Sunday, January 21, 2007

Positive Developments In The Middle East?

At the end of a week punctuated by one of the most horrific bombings in Iraq, which killed dozens of Iraqi university students, and the loss of 25 U.S. soldiers in a single day, it may seem strange to note some positive developments in the Middle East.

Before I get to those, I ask anyone with a more pacifist bent to take a moment and recognize that we are dealing with seriously evil people who will not magically go away when we finally leave Iraq. Whatever one thinks about the invasion, the people we are fighting are as depraved as they come. Responsible opponents of the war have always recognized this. They have tirelessly argued that we must wage a smart and measured campaign against Islamic extremists in order to avoid creating just the type of power vacuum and massive recruiting opportunities that, in fact, we have created in Iraq.

On to the positive developments of the week:

1. Iraq

The Iraqi government appears to have reached a deal on oil-revenue sharing, with all Iraqis getting equal shares doled out by the central government. As I and many others have noted, putting aside sectarian issues, the fighting in Iraq is mainly over power and money, with oil at the center. If the parties agree on a revenue-sharing plan and it holds, this could be huge.

Iraqi troops, along with U.S. forces, have also arrested a main aide to Muqtada al-Sadr, along with hundreds of his associates. It is too early to tell whether this will be part of a sustained campaign to rein in the Mahdi Army, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. There are rumors that al-Sadr is simply telling his people to lay low during the surge and wait out the Americans; we will see.

2. Iran

It appears that the combined effects of the U.N. resolution against Iran, Iran’s lagging economic performance, the United States’s decision to move another aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf to demonstrate that America still has plenty of military capability, along with the crackdown on Iranian factions within Iraq, has seriously weakened Ahmadinejad’s standing both among his people and with Iran’s ruling council. There are even rumors that some Iranians want to strike a deal with the U.S. and are trying to ratchet down Iran’s nuclear program. As one who has long pointed out the extent to which the Iraq War has strengthened Iran, this is a very positive development. Our best hope has always been that regime change in Iran comes peacefully from within.

3. Lebanon

Hezbollah has been waging massive protests for the last couple of months in an attempt to bring down the Lebanese government. The government hasn’t budged and it appears that many of the Lebanese people, tired of the gridlock and the fighting, are turning against Hezbollah. This would be a great victory for the democratically-elected government that was badly damaged during the Israeli war last summer.

4. Palestine

There are encouraging signs that the Palestinians would like to initiate a new round of peace talks. The Israel government has released $100 million it owes to the Palestinian Authority and has agreed to rescind the creation of a proposed new settlement in the West Bank, in order to support Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, both of which are moderate relative to Hamas and recognize Israel’s right to exist. This seems like a wise move that should pay dividends.

Do these developments signify a trend towards moderation and less violence? It’s too early to tell, but given the backward slide of 2006, the new year is off to a promising start on the political front. Let us hope that a sustainable peace can be achieved.

Jason Scorse

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