Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Convergence

The season of change that began with the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land stands threatened by a stagnant status quo in the Middle East. This summer we shall witness elections in two vital centers of Middle East contention. The general elections in Lebanon, and the presidential elections in Iran will undoubtedly color the tenor of the Obama administration's Middle East policy and indeed determine, at the very least, the short term future of the region.

VP Biden's recent trip to Lebanon, coupled with Secretary of State Clinton's recent Beirut sojourn has been met, predictably, with suspicion by Nasrallah and the Hezbollah camp. Though it may simply strike us as paranoia, we cannot discount Nasrallah's savvy. In effect, Hezbollah stands at the doorstep of leading a ruling coalition in parliament, and Nasrallah's accusation of U.S. meddling simply enhances his party's stature among the disenfranchised.

Meanwhile, back in the Islamic Republic, Iranians prepare for June presidential elections with Ahmadenijad reprising his role as simple man of the people and heroically defiant enemy of the Great Satan. The particulars of the election and its the candidates involved shall be better explored in a future entry. Suffice it to say, that two factors will play heavy in this election, just as they did in the previous one. The first factor is what brought A-jad to power in the first place, and will indeed be his undoing. The Iranian economy has been and continues to be a shadow of what it really should be. Given the resources available, the general level of education and cultural capital the Republic possesses, it should easily be spoken of in the same sentence as Brazil and India in terms of up and coming nations. However, the Iranians have suffered from bad planning and allocation policies, particularly its investment in distant Latin American countries, while neglecting investment in regional economies, which would undoubtedly yield more productive and efficient long-term interdependancies. The Iranians are losing out on their "now" moment, and the candidate that best points the way out of the morass will surely be the victor.

The other obvious factor, one that plays in both Iranian and Lebanese elections, is the foreign policy factor. The most significant element remains Netanyahu's rise in Israel, and the general shift to the right in Israeli politics. During Netanyahu's visit with President Obama, the Prime Minister's primary concern seemed to be Iranian nuclear and strategic regional ambitions, while the Palestinian issue took a clear back seat. This would very likely push Iranians to the right as well, although the urban middle class may see this election as a way to break with the tradition of isolation. The new generation of Iranians are disconnected from Khomeini and the revolution and may seek a relief from its more isolating elements. The lesson of the last election still looms large: the conservative, largely uneducated rural Iranians will determine the final outcome. The hope held in the west that the progressive, urban Iranians will finally gather the strength to break with the beards has been a perennial dream, perennially deferred.