"Quo vadis?" (where are you going? in Latin) asked St. Peter fleeing from certain crucifixion in Rome, when he met Jesus. According to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, Jesus answered, "Eo Romam iterum crucifigi, (I am going to Rome to be crucified again." )
Is it time to ask, Quo vadis the U.S policy in the Middle East?
The list of Middle Eastern countries friendly to the U.S is shrinking. The unwritten, un-heralded in-Main-Street alliance of interests between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Israel, evaporated. President Mubarak of Egypt is history; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah of Jordan are busy maintaining their shaky control over their respective countries -- both with a combustible mixed population. Jordan with a 60% Palestinian population and Saudi Arabia with 20% Shiites in this fervently Sunni country. Turkey has turned its back to the West and is aligning with Iran and Syria, as if it was not a member of NATO. That leaves Israel as the only stable country in the region. That's a lot, but not enough. Other than calling the countries in the Middle East to listen to their people, is the U.S moving forward affirmatively to maintain stability as well as encourage democracy?
From the Arab countries' perspective, the U.S can no longer be relied upon as a long term ally. Right or wrong, they regard the U.S policy toward Egypt when it demanded that President Mubarak -- a long term ally of the U.S, step down immediately, as an ominous sign. Their sobering up is not misplaced; if Mubarak was dropped like a hot potato, how would the U.S react and what would happen to them if the political winds in their countries changed direction? The Obama administration is aware of the doubts casted and is making efforts to make it clear to the Saudi King that his country is not Egypt. Will that be enough? Probably, because the Saudis have no real alternative. The stakes are huge; there are two million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, residing in the oases of Qatif and al-Hasa in the Eastern Province, which is also home to the world's greatest concentration of oil assets and about 90 percent of Saudi Arabia's oil production. If the Shiites follow the pattern of the Bahraini Shiites' demonstrations demanding a bigger political say, Saudi Arabia would be in a serious turmoil. But what about other countries in the region?
At the sidelines, or maybe even in center field stands Iran with a smile of the cat that ate the canary. In this zero sum game, if your opponent loses, you win. The Iranians didn't start the fire in the Middle East, but they are quick to use it to their benefit. With three Western allies in turmoil, Iran is the big winner. Although some statesmen and scholars believe that a Western modus vivendi with Iran is possible, others claim with the same degree of certitude that it would be impossible to reach any sort of long term settlement with Iran. Look at recent history they say, the popular uprising in Tehran in 1979 was a result of the Shah's attempt to quickly "westernize" Iran, putting behind centuries of religious and conservative customs. That reality was misread by President Reagan's advisors who tried to open new inroads to Tehran. In May 1986 Robert C. McFarlane President Reagan's National Security Adviser and his party went to Tehran to negotiate the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Iranian supporters. The mission carried a Bible with a handwritten verse from President Reagan for Iranian leaders and a key-shaped cake to symbolize the anticipated ''opening'' to Iran.
The overtures turned out to be a major embarrassment. The hostages were not immediately freed, and an American goodwill gesture was interpreted by the Iranian as weakness. Tehran is not Washington DC or London. The local rules are different, and if you don't play by them, and bring your own rules from home, you lose.
Is the Obama administration reading the map correctly? The most intrinsic Raison d'être of the current Iranian regime is to oppose the U.S, its culture, politics and way of life. There could be no interim hiatus in the Iranian expression of hatred toward the U.S, except when it serves Iranian interests. When these interests are exhausted, the fundamental policy of opposition to the U.S is resumed. The Iranians do not hide their aspirations and intentions: They seek to be recognized as the regional superpower, ultimately with a permanent seat at the U.N Security Council; they want to be recognized as the leader of the world's 1.6 billion Muslim population and orient them to oppose the U.S, and they want the destruction of the State of Israel.
The Iranians work diligently and relentlessly toward reaching their goals. Iran exports not only the tenets of the Islamic Revolution as advocated by Ayatollah Khomeini, but also exports money, weapons and ammunition to any Muslim country that would accept it, such as Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Gaza. Iranian agents are meddling in Iraq and Sudan, and undercover Iranian intelligence agents operate in Asia, Africa, in Paraguay and in several other South American countries. Stay tuned until news will emerge how the Iranians managed to dip their hands into the Egyptian fray, or in the Bahrain Shiites demonstrations. Ironically, the riots in Libya are helping Iran to ease the pressure created by the UN sanctions on its budget. The rise in the price of oil compensates Iran for losses created by the sanctions.
Iran's nuclear plans continue, the U.N sanctions notwithstanding. With Iran armed with a nuclear bomb, the world will be different, not just the Middle East. The oil rich Gulf States including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will have to align with Iran who could hike the price of oil to the stratosphere and bring the West to its knees. A repeat of the U.S invasion to Kuwait and the resulting Gulf War I, when Saddam Hussein threatened the continuous oil supply from Kuwait could not be replayed if Iran is nuclear.
Quo vadis U.S policy in the Middle East? Taking affirmative acts to protect the U.S and the free world's interests or maybe allow it to be politically and economically crucified -- Iranian style?
Follow Haggai Carmon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/haggaicarmon