The futurology of the Middle East

There is no need to spell out that Islamist terrorism is not, and never was, an existential threat to Western civilization as a whole. But this should not lead to a feeling of great relief, since it will have the potential to cause millions of deaths and unimaginable damage. Islamist terrorism is a security threat that will span a generation. But it will not last longer than two generations.

As for the oil, there will be as much oil as anyone might want. Large parts of Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia have not even been explored by the latest technological breakthroughs such as multilateral drilling and 3-D seismic drilling. However, oil prices will remain above the $100 mark per barrel for many years to come. While there is no objective reason for the current high level of prices, there is also no sign of any dramatic fall in prices.

Iran’s political position has got stronger. If the US quits Iraq prematurely, Persian hegemony in the Persian Gulf could become a reality, even without nukes. Iran will press ahead with its nuclear program until it masters the fuel cycle, and then will seek serious negotiations with the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.

The US policy towards Iran has been sanctions and more sanctions. Further sanctions are very unlikely to deflect Tehran from its nuclear ambitions. Iran’s pragmatist/reformist opposition is highly likely to triumph in the next presidential elections. This will lead to an opportunity for Mr. Bush’s successor, namely, Mr.Obama, to adopt a new policy of diplomatic engagement with Iran, offering a grand bargain to Tehran.

The reality about democratization of the Middle East that constituted the centerpiece of the Bush Doctrine, or what Mr. Bush has labeled the “freedom agenda,” is that it has been all but abandoned. An increasing number of the neo-conservatives who have given up on Mr. Bush believe that the “freedom agenda” was killed off not by the tough realities of the Middle East, and not by any strategical flaws, and not by its enemies’ counterattacks, but rather by its author’s loss of nerve in seeing it through, comprising the core principle in order to meet the diplomatic demands of the moment. Mr. Bush will hand on the Iraq, Iran, and Israeli-Palestinian problems to Mr. Obama in substantial disarray.

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