It's difficult to remember a time when so many crises beset the globe - or when a US president had so much on his plate. The terrifying possibility of nuclear catastrophe that now faces Japan has everyone's attention (except at ESPN, where the NFL labor controversy is being pitched as the real doomsday), so much so that it might be easy to forget that the resistance fighters in Libya are facing defeat, and the fate of the revolution in Egypt may be hanging on the outcome of Saturday's referendum on proposed changes to the constitution (with many of the pro-reform groups urging a "no" vote).
But the Saudi/GCC intervention on the island of Bahrain may wind up becoming the most serious of all these crises. The NYT provides an excellent report full of insight into the potential implications; and, IMO, a must-read is the essay at Foreign Policy by Jean-Francois Seznec. He concludes:
the future appears bleak. The Saudi intervention will no doubt provoke a reaction from Iran, which will argue that their Shiite brothers are being systematically oppressed. Any troubles caused by Bahraini Shiites will only provoke further Saudi intervention. Ultimately, the island risks falling under de facto, if not de jure, Saudi control.
The Saudi intervention, however small, is therefore a major step backward for the region. It represents a major slap in the face to the United States, a defeat for the liberal Shiite and Sunni elements in Bahrain, and ultimately a catastrophe for the entire Khalifa family, both the liberal and conservative wings, who may have just surrendered their power to the giant next door.
Again, this intervention by the Saudis (which, Seznec argues, came likely at the invitation of Bahrain's prime minister) comes only a few days after US SecDef Robert Gates' visit to Bahrain, where he urged the government to undertake significant reforms, and soon. Thus, the implied slap in the face of a United States that, thanks to the crippling military failures launched by Mr. Bush (and, unfortunately, continued in Afghanistan by Mr. Obama), can no longer afford to even entertain notions of military intervention that might destabilize things even further, as well as deplete America's already much-diminished coffers. (The WaPo also reports a new survey indicating that fully2/3 of the American public believes that the Afghanistan war is no longer worth fighting.)
Despite the assumptions of neocons like Fouad Ajami and Paul Wolfowitz, the US does not have the power - nor did it ever have the power - to change destinies and determine outcomes in the Middle East. And because of the costs of its ill-considered interventions, it is rapidly losing the ability even to influence them: in Libya, in the Persian Gulf, or even between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Obama might be well advised to consider stepping away from Afghanistan, rolling back the American empire of miltary bases across the planet, and applying America's still considerable economic machine to rebuilding American infrastructure, education, and confidence. In the process he might just be saving democracy, which is now imperilled in some states (for example, in Michigan, where the new Republican governor is about to sign legislation authorizing him to appoint "emergency managers" empowered to step in and take over the fiscal management of selected cities and towns. So much for self-government.)
And America's wealth might be employed just as fruitfully to assist the recovery and rebuilding so necessary for our allies and friends, the people of Japan.