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Not the Center of the World

Written by Barry Rubin

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December 16, 2008
by Barry Rubin

Israel isn't going to be the center of the world for the Obama administration and that's a good, if ego-disappointing, thing. Both the pro-Israeli right's paranoia and the wishful thinking of the anti-Israeli left in the United States (and, in the latter category, Europe plus the Middle East as well), are operating out of expectations rather than the actual situation.

What can be safely assumed is something along the following lines:

Of course, foreign policy has a way of imposing itself on the White House through crises, though many of these might not come from the Middle East or at least the part where Israel is located. Still, what this means is that presidential prestige won't be involved at high levels or consistently to wage campaigns unless really deemed unavoidable.

In reality, though, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are scared of Islamism; Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are afraid of Iran, Shia Muslim power, and Islamism; smaller Gulf states are just interested in making money and living well (not that there's anything wrong with that);  Lebanese are desperately trying to survive an Iran-Syrian onslaught; and Iraqis are trying to end their internal conflict and build a stable government.

That doesn't mean regional leaders won't keep using Israel as scapegoat. They're unable and unwilling to make peace; but they don't want war either and are more interested in getting U.S. protection from Tehran than a Palestinian state. They'll simultaneously be pleased if Israel destroyed Iran's nuclear facilities and denounce Israel for "aggression." Why not have your baklava and eat it, too?

We're in a new Middle East, or rather a battle between two new Middle Easts. This isn't the old Middle East of Arab nationalist regimes striving for regional hegemony and using the Palestinians as a tool in that battle. Nor is it the new Middle East of 1990s' hopes for peace and democracy.

The choice is between the Iran-Syria model for a region of "resistance" (fighting Israel and America as top priority; installing Islamist regimes) and that of Arab states resisting Islamism and Iranian hegemony.

Anyone unprepared to deal with these realities is incapable of understanding what's going on now and what will happen in coming years. The Obama administration is wrong in making conciliation with sworn, ideologically sincere enemies its main theme rather than building a united front against radical Islamism and Iranian imperialism. At the same time, though, it doesn't seem to be intoxicated with the bash-Israel-and-save-the-world fantasy.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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