Random Observations on Some Recent Developments

A Scene from Dr. Strangelove.
A Scene from Dr. Strangelove.


Iran will never give up its nuclear program. To them, having nuclear capabilities and a few warheads and missiles on the side is meant tom inoculate them against foreign dabbling. Iranian officials believe that, unlike Saudi Arabia whose breakup will come largely due to mismanagement on part of the ruling establishment, the only way the Iranian establishment they could face serious domestic troubles will come as a result of clandestine activities supported by Western governments. Having nuclear weapons will prevent that possibility, so they think, even as American drones and intelligence operations are busy destabilizing Pakistan, which has long been a nuclear power.

Be that as it may, Iranian leaders have reasons to believe that the U.S. and other Western powers would eventually come around to accepting a nuclear Iran as a stabilizing force in the Middle East and elsewhere.


The current shenanigans in the U.S. Congress will do little to influence Iranian thinking on this issue. But then, John Boehner and the Republican Party are playing a largely domestic game with foreign cards. The Cold War taking place on American soil between the Left and the Right is recreating conditions abroad that are similar to those created by the Original Cold War that pitted the West against the Soviet Block. This new American civil war of sorts has political, economic and sociocultural fronts. The absence of a violent military aspect does take anything away from its serious nature and far reaching impact. Moreover, as is the case with cold wars, there is plenty of heat involved here, but one that is felt elsewhere, and is pretty devastating.

Meanwhile, a potential outcome of the current push by Speaker John Boehner on Iran talks might be to give President Obama someone to blame other than himself for when the talks with Iran fail to produce the desired compromise. Obama has repeatedly asserted that he won’t allow Iran to go nuclear during his presidency; yet, Iran simply cannot and will not give up on that goal. As such, the only possible “positive” outcome for the talks is an agreement that will postpone the inevitable for few short years, allowing Obama to kick the problem down the road. If Obama has any real guiding principle when it comes to foreign policy, this is it.

For Obama belongs to a school of thought that sees the current regional mess, with its global ramification, as being inevitable, and he thought that his primarily foreign policy mission is simply mitigate the potential consequences for America and her interests. There is nothing necessarily wrong in this thinking. The problem is in the approach adopted by Obama. It was simply short-sighted and claustrophobic. To Obama, it seems, America is this limited geographic entity, rather than a project for transforming the world that has been set in motion since WWI. That is extremely problematic. A retracting retrenching America will leave behind a void that will be filled by powers whose ideas of global transformation involves a return to an idealized medievalistic past ill-suited even for their societies not to mention the emerging global community.

Islamists are not the only ones who should come to mind here. The Russian and Chinese visions of the future also entail a revival of past glory, one that is centered on their own sense of identity and hegemonic desires, rather than accommodating global diversity.

America might have repeatedly failed in living up to its avowed ideals, especially on the global stage, but without American leadership, as flawed as it has been and will always be, the project for global democratic change, which is the raison d’être of the United Nations, and before it the League of Nations – institutions that would not have seen the light of day without America’s leadership, is left without champions; and the global transformation will be guided by powers whose sense of identity and the interests of their leading cadres are to bound to tear the global fabric apart rather than knit it into a new and more accommodating whole.

As such, Obama’s global leadership has been more informed by cynicism than realism. And the price tag for this will be quite heavy.


Those praying for a breakup of Saudi Arabia should think hard about their position. The breakup of Saudi will not decrease funding and support for global terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and other Wahhabi-inspired groups. On the contrary, it will drastically increase it. The existence of central authority in Saudi has always put a certain check on the amount of funding flowing to these groups, and has served to regulate it in accordance with priorities that allowed much room for negotiating between the Saudi monarchy, her allies and, even, her opponents. With a collapse of Saudi, the checks and regulations will weaken, if not disappear altogether. Al-Qaeda sponsors within the Saud family and beyond will have a free hand to sponsor terrorist groups everywhere in the world. To these elements and their myriad supporters, troubles at home will not sidetrack them, troubles will be a heaven-sent. They will use it to carve niches in the Holy Land, to attack Shiite communities, as well as reform minded elements, and to create troubles for their enemies, including Iran, Russia and the West, all over the world.

Moreover, and in response to such developments, Iran will have to increase her own support to terrorist groups and rogues regimes. And as they dabble in internal Saudi affairs, and they will have to, anger will sweep Sunni Muslim communities and will feed in the growing terrorist networks and violence. Led by the U.S., the response of Western governments will give enough justifications for extremists on all sides to launch attacks inside Europe and the U.S. Meanwhile the price of oil and natural gas will fluctuate widely, destabilizing many emerging economies, even as new markets and producers emerge.

While the breakup of Saudi Arabia may seem inevitable, we should not rule out the possibility that the behind the scene struggle for power could lead to the emergence of a capable pragmatic leader who could inject some fresh blood into the ailing monarchy and strike new deal between the various provinces and ideological strains within the kingdom. Such deal would require ability to appeal to “liberal” reformers and finding a way to dilute the influence of Wahhabi elements in society as well in the military and security establishments. Leveraging some long-term residents of the Kingdom by providing them and their families with citizenship, or even luring Arab moderates to the Kingdom with promises of jobs and citizenship might help in this matter. But such development admittedly remains an outside scenario for the kingdom.


Those who blame the rise of Islamism on Saudi Arabia engage in dangerous oversimplification. For while Saudi played a role, prevailing political, economic and social conditions in each Muslim-majority country played the larger part in facilitating the emergence of this dangerous phenomenon. After all, the rise Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with Saudi rulers who have always seen this movement as constituting a serious danger to their very being. Moreover, it is well-established that many of Al-Qaeda’s leaders, among other terrorist movements, have been more inspired by MB ideology than Wahhabism per se.


Populism is not a solution to elitism, anarchy is not the effective response to oligarchy, and Leftist ideologies are not cure to Rightist maladies. They simply represent additional problems: another set of polarizing developments with which we have to contend, as we try to move beyond magical thinking, towards a more rational and humane world order.