Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Middle East Ramblings

Does the situation in the Middle East seem to get stranger and stranger with every passing day?

Elections look like they'll be won by "the good guys" and then suddenly that candidate is under house arrest and the in's are still in. "Poor people in the countryside" apparently tipped the election away from the more educated city-dwellers making such a splash on Western televisions. All those green scarves and young faces were not enough to change the political climate. Haven't heard much from the Grand Ayatollah, though. Since he's the man who's ultimately in charge, it seems fair to say that Iran's political landscape has changed its haircut but not by much. Instead of a perm and a new color, Iran got a shampoo and a blow-dry.

Netanyahu says he's all in favor of a two state resolution to the Palestinian/Israel conflict, so long as the two states don't undermine his political influence at the moment. The Palestinians who are desperate for their own homeland are so poorly served by their leaders that the ultimate question, "Who speaks for the Palestinians", is nearly unanswerable. Certainly they were ill-served in 1948 by those leaders who rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state at the same time that the Zionists were accepting the sliver of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Waiting for everything they wanted led them to cutting off their noses to spite their faces - which could be the theme for all things Arab/Jew in that region. And now, when the fate of the settlements and Jerusalem and Hamas/Hezbollah/Fatah are all on the table for discussion (between anyone and everyone who wants a piece of the conversation), entrenched interests are, once again, making it nearly impossible for anyone to move in any direction without trampling on someone else's toes. President Obama's plea for the commonalities to outweigh the distinctions was beautful rhetoric that hit the ground like a pancake. A little syrup is running over the sides (Hariri's successor winning in Lebanon was certainly sweet) but for the most part the situation is sticky, stuck to the plate, and just a bit rancid.

A list of pro-US states in the region given at our CAU seminar did not include Qatar. Yet Cornell has a vibrant medical program in the country, which includes training in the US for pre-med students. The Saudi Arabian government is our ally, yet the 9/11 bombers were Saudi's. We're releasing Uighurs from Guantanamo to Palau (what a loooong, strange trip that'll be) because our list of friends with benefits (in this case, take our detritus, please) is becoming embarrassingly short. The world looks to us for solutions because, since Lend/Lease, we've become the "go-to guy" for just about everything. With the barriers fluid and the the prospects for peace dim, only an optimistic nation like ours would do more than run screaming from the show. But mucking around in a neighborhood whose boundaries were drawn by straight-edges on parchment maps is inevitably going to bring the practical face to face with the intractable.

And so, I end this post the same way I end every answer to "How was your trip? How was your class" : Fascinating and Depressing.

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