Developments under way throughout a volatile Middle East are in fast-forward. An array of sharply conflicting interests and visions collide as the region lurches toward a new order that will have far-reaching consequences for democracy, modernity, and prosperity throughout the region—as well as security throughout the world. That much is apparent. But what that order will be, and how much more or less dangerous, violent, and bloody it will get—and who the eventual winners and losers will be—is anything but.
Certainly policy and opinion makers in Washington have gained a new appreciation for the powerful if not defining role played by sectarianism in the Arab and Islamic world in the upheaval that followed the September 11th attacks, war, and the Arab uprising. The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, probing and enlightening as always, peels away some layers in Syria and beyond to illuminate how the “ancient virus of religious hatred” has underpinned alliances and drawn battle lines that transcend national borders, sometimes perplex outsiders, and greatly disadvantage those who aspire to plant democracy in this unsettled region whose soil has been salted by hatred.
Although new hot spots appear every day, ultimately the Middle East’s most explosive danger lies in Iran, which by all accounts is on the edge of achieving its long-standing ambition to be a nuclear war power. Washington and Jerusalem are not alone in their declarations that this cannot happen. Many European and Middle Eastern governments have made clear that they too fear the nuclearization of the Islamic Republic. However, if ratcheted-up sanctions, embargoes, and diplomacy fail to force Tehran’s clerics to step back from the brink, it will fall to the United States or Israel, or both, to consider the military option. We asked two experts, a former senior NSC official in the George W. Bush administration, Elliott Abrams, and former Congressman Robert Wexler (Democrat from Florida), to stake out positions on how this option could and should be exercised.
Beyond the diplomatic and military maneuverings outside Iran, there are also signs of political maneuverings within that could tip the balance of power toward a less rigid leadership in the future. Indiana University’s Jamsheed Choksy discusses the other political forces competing with the mullahs and speculates that a domestic power struggle, perhaps now getting under way, could eventually transform the government in Tehran into something approaching representational and secular.
While we have watched the continental drama of “lazy, profligate, scheming Greeks versus honest, thrifty, industrious Germans,” and wondered where the euro crisis will end, John Rosenthal takes a step back and asks where it began and then offers a counterintuitive, some will say heretical, defense of Europe’s PIGS—Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain—arguing that these smaller economies were victims of the euro itself and that European Monetary Union essentially represented a power grab that was rigged to enhance French and German competitiveness and economic standing in the name of euro-unification at the expense of Europe’s smaller nations.
Speaking of counterintuitive, the economic upheaval of recent years may have breathed new life into that ancient and forever failed utopian dream that just won’t die. The new neo-communists don’t come from China, Vietnam, Russia, or Cuba—where the notion has been tried but abandoned twenty million or so executions and starvations (and destroyed economies) later. Rather, the revivalists are a scattered lot hailing from within the bourgeois professorate in Western universities who know the dream will work this time. We debated whether this latest resurrection of the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist ideal deserved pages and ink in World Affairs, but then a thousand people paid upwards of a hundred pounds each to attend a three-day conference in London, “The Idea of Communism,” to contemplate the long march ahead. We asked Alan Johnson of the UK to look into it. He doesn’t disappoint.
Finally, historian Ron Radosh looks back sixty years at two interrelated Cold War trials—a show trial in Prague and a real one in New York—to remind us of the savage effectiveness of the Stalinist propaganda war and the eagerness of American and European fellow travelers to march under its banner of lies. Too bad Ron didn’t have the opportunity to speak at that London conference.
There’s more—Shehzad Qazi on the troubled US-Pakistan relations and why, and how, Washington needs to rethink them. James Kirchick offers another insightful and on-point book review, this time on Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom. Don’t miss it.
As always, let us know how we’re doing and don’t forget to follow international news and opinion, updated several times a day, at WorldAffairsJournal.org.
— James S. Denton