Monday, May 21, 2012

Ross and Friedman DIscuss the Middle East

Tom Friedman and Dennis Ross are two friends who often speak together about their favorite topic Middle East politics. I attended one such recent event and jotted down some notes on their relaxed assessment of the issue du jour--whether Israel will bomb Iran. For Ross the calculation for the Iran Supreme Leader is whether the costs of the nuclear option are worth the economic sacrifice. Iran is currently losing one million barrels a day of oil it cannot sell. The only reason that the sanctions are so effective today is because Israel has made it clear they will not accept an Iranian nuclear threat. They view such a threat in existential terms and the world has to take them seriously on this point. There is much speculation whether the recent elections in Israel strengthens the chance of war with three former heads of the military in the government and a much strengthened majority. Ross felt it makes no difference. The only way to tell whether the Iranians are serious is whether they will agree to regular talks which so far have been sporadic. As far as Mid East peace--Ross said two state solution only solution but lack of belief that will work out. For example when questioned 78% of Israelis favor Clinton peace parameters that Ross helped negotiate but the same number don't think it can happen. What is needed is confidence building measures that would talk about the reality that the settlements are only 1.5% of the available land. Needs to be realistic talk about the peace settlement. Both sides have to own it. Friedman was concerned about the recent $1.3 billion dollar aid package for Egypt--essentially a gift to the Egyptian army when 56 percent of Egyptian women are illiterate and 25 percent of men. Friedman could imagine a better approach but did not spell this out. On the other hand he praised the Iraq democratic process as imperfect as it is and US role as "mid wife." His worry about Syria is that there is no midwife to bring that country to democratic government and that Egypt's spring will be similarly disabled because the immediate result of the Arab spring was to bring the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to power and that whereas the other Islamic dictatorships had oil money to buy off the other interest groups --Egypt does not have that luxury. He saw the master narrative in the Middle East as Islam's need to come to terms with modernity. It was going to be a protracted struggle. Turkey is the only model out there to follow. In a question about China's role recent discoveries of natural gas makes us less dependent on foreign oil but China's needs for oil and to therefore cozy up to dictators will increase, question will they align themselves with democratic forces?

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