New Thinking, Not Tinkering, Expected of Obama

Monday, 10 Nov 2008 12:13 PM

By Arnaud de Borchgrave

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While the world economy is "slowing quickly" thanks to the subprime mortgage scandal, there isn't much President Obama can do over a longer period than anticipated. Reining in "unbridled" capitalism and paradigm shifts will have to wait. And euphoria is bound to be short-lived. But acting swiftly to re-engage the world is an imperative necessity.

We don't remember an election that elicited such interest from all over the world. And the world was clearly rooting for Sen. Barack Obama. New thinking, not tinkering, is now expected.

Between now and Jan. 20, the president-elect could profitably spend an evening listening to Prof. James L. Olds, the head neuroscientist at George Mason University's Krasnow Institute. Thus, he could hear about and discuss the mind-boggling advances that are still secret. The National Decade of the Mind Project could become President Obama's signature, as a man on the moon in the 1990s was JFK's.

The only way to govern in this ungovernable age of dysfunctional democracies is to think the impossible, act unpredictably, always leaving your opponent behind you, panting for breath, trying to catch up.

This is what Egypt's President Anwar Sadat told this reporter he had concluded from reading the memoirs of France's best-known leader since Napoleon, Gen. Charles de Gaulle. This unusually tall Frenchman, with the looks of a constipated supercilious camel (as Time magazine once described him), pulled France out of an eight-year war in Algeria, thus ignoring a majority of French people who believed he would keep the war-torn territory as an integral part of metropolitan France.

De Gaulle discarded the Fourth Republic's constitution, launched the Fifth Republic, whose constitution gave France stability and propelled it to the first rank of the world's advanced democracies. He gave France an independent nuclear deterrent, pulled his country out of NATO in 1966, and used his oratorical skills to undermine the U.S. war effort in Vietnam.

Like him or despise him, de Gaulle weaned France from its post-World War II dependency on U.S. geopolitical thinking.

Sadat, an obscure vice president with no political experience or clout, had kept an invisible profile in the shadow of the Arab world's new Saladin, a dictatorial demagogue worshiped by urban masses in 21 Arab countries. After Gamal Abdel Nasser's sudden death from heart disease in Oct. 1970, a novice like Mr. Obama, he began thinking and doing the impossible — peace with Israel. But Israeli leader Golda Meir was not interested, misread Sadat's signals, dismissed Sadat as "nothing but a Soviet puppet," accused this reporter of "being taken in."

Peace initiatives constantly rebuffed, Sadat then went to war against Israel to prove he was serious about peace. That's how nutty the real world can be when statesmen and women misinterpret each other's intentions. Munich 1938 is still the classic example that led to 60 million killed in World War II.

Sadat knew that if his army suffered major reverses on the battlefield, which it did, Saudi King Feisal would live up to his secret commitment to trigger the oil embargo, which he did. And which immediately restored a geopolitical balance of forces - and enabled Henry Kissinger to work his diplomatic magic.

Could Mr. Obama and Mr. Kissinger's latest successor work the same magic and produce the "viable and contiguous Palestinian state" pledged by Bush 43? Affirmative, provided it is seen as only one of several pieces in a three-dimensional geopolitical chess game.

Israel, Palestine-in-waiting, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are inextricably intertwined. Iran is bound to become a nuclear power, even if Israel, under a new prime minister next spring, say superhawk "Bibi" Netanyahu, decides to bomb, which would have been highly probable under a McCain-Palin-(Lieberman) administration.

Bombing Iran would automatically unleash devastating Gulf-wide retaliatory attacks with Iran's formidable asymmetrical warfare capabilities. With four of the world's eight nuclear powers to the north, west and east of Iran, there is no threat or incentive that would deter the theocrats in Tehran.

So Mr. Obama's priority objective has to be to discourage nuclear proliferation throughout the region, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. And this can only be done by providing a security guarantee to Arab states that feel threatened by Iran's nukes, comparable to the NATO guarantee that kept West European states assured throughout the Cold War that an attack against any member of the alliance was an attack against all of them. Known as NATO's Article 5, it has only been invoked once — by NATO's European members when the U.S. was attacked Sept. 11, 2001.

Iran, whether ruled by mullahs, generals or democrats and the rule of law, can also make or break political settlements over Palestine (through its clandestine control of Hezbollah and Hamas), as well as the two wars in the region where the U.S, is the key player — Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iran, therefore, should be the main thrust of Mr. Obama's diplomatic initiatives. The president-elect has said frequently he does not fear to talk to one's enemies. Iran would be a good place to start — beginning with a below-the-radar mission to Qom, the religious capital, by a high-ranking envoy (Bill Richardson has been ambassador to the U.N. and conducted secret missions to North Korea and to Afghanistan when Taliban was in power).

There, he could meet and confer, with no media in tow, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei, the region's key leader — and troublemaker. He was helpful in Afghanistan when the U.S. invaded Oct. 7, 2001. Taliban was the common enemy. And in Iraq, he decided not to undermine the al-Maliki government — but support it. No sense denying reality.

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