired a Palestinian staffer. Emanuel's duties will involve keeping the White House and the government running smoothly, not making policy. It would be bizarre if Emanuel did not support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since that is the policy of both the Israeli government and all U.S. governments since its inception.

Obama has made major promises that affect the Middle East, and all of them are probably impossible or close to it. So we propose to take Mr Obama on a little pre-inaugural tour of some of the Middle East areas that figure in his promises. This is what is in store. First stop is Iraq of course. Better not stay there too long for security reasons. The promise that made his political career was a commitment to "redeploy" US troops from Iraq in 16 months. He probably can't do that without raising panic in the Gulf States, who vetoed a similar move contemplated by the Bush administration, evoking fears of a "Shi'ite crescent." If, as Time Magazine claims, he wants to remove all US combat brigades by April 2010, he may leave other US personnel in Iraq dangerously exposed.

So Obama's next stop is Tehran, where he will engage with the good cop moderate Ayatollah Rasfanjani and the bad cop Khameinei, and try to get them to agree to abandon nuclear enrichment and cooperate with IAEA inspectors. He has said that Iran's nuclear weapons program is unacceptable, and he has also declared that Iran must give up its support for terror. Since Iran has insisted repeatedly that it will never give up its nuclear enrichment program, prospects are dim for stopping enrichment by "engagement." The "best" Obama can hope for is a "gentleman's honor" commitment from Iran not to produce weapons. But they already say they aren't producing weapons. so Obama can make believe he has a deal, despite mounting evidence that Iran might be making a bomb. That is not a solution. It is denying the problem. Moreover, the real problem with Iran is the threat that Iranian hegemony poses to its neighbors, the threat of a "Shi'ite crescent." Withdrawal from Iraq will be putting a large and irresistible prize in front of the Iranians. Iran is about as likely to stay out of Iraq as a fox is likely to stay out of a chicken coop. So outright appeasement of Iran is not an option. He would therefore have to make the hop from Tehran to Moscow, in order to build the international coalition that he promised in order to stop Iranian nuclear weapons development. But with the world economy on the rocks, Russia will be less willing than ever to lose lucrative contracts with Iran.

The third stop on the horror show tour of the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama has said repeatedly that he is committed to moving the peace process forward. First, however, he would have to find the peace process. The Bush Roadmap proved to be a roadmap for Hamas taking power in Gaza and blocking all hopes of peace. The Annapolis "process" has gotten just about nowhere. The reasonable and moderate Tzipi Livni could not agree to discuss any compromise in Jerusalem, at least not in public. The reasonable and moderate Mahmoud Abbas could agree to discuss only Israeli surrender in Jerusalem. The Hamas wouldn't agree to any solution that Abbas had negotiated because neither Syria nor Iran would let them. They would not even attend the Egyptian sponsored unity talks. Soon after Obama takes office the hopeless stalemate will probably change - for the worse, since Israelis show signs of electing hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-wing Likud party to lead the country. Obama should keep in mind that Israelis or Palestinians generally develop contempt for each of the negotiators that have been sent here. This is a time honored tradition. Not all reactions will be as extreme as the assassination of Folke Bernadotte, but the record is not good. The last American negotiator who won everyone's respect was probably Ralph Bunche. It is best not to send any people with experience. The Arabs hate Dennis Ross and the Israelis despise Robert Malley. Condoleezza Rice is vilified by Palestinians because of her imagined or real bias toward Israel, and despised by Israelis for supporting the participation of Hamas in the Palestinian elections. The contempt for American negotiators is not entirely unfair, since there is a tendency of Americans to come, to impose solutions and then to leave and let the locals clean up the mess they made, just as Obama proposed to do in Iraq.

The last and decisive stop in this tour is a bit outside the Middle East. It is in Afghanistan. Afghanistan helped to ruin the British Empire and Soviet Union. Now it is the turn of the Americans. Everyone seems to think it is easy to subdue this tar baby. Obama promised to take soldiers from Iraq and put them in Afghanistan. By all indications, the situation there will get worse before it gets even worse, and then it will get worse again, because by all indications the Taleban/Al-Qaeda problem is spreading to Pakistan and very probably to Bangladesh as well.

Now Mr. Obama is home again. But the dangers still lurk. There is a much more than negligible likelihood that Al-Qaeda or another extremist group will attempt to carry out an attack on the United States within the first years of the Obama administration, when they can expect the least competent and focused response from inexperienced staffers and officials. Overnight, Obama and the Democrats would understand that they are now the not too proud owners of Mr Bush's hated "War on Terror." Then what?

The colored folks always get the worst jobs, don't they?

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/00000726.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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