Obama Looks Strong: But World Events He Can't Control are Election Wild Card
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The truth is, from Iran to Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Libya to Yemen, despite almost four years of Obama’s ministrations and management, war and diplomacy, the Bush legacy is still threatening to blow the region sky-high. It could easily happen any time in the 43 days before November 6th. Which is why, from Sudan to Libya, the Obama administration is playing little Dutch boy, trying to plug every hole it can in the Middle Eastern dike and praying that any coming tsunami won’t hit before the election.
A World at the Boiling Point
The question of the political season, then, has nothing to do with Mitt. It’s this: Can the Greater Middle East be managed effectively enough for any potentially embarrassing thing to be swept under some rug until November 7th? And that’s just one region on a planet aboil.
Similar questions could be asked of Israeli policy on Iran where Prime Minister Netanyahu has been, quite literally, on the warpath and in the Obama administration’s face. He has been pushing for a green light for Israeli strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities or guaranteed red lines that would lead to such strikes. To an outside observer, it might almost seem that “Bibi” is on TV in the U.S. often enough these days to be running for office. From late night presidential phone calls to a stream of messages to Tel Aviv, some offering promises, others warnings, the Obama administration has been putting enormous energy into ensuring that no Israeli strike on Iran will take place before election day (and on this they are likely to succeed). But keep in mind that, to placate Israel, the U.S. has built up its forces in the Persian Gulf region to such an extent that any misstep anywhere could result in a blow-up that neither Washington nor Tehran wants.
When it comes to the disintegrating American position in Afghanistan, almost 11 years after victory was declared and the Bush administration decided to occupy the country rather than go home, the news is grim. The whole mission on which the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops is ostensibly based -- to train the Afghans to stand up and fight for their country -- has essentially been put on hold. That’s hardly surprising, since Washington’s Afghan allies are now regularly standing up and, with the weapons and training U.S. mentors have given them, blowing those mentors away.
Meanwhile, the actual enemy, the Taliban, supposedly surged into near nonexistence in its southern homeland, has just launched the most devastating attack on a military base of the war, resulting in at least $200 million in allied loses. (It’s their first attack that might even faintly be compared to those the Vietnamese launched against American bases in the 1960s.) The question once again is: Can Washington hang on in Afghanistan until November 7th, even if it has to put every Afghan training mission and joint operation on hold and confine American troops to their bases? The great advantage the Obama administration holds in this regard is that the American public has generally been paying next to no attention to the Afghan War. This, nonetheless, is a situation in which an American mission has a possibility of imploding (and unexpected voices are finally being raised on the issue of early withdrawal). And we haven’t even mentioned Afghanistan’s unsettled and unsettling nuclear neighbor Pakistan.
Keep in mind that the increasingly disturbed regional system we’re discussing just happens to be located in the energy heartlands of the planet and, in case you hadn’t noticed, prices at the pump have been rising lately. The Saudis are, however, now promising to put extra oil into the global system, which just might providentially help the Obama administration by lowering gas prices before November.