30 Jan 2011

Tunisia, Then Egypt, Then?

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Richard Fernandez thinks that a string of Middle Eastern dominoes are teetering and pictures just how bad the US economy is going to look if they all should happen to fall.

The left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz says that Egyptian army officers in Cairo’s central square have tossed aside their helmets and joined the crowd. “The Army and the people are one,” they chanted. MSNBC’s photoblog shows protesters jubilantly perched on M1A1 tanks. The real significance of these defections is that the army officers would not have done so had they not sensed which way the winds were blowing — in the Egyptian officer corps.

And even as Mubarak tottered, the Saudi king threw his unequivocal backing behind the aging dictator — not hedging like Obama — but the Iranians continued to back the Egyptian protesters. The Saudi exchange tumbled 6.44% on news of unrest from Cairo. Meanwhile, the Voice of America reports that Israel is “extremely concerned” that events in Egypt could mean the end of the peace treaty between the two countries. If Mubarak isn’t finished already, a lot of regional actors are calculating like he might be. …

    “If this can happen in Egypt, there is no reason that it can’t occur in Libya or Saudi Arabia,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy.

Unrest within, and therefore the loss of Saudi Arabia to the West, is now a thinkable proposition.

Indeed, events in Egypt are likely to prove as damaging to Riyadh as to Washington. Teheran will have won a great diplomatic victory over the kingdom if Mubarak is thrown out on his ear. Iran backed the demonstrators; the Saudi king backed Mubarak. This follows on the heels of the Saudi defeat in Lebanon. Washington had been counting on Saudi Arabia to hold off the Hezbollah, and the kingdom lost. With the Hezbollah in power, the flag of Iran may soon symbolically fly over Beirut and Cairo.

Worse, the Sunni coalition which Washington counted on to contain Iran is now a broken reed. The horse President Obama hoped to ride to the battle is now broken down and being hauled to the glue factory. With a Shi’ite dominated government in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a Muslim Brotherhood that may keep Egypt in neutral or tacitly accept Teheran’s leadership, how could things possibly get worse?

They can if Saudi Arabia starts to go. And what response can the U.S. offer? With U.S. combat power in landlocked Afghanistan and with the last U.S. combat forces having left Iraq in August 2010, the U.S. will have little on the ground but the State Department. …

Events are unfolding, but they have not yet run their course; things are still continuing to cascade. If the unrest spreads to the point where the Suez and regional oil fall into anti-Western hands, the consequences would be incalculable. The scale of the left’s folly: their insistence on drilling moratoriums, opposition to nuclear power, support of negotiations with dictators at all costs, calls for unilateral disarmament, addiction to debt and their barely disguised virulent anti-Semitism should be too manifest to deny.

Because it will hit them where it hurts, in the lifestyle they somehow thought came from some permanent Western prosperity that was beyond the power of their fecklessness to destroy. It will be interesting to see if anyone can fill up their cars with carbon credits when oil the tankers stop coming or when black gold is marked at $500 a barrel. It is even possible that within a relatively short time the only government left friendly to Washington in the Middle East may be Iraq. There is some irony in that, but it is unlikely to be appreciated.

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