The Obama legacy hinges on four very shaky legs. As world financial markets collapse, the future of the global economy cannot bode well for the president’s final year in office. The partisan divide within the American polity (a divide that Obama promised to bridge) is now as severe as it has been in the last one hundred and fifty years. The current US election cycle proves this point strongly.
The Iran nuclear deal has about as much chance of being sustainable as the Clinton North Korean debacle did when crafted in the 1990s. Since that time, the rogue state has become somewhat of a nuclear powerhouse, and the Obama administration currently has no strategy to combat this development. Iran and North Korea are strong allies. As Pyongyang develops its long-range arsenal, so too will Tehran. And finally, there is Syria and the complete absence of US leadership in the Middle East.
These last two points are a most serious concern to all of America’s allies, both in NATO and in the Middle East. As Turkey goes, so goes NATO. And as Syria goes, so goes the Middle East. But Obama appears unconcerned, almost complacent about these dangerous developments. From Ankara to Riyadh to Jerusalem to Cairo, the reality of Russian and Iranian power has engulfed the region. All the while, US Secretary of State John Kerry appears to count on the goodwill of Khamenei and Putin to stop the carnage in Syria. But the Russians and the Iranians aren’t playing to goodwill. Instead they’re playing the hardest of international hardball, and refugees and corpses are mere pawns in their ruthless game.
This can’t go on for long; too many national redlines are being crossed. Moscow is pushing Turkey into a corner. Washington seems more concerned about ISIS than about standing behind Ankara, as Putin talks wildly about Kurdish terrorist autonomy (or worse) on Turkey’s southern border. Sooner or later Turkey must act. Doesn’t Obama understand that the PKK and their subsidiaries are not the same as the KRG? Meanwhile, ISIS would cease to be a threat within the entire Levant if the US stood up to Iran. Turkey and the Sunni Arabs detest ISIS and all it stands for. But the number one problem for Sunni Arabs is Iranian hegemony in Syria and Iraq. This Persian imperialism cannot be tolerated, and unless Washington begins to face this reality, its position throughout the Middle East could be permanently jeopardized.
Once Putin proves to the region (and Europe as well) that American support is untrustworthy, Moscow will have the upper hand in both regions. Already Israel has some kind of understanding with Russia regarding its own Syrian and Lebanese redlines. But I cannot believe that Jerusalem is willing to live with an Iranian permanence within Syria. Whatever Putin has been peddling to Netanyahu, it hasn’t translated into any kind of assurance within Israel’s Sunni neighborhood. On the contrary, the Sunni Arab world is falling apart, Turkey appears isolated and without a NATO umbrella, Jordan has already been intimidated by Moscow, and Egypt’s historic role as leader of the Arab world has diminished because of an economic morass.
However, the world economy is also in dire shambles as Keynesian capitalism crumbles in a sea of red ink. Today the price of oil fell below the 27 dollar-a-barrel level. This bodes ill for all oil producers and states dependent on oil producers. Yet the geopolitics of power trumps even economics, at least for the foreseeable future. As the nuclear clock clicks down toward Iranian threshold capability (eight years, five years, sooner?) the region cannot economically afford a nuclear arms race. On top of everything else — war, Russian intervention, state dismemberment — such a development would be insanity. Using Einstein’s definition — “insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”– wouldn’t it be wise for the Middle East and Europe to completely change direction?
Europe and the Middle East are connected at the hip. Russia is using Syria to weaken both NATO and the EU through an immoral and cynical use of airpower. This negative strategy has created a refugee crisis not seen since the end of WWII. But in Europe, the Russians have felt that the Western allies have pushed into Moscow’s backyard. As NATO has expanded eastward, Russia’s own redlines were disregarded by a US hegemony and hubris associated with the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of its post- WWII occupation of eastern Europe. This hegemonic hubris is at the root of the current Russian policy in Syria. Russia, like Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, cannot tolerate powerful international powers lurking on its borders. No country can tolerate such a situation.
Remember the Cuban missile crisis? The US was willing to risk global nuclear war in order to have the Soviet missiles removed. These missiles were only ninety miles from the US state of Florida. But the US also had its own NATO missiles aimed directly at Soviet territory. These missiles were located just across the Black Sea in Turkey. In those days, Turkey was a valued American ally. Finally a compromised was reached; both sets of missiles were to be removed. Only the US demanded that the missiles aimed at the Soviet Union from Turkey would be removed in secrecy, without any publicity. In other words, the US needed to spin the crisis politically to its own advantage. Can you believe it? The world risked atomic war over political public relations!
Today, the times are equally perilous. The Sunni Arab world is dying for the sake of a Russian and Iranian push-back against both a regional NATO and an American Persian Gulf hegemony. Russia could actually replace the US as the Middle East regional hegemon. Or it could partner with Iran in order to fulfill the same role. Either way something has to give, and it has to give soon. Egypt, Israel and Turkey cannot tolerate an Iranian surrogate in Damascus. But these three countries have cold relations with each other. Therefore, their ability to pursue a coordinated regional agenda remains dormant. Their regional interests coincide, but there are other less vital constraints which, up to this point, have prohibited any dramatic political rapprochement.
Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood are key stumbling blocks to warmer relations. The Israeli body politic cannot countenance any peace plan with the Palestinians which does not allow for Israeli religious, political and security rights on the West Bank. The West Bank is not the Sinai, and conventional demilitarization is not a lasting concept within the region of the Middle East. Israel’s precarious strategic position prior to the 1967 war is not something it will ever repeat. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is a direct result of that precarious strategic position. The idea that a complete withdrawal by Israel (back to the 1949 Armistice lines) is necessary for a strong Turkish-Egyptian-Israeli response to Iranian/Russian imperialism is a non-starter.
But if the US won’t act against such blatant Iranian-Russian aggression, and the people of Syria are forced in the millions to seek “sanctuary” in an increasingly inhospitable Europe, then only a united Sunni-Israeli response can prevent such a dire turn of events. The nations of the Middle East can ill afford to sit idly by while the Arab world and Turkey are forced into submission by the blunt instrument of raw Russian-Iranian power. Certainly, Israel cannot allow itself to remain quiet in the face of such regional treachery. If the US has abandoned its regional position (after seven years of Obama, what else can be assumed), then a Grand Bargain must be conceived to force the world community into action. Turkey and Egypt might have limited clout within US politics, but Israel certainly has many friends, including both Democrats and Republicans.
Israel also has clout in Germany. A powerful German response to the Syrian disaster has become a must. If the US won’t support its Turkish-NATO ally, then NATO has become an alliance built on quicksand. If the US won’t back up its long-standing Middle East allies (because Obama naively believes the Iranian leadership to be moderate), then Israel needs to update its special relationship with Germany. And Germany desperately needs an alternative diplomatic strategy with regard to the deteriorating political-refugee crisis situation in Europe.
An Egypt-Israel-Turkey Grand Bargain in conjunction with a unified German Ostpolitik would be a powerful diplomatic tool toward Russian acceptance of a Syrian political settlement. However, the only workable settlement for Syria must be without Assad and Iranian interference. An alternative Middle East regional security construction, and the prospect of a new and unique military architecture for Europe (including Russia), could be a powerful incentive for peace and cooperation. Perhaps Berlin, not Washington, holds the key to 21st Century peace.
Here is my fourteen point Egypt-Israel-Turkey Grand Bargain: 1). A Zone of Peace shall be established among the states of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, so that trade and navigation shall move uninterrupted. 2). All foreign navies shall be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 3). All foreign air forces shall equally be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 4). No state within the Zone of Peace may attack another state. 5). If such an attack should occur, the permanent members of the UN Security Council would automatically come to the aid of the aggrieved state, and points 2 and 3 would become temporarily suspended. 6). If such an attack should occur, the states within the Zone of Peace would come to the aid of the aggrieved state. 7). Only sovereign states would be allowed to possess military equipment. Extra-territorial militias would be outlawed. 8). Nuclear enrichment would not be allowed and its enforcement by the strictest verification regime of the IAEA would become the norm. The reprocessing of plutonium would be strictly prohibited. 9). All states within the Zone of Peace must recognize and have diplomatic relations with all other states. 10). All states in the Zone of Peace must sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), and negotiations for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone must begin no later than 24 months after all states have finalized mutual recognition. 11). All states in the Zone of Peace must respect the human rights of their citizens, and states whose use of force against their own people violates international standards shall be suspended from the Zone of Peace. 12). All states in the Zone of Peace shall pledge their allegiance to a non-hegemonic regional structure, and states within the Zone of Peace will also pledge not to conspire with other states for the purpose of such hegemony. 13). All states within the Zone of Peace must strictly abide by the rules (to be established) for the equitable dispensation of all regional hydraulic resources. 14). The Zone of Peace is NOT dependent on a conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, this conflict shall be decided through negotiations among the parties themselves without coercion or outside interference. Genuine compromise and goodwill must become the principles upon which these negotiations rest.
Recently, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Israel has argued that such a zone should not be established until there is a peace agreement between Israel and all the Arab states of the region. I agree. My Egypt-Israel-Turkey Grand Bargain would be a way to bridge all the regional gaps.
Berlin and Moscow also need to confront the demons of WWII and the Cold War with its murky aftermath. In conjunction with a Middle East Grand Bargain, a coordinated European Ostpolitik is the way forward toward peace. The Arab people of Syria have suffered enough; it is time to call off the dogs of war. If the US is unable to lead, then it is up to others to take up the mantle of peace. Let the Middle East Grand Bargain and Germany lead the way. In the final analysis, a lasting peace is in everyone’s interest. This even includes Iran, the Palestinians, and certainly the Syrian people, whose initial revolt for democracy must ultimately be respected.