Tuesday, November 14, 2006


It looks like the powers that be (literally) are moving more or less consciously toward the only possible future for the Middle East: recognition that nuclear power implies responsibility.  I'm venturing to say here that I think we may see in coming months a down-playing of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, in favor of allowing it to participate in the stabilisation of a region upon which an important element of the world's economy depends.

It's too early in the day to know what Tony Blair will be saying to the Iraq Commission, but hints just heard on CNN suggest that Blair, for all his mistaken agreement to the invasion, now sees clearly that leadership in world affairs can now only be collegial among all ten (or so) nuclear powers.  On the Eurasian continent, that includes Iran, Pakistan and India.  Hence the proposal to bring Iran into the negotiations concerning Iraq's future.

But the core issue in Iraq is what to do about the ethnic and religious differences between its constituent peoples.  Sandra Mackey's detailed history of internal hatred and aggression in "The Reckoning" published in 2002, shows the plausibility - possibly the necessity - of a three-state solution.  Hence the need to also bring in Syria, and, I would add, Turkey.

For reasons which I have yet to discover, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey have all been been intent on depriving the Kurds of a united country. They almost got it after the first world war, and the Allied change of heart has been in a way the tail that has wagged the dog in that region for almost a hundred years, influencing in a disastrous way decisions on major issues concerning the four countries in which they live as minorities.

Returning now to Iraq: the Sunnis, located in the western part of the country, have long flirted with Syria (Saddam and Hafez al Asssad had even set up a short-lived union); the Shia in the east share their religious heritage with Iran.  And the Kurds deserve a state of their own.  The Turks would appear to be the most difficult to persuade, after decades of warfare against their Kurds.  But perhaps recognition by the United States of a new power configuration including a nuclear Iran, will cause Turkey to decide to make its future with the Middle East rather than with Europe, about which they now have serious misgivings anyway. Within that context, it may feel it can let go of its Kurds as part of a regional confederation modelled on the European Union.

This may sound grandiose, but it's probably the only reasonable way out of a situation in which people from Gaza to Kabul are dying by the hundreds - or thousands - every day.

What this will imply for Israel is recognition that it has to be a part of that world, rather than an American surrogate.

Friday, November 3, 2006


I guess everyone has a quote from their school-days that sticks in their mind.  Mine is Marie Antoinette's famous quip on being told the people had no bread.  She reportedly said "Let them eat cake", but actually that may have been less a question of the Queen's cynicism than of  her  all too human oblivion.

Everyone suffers from it, and that's why we get so much tzuris.  Yesterday's big news, aside from the war, was that experts on ocean fish were caught by surprise when a report came out saying there may not be anymore by 2048 - 42 years from now, within the lifetime of our children.  I think it's less a matter of  insufficient tools or knowledge than ingrained inability to foresee consequences: the French queen lost her neck over it, we'll have to switch to high cholesterol meat - but by that time it's likely there won't be enough meat to feed all the affluent Chinese plus the rest of us.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against Chinese affluence, just against oblivion.  And oblivion is everywhere: in our conviction that a bunch of scruffy Arabs could do anything sophisticated - or even that they could realize they've been getting the short straw for too long.  Read Sandra Mackey's 2002 book "The Reckoning, Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein" to find out just how oblivious the Bush administration has been in its pipe-dream for Iraq of its modern history: it didn't come together as a country until Saddam Hussein, much like Tito in Yugoslavian, another multi-ethnic country, systematically bashed heads together.  The idea that we could "transform" that country by military fiat would have been obvious to anyone who would have taken the trouble to read Mackey's book, which also details the failed - and strikingly similar - British attempt to secure Iraq's oil before World War II.  At least the British had a geopolitical reason of sorts for wanting a presence in Mesopotamia: to protect the then crown jewel of India. We just want the oil, and like Marie Antoinette, we don't believe our oblivion will come back to haunt us.