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6:29AM

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: How Obama's Cairo Rhetoric Could Really Unfold

Despite the president's soaring speech on partnering with the world, one foreign-policy expert sees globalization splintering the Arab Islamic world -- to the tune of an Israeli air strike, Saudi-Iranian proxy wars, more nuclear weapons, and Obama's tough re-election battle in 2012.

Click here to read Tom's Esquire.com column for today.

Reader Comments (11)

My biggest concern about the Ugly Scenario: Does Netanyahu become the 21st Century's Gavrilo Princip? Not that it could trigger a great power war, but could it bring back the Cold War and de-rail globalization for decades to come? If Iran decides it has to expedite its nuclear progam, as it undoubtedly would, wouldn't they inevitably bring Russia into the mix, both as a supplier of nuclear technology and to get its own nuclear umbrella to counteract Israel and the US? And oil-dependent China and India, wouldn't they also cool towards the US, possibly including economic retaliation - they are pretty PO'd about budding US protectionism as it is and wouldn't this just be the final straw? And even if the Saudi royals were privately pleased to see Israel attack Iran, wouldn't they also be forced to take a public posture of condemnation towards both Israel and the US for fear of retaliation by the "Arab street", not to mention the sizable Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia? It seems to me that this scenario leaves the US virtually isolated except for our "ally" Israel (whoopee!) and much, much weaker politically and economically. This could be the scenario that literally does lead to the "post-American world."
June 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstuart abrams
While the outcome scenario might be correct, I think the moving parts may be more complex.

Hezbollah may not be as tightly on Iran's leash as they were - post elections where I suspect they will perform well despite all the outside meddling, their integration into mainstream will continue. US has to engage Hezbollah at some point and earlier is better. I see their role less as disprupters in the long term. Therefore, a dual prong Hezbollah-Hamas prong might be a little blunted on one tine. I do not think it will be a repeat of 2006

Secondly, if Netanyahu does elect to go he is going to button up the occupied territories so tight Hamas will have difficulty breathing let alone anything else. Despite the realities, there is a symbolism to the Palestinian cause that the Arab nations will find hard to let go. Will they just react with rhetoric and bile - based on recent history yes as long as Egypt remains unresponsive which appears solid. Israel needs the Arab dictatorships to remain strong, it is what keeps the local population controlled. If democracy ever does go rampant in region, Israel should start to worry.

Syria is wavering - I think the lack of rapprochement from Obama stung them publicly, despite the behind the scenes work. Not to sure how they will play out - they might meddle but lack sharp claws

Iran will respond in Iraq and Afghanistan - so yes the US will be mired, but in practical terms, aren't they already? Iran's response in the Gulf will be telling, what is their real ability to disrupt shipping and oil supply?

If Israel does strike they really are going rogue, and I would hope Obama gets them under control. They can be controlled fiscally but fighting the domestic lobby is nigh on impossible. Frankly, Netanyahu is not affecting the longer term outcome, just delaying for a couple of years until the Knesset fissures again and they are back to the polls. Hell of a price for everybody to pay, IMHO, just to let Netanyahu play Emperor for a little while longer.

I also think the speech is little more than window dressing, and taht the messaging is off key points as I discuss here http://tinyurl.com/mcgrwv. I think he and his team better be on shuttle diplomacy at hyper speed currently, if Israel can't be kept under control
June 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStuart
The Israeli "Right" has it's man in power now. Netanyaho is a "button pusher" if there ever was one. There was only one Israeli soldier killed in the famous Entebbe raid and it was the Lt. Col. commanding, who was Netanyahu's brother. This is a very tough minded individual. I have watched this man over the years and he is the kind of guy you want on your side in an alley fight. If I was working in one of those Iranian nuclear sites right now I think I might be sending out some resumes or maybe looking to go back to school. Some place like Zurich.
June 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTed O'Connor
Tom, doesn't your "Ugly" scenario miss one important thing? Any Israeli strike on Iran would have to overfly Iraq -- and we control the air rights above it. If a strike seems a real possibility, I'd expect our President to tell Netanyahu, "If you send your heavily-laden aircraft and slow, fuel-swollen tankers over Iraqi airspace, we will shoot them down." The alternative routes appear either impossible (over Saudi Arabia or Turkey) or extremely risky (flying all the way around the Arabian Peninsula). So is this really an option for Israel?
June 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCraig Charney
Sorry to be such a downer after such a soaring column, but what exactly would you have had the newly elect president say?

I do (as allways) appreciate your insights, but in this particular case I think your are (dissapointingly ) offering criticism without giving an alternative. Monday morining Quarterback, or just too comfortable speaking truth to 'the man'?

So let's hear it: The Thomas Barnett speech in Cairo? I know you are man for it! ;)
Talk is cheap...so why not use it.Arabs are passengers in the region.Drivers are Isreal and Iran.Netanyahu has boxed himself in with his own rheteoric , has few cards to play with.An Iranian attack just does'nt seem to part of his hand..regardless of the endless chatter.I think a fake diversionary deal / offer with Syria could pop out of nowhere...or we might get a 'Sharon' ...a right winger with enough clout to actually pull Israel into a comprehensive peace deal.I think the pessimism is misplaced.Netanyahu's publicly aired opinions are all going to be turned on their heads in the years to come by the man himself with his FM by his side....thats my guess.
June 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJavaid Akhtar
Geez Tom what a killjoy you can be. Here I was just savoring a speech from a president who actually knows how to write (and pronounce) correct English.Still, I'm with Torsten. What would you have said in Cairo? (or WTF-- Tehran, as you once proposed.)
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermichal shapiro
I think the likelihood of Israel doing an air strike in iran is growing dim. outside the hot air effect, they know that tactically it might well be worthless, kicking some sand dunes around, and possibly risking life of israeli pilots (and continuing the story of Ron Arad with possible big political drawbacks)

What would seem more possible is a targeted assassination of Hezbollah leadership, possibly the top leadership, a more more feasible scenario. this will create enough noise to draw all into the playing field, raise the proxy war hostility, and move some pieces around the table, will create vast hurdles for the president's agenda.
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoron
Good column, Tom . . while not prophetic, you're probably as close as anyone . .

To accurately predict any scenario, you have to consider the jillions of options that can(or might) be played out . . Too many actors, too many agendas . .

Kind of like predicting the local weather next year . . Chaos theory in action . .
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlarge
The ugly is even uglier when the AWACS planes that Reagan sold to the Saudis are factored in. They were flying with mixed Saudi/U.S. crews. Are they still? Sometime before Saddam invaded Kuwait I heard an Israeli say in response to a question in a public gathering in Phoenix, that the AWACS would not be allowed to be an issue in any Israeli national security mission. Shades of the USS Liberty. Obama's plate could get even fuller very fast, if they try to hit Iran.
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGerry
Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic offers the notion that it is Obama moving to bring down Bibi's gov't:

It seems to me that Obama is trying to force the collapse of Netanyahu's government. I base this mostly on intuition. Of course, the Obama Administration would never claim to be interfering in the internal politics of another country, but it seems obvious that Netanyahu's narrow coalition won't survive sustained American pressure on the settlements question. Netanyahu is in a terrible spot: He must preserve, at all costs, Israel's strategic relationship with Washington; on the other hand, he has right-wing coalition partners who are myopically obsessed with the status of the Neve Manyak outposts. Something is bound to break, and when it does, the Netanyahu government collapses. Which doesn't mean that Netanyahu is out of power. It means that he then shares power with Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima Party. If I were an American policymaker, that's the Israeli coalition I would hope for: Netanyahu-Barak-Livni, rather than Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman. You watch: It's coming.
June 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick O'Connor

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