The Middle East, Sort Of

For an optimistic take on how recent events in the Middle East might advance American interests, there’s David Kenner in The New Republic, and Scott Peterson in the Christian Science Monitor. Kenner explains how popular resentment over Hizbollah turning its weapons against fellow Lebanese, as opposed to Israeli occupiers, might turn their battlefield success into a Pyrrhic victory. Peterson discusses how an Israeli-Syrian peace deal, admittedly a longshot, might if not drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, at least accentuate the differences in their parallel but not common regional interests. (For an even more thorough examination of where Damascus and Tehran diverge, see the Sami Moubayed Asia Times Online piece which I flagged yesterday.) For a more pessimistic take, there’s Eric Trager at Commentary, who keenly observes that it’s all France’s fault, or something to that effect.

My own feeling is that we might be approaching some sort of epistemological limit of what we can actually know about what’s happening, and we’ve certainly moved well beyond any ability to predict future events. Our efforts to “manage” the Middle East have brought me back to a recurring image of the Democratic primary campaign between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Think of how much ink has been spilled (and pixels formatted) in an effort to explain the dynamics of that race, and we still don’t have a firm understanding of what really transpired or how it will end. Now toss in a couple armed militias in each state, and no guarantee that either candidate will respect the party bylaws come the Convention, and imagine that some policy wonk in Tehran is trying to arrange all the moving pieces to make sure their horse wins, and you’ve got something that resembles our Middle East policy.

What leaves me most pessimistic is the feeling that not only do we not have too many good options, we insist on pursuing bad ones. Parag Khanna argues in a new WPR piece that propping up “moderate” Shiites as an alternative to Hezbollah and Iran is not the answer, and Johnathan Steele at the Guardian makes the case that it’s foolish to believe we can stabilize Iraq and the Middle East without accomodating Iran. Nevertheless, we continue our search for “moderate” Shiites, and refuse to even consider the idea of trying to find a negotiated regional settlement with Iran. Which means our only real hope for success is if our adversaries overreach and falter, like Hizbollah and al-Qaida, before we do.