Is this all coincidence? Or is part of what’s been happening in the Middle East for the past two weeks a result of the U.S. president declaring that the conflict of civilizations is over? My new article in The American Prospect examines the evidence.
Barack Obama spoke in Cairo two weeks ago. The Middle East has been roiling since. The street scenes in Iran have pushed the surprise pro-Western victory in Lebanon’s elections out of the headlines, along with Benjamin Netanyahu’s pained, precondition-crippled acceptance of a two-state solution and the enraged Palestinian response. Two top Israeli intelligence figures scaling down the Iranian nuclear threat from looming Holocaust to mid-range risk — a major story for a calm week — has gone almost unnoticed.
So did Obama set this off, or was he like the king in The Little Prince who ordered the sun to rise at the precise moment when it would have done so anyway? With that come two more questions: Will the crisis in Iran shake up the region even more? And what should Obama do in response?
Let’s go a step at a time. And assume that the requisite qualifier — everything could change in an hour — is present in every sentence.
First, the Obama Effect: The standard, and well-founded, view is that Iran has come apart on its own. Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the regime has been more oppressive than under his predecessors — harassing intellectuals, journalists, and bloggers. Young Iranians have supported reformist candidates in past elections; this time their vehicle was Mir Hussein Mousavi.
That said, Mousavi did attack Ahmadinejad for destroying Iran’s international image with his delusional statements, especially his denial of the Holocaust. Were Bush still president, suggests Meir Litvak, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies, the criticism wouldn’t have resonated. Iranians would have felt, “What difference does it make how we look in the world? The Americans despise us anyway.” Facing Obama and his call for dialogue, “how Iran is seen is important, at least to some Iranians.”…
Read the rest here, and return to South Jerusalem to comment.