Tuesday, February 7, 2012

‘Tis all a checker-board of nights and days (Omar Khayyam)

The Middle East is again casting its shadow on the world scene. The Arab Spring looks tragically farcical in retrospect and the various events which continue to shape the Arab world do not fit any scenario. The ultimate-not the last-Syrian checker-board upheaval further complicates the geopolitical situation. It ends up paralyzing interested parties which hesitate to make a move with the knowledge that the consequences might be too far-reaching. The onlookers are irrelevant (the Arab League) or hostage of hidden agendas (the Security Council). The only actors who could make a difference, the United States and Israel, find themselves in the quagmire of the unpredictable. Reason bounces back when it hits the miserable vocabulary of shahid (martyr), jihad (holy war) or yehud (jew). Meanwhile the Palestinians regroup (for how long ?) under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas who dared to make a move in the direction of Fatah, and the Iranian “games” have free hand to destabilize strategies and reroute sanctions under the Sino-Russian umbrella.

I was Ambassador to Egypt in the late 90s, Mubarak regnante. I found the Egyptians cordial and pleasant. There was still a (dying) form of society and the overall atmosphere was rather relaxed. Since then the technocratic control has been replaced by an ideological control. In my time women became even fatter and men more hirsute. They were the barometers of things to come. Islam must be adverse to beauty salons. Unfortunately the situation is too serious to be discussed lightly. Then already one perceived how the peace dividend with Israel became colder by the day and how a plutocratic benevolent dictatorship lost its grip on the people. The very rich and the army were Mubarak’s praetorian guard, while the man in the street continued to survive on price-controlled bread. The frustration of the many was stronger than the power of the few. Too bad, since Mubarak and his entourage often made very shrewd analyses, some of which was prophetic.

The second Iraq War was one of the biggest blunders in history, on a par almost with Napoleon’s or Hitler’s invasion of Russia. The American war machine, which proved to be unmatched, missed the complimentary support of soft power and is currently packing discreetly, ingloriously, under the mostly hostile eyes of the “liberated” ones. The same will happen in Afghanistan and I bet you that the Taliban will occupy Afghanistan’s seat in the UN, once the corrupt, unreliable current regime falls, like an amateurish re-play of the fall of the Bourbons. Don’t get rid of your burka yet!

What about Iran? Not only do they like to play chess, they excel at it. I see no way, under the present circumstances, to halt their nuclear frenzy. Under those circumstances I would consider a cynical and admittedly dangerous proposal. I would, from today on, ignore this cumbersome theocracy and let it go ahead, unencumbered with the condition that a first “verified” nuclear test would be met by a universal Armageddon. Israel, the United States, together with the permanent Security Council members and the Arab League have to be united in a binding covenant, with zero allowance for Iran to explain, run or hide. Retaliation should be general not punctual, and only measured with due consideration for neighboring countries, and the safeguarding of the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz. The punishment should be immediate and sophisticated (both nuclear and conventional), with Israel having been priory reinforced. I fully understand that this is a Faustian bargain, but in the absence of any rational dialogue or trustworthy guarantees, one should no longer be fooled. Non-proliferation remains the goal but autistic kids who play with matches are the arsonists of tomorrow. One has sometimes no alternative but to fight fire with fire.

Being obliged to consider doomsday scenarios is not uplifting. “Contain” and “wait and see” are meanwhile expressions of passive diplomacy, as required. I believe that today the choice not to engage any longer is the optimal formula, because it gives us time to regroup, monitor with technological harassment, and it leaves the Iranians guessing. Deprived of endless ersatz negotiations, they can no longer play hide and seek.

For ten years we have overdosed on unnecessary wars. It might be time for a short punitive action to teach this real fanatic behemoth a lesson if necessary. We can open the path where the Imans,President Mahmoud Amadinejad and the Grand Ayatollah & Co. can be reunited with the suicide bombers and other martyrs and zealots, of whom we have lately seen too many.

Let us return Persia, with its magnificent culture, to Iran. A difficult choice, imposed upon us, can still lead to a better tomorrow for Teheran and the region as a whole. Would Truman have hesitated, if …?

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