- - Sunday, January 29, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Diverted by the essential - if sometimes burlesqued - spectacle of America’s quadrennial search for leadership, policymakers have tried to put international problems on hold. But the task of dealing with wannabe-totalitarian outcroppings in the Islamic world from Casablanca to Zamboanga City remains critical and demanding, and may take as long as the struggle with Moscow’s communism. Consider:

*Syria, with its uneasy collection of ethnic and religious minorities, threatens its neighbors as it descends into full-blown civil war. Rather than risk shaking loose a torrent of animosities, Washington has succumbed to the theory of preferring the monster we know. Not only has that policy imploded, but the acknowledged failure of the Arab League to find a “solution” puts the question of whether there can be any coordinated Arab response to the threat from Iran, for which Damascus has been acting as a surrogate in the Levant.

*Iran appears to be moving quickly - despite sabotage from indeterminate sources - toward nuclear weapons. Whether the mullahs’ threats to wipe out Israel are Hitlerian or Mussolini-ish, Tehran’s success would assure regional dominance and control of world oil - or an even worse nightmare: a nuclear arms race among the primitive Persian Gulf states. Washington’s dilemma: ratchet up sanctions, risking higher oil prices that imperil the euro and the global economic recovery, or repair straitened relations with Israel in pursuit of an unpredictable military “solution,” perhaps unleashing regional chaos.

*Egypt’s elections threw up an Islamicist majority, giving the lie to more optimistic forecasts. The Arab Spring would replace corrupt authoritarianism with intimations of “democracy,” but tourism is rapidly declining, which is aggravating massive youth unemployment and undermining Cairo’s ability to buy food to feed its population of 65 million. Washington’s see-no-evil bribing of the region’s largest army - an average of $2 billion annually since 1979 - is now totally inadequate, with Cairo needing a minimum of $11 billion just to get through the current emergency.

*Headstrong leadership has introduced creeping Islamization to Turkey’s vaunted secular model, in a search for former Ottoman grandeur throughout the region. Ankara’s repudiation of the alliance with Israel in pursuit of that objective short-circuits all American policy wires in the region. Furthermore, naive so-called “Islamic banking” practices are destroying Turkey’s economic boom, which has been the mainstay of the Erdogan regime. Washington’s warmed-over Cold War policies portraying Ankara as NATO’s southeast anchor are looking increasingly suspect. Nor can the U.S. ignore Turkey’s conflicted relationship with Iran, its principal energy supplier and its competitor for regional hegemony.

*Pakistan, home to a tenth of the world’s Muslims, teeters as it has throughout its history. All of the country’s vital signs beep more slowly: gross domestic product, income, nutrition, education, social stability, religious tolerance. Once considered immune to Islamic fanaticism, Pakistan now houses a veritable jihadist factory with diaspora tentacles in Britain and other Western countries that connect to worldwide terrorism. America’s $20 billion in aid to support “democracy” there since 2001 has only paved a road to hell with good intentions - underwriting a venal feudal Potemkin government and aiding a military that finds itself discredited by corruption and embarrassment over the Osama bin Laden raid. Pakistan’s leadership, always mesmerized by its rivalry with India, sees the Obama administration’s Afghanistan drawdown - and India’s growing Indian influence in Kabul - as another dip in the on-and-off U.S. alliance, and no amount of aid or pressure is likely to deter Islamabad from seeking answering strategies.

*The Persian Gulf satrapies - intoxicated with real estate extravaganzas, white elephant museums and mock American-affiliated universities - make little social progress, dependent on a huge, alienated imported slave workforce, while haphazardly “recirculating” untold wealth from their energy exports. Candidate Barack Obama’s turnabout on blocking U.S. fossil-fuel production appears more rhetoric than reality. American production restraints will only fuel stagflation and deepen the world recession.

*Were all that not enough, Europe’s leaders acknowledge that “multiculturalism” has failed the Continent’s rapidly growing Muslim immigrant population, a reflection of Europe’s inability to deal with larger issues. President Obama’s own “open fist” cultural and political initiative to the Muslim world has been met with disdain. And as even this simplistic accounting demonstrates, the Obama administration’s monomaniacal fumbling with the Arab-Israeli feud represents a major miscalculation of the region’s real priorities.

Decision, decisions - and how many can wait until January 2013?

Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at solsanders@cox.net and blogs at www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.