The Opacity of Hope


by Examiner

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States may turn out to be the defining event of the 21st century, or the newest rendition of The Biggest Show on Earth.  The decipherment of promises made and questions raised during his presidential campaign falls within the purview of Fuzzy Logic (Thanks to the UC Berkeley's Lotfi A. Zadeh). However, now that the euphoria of his victory is gradually receding, and before the dawn of the morning after, it may be the best time to take on the Vice President-Elect's challenge offered last month in Seattle. Mr. Biden said: "Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking."1

I certainly have no capability, or intention, of deploying missiles in Cuba, or anywhere else for that matter. However, as a member of the seven-billion-strong looking "world", and one who has voted twice for Mr. Obama, I conjured up a different way "to test the mettle of this guy."1 I have designed a pedantic exam to be proctored by This is an innocuous test that will focus on the President-Elect's aptitude for foreign affairs, in particular vis-à-vis the Middle East (M.E.), an area his predecessor exhibited unmistakable ineptness.

From the composition of Mr. Obama’s transition team, to the appointments so far made, to the list of nominees for the cabinet positions being reported by the media, all point to business as usual. It appears likely that, for the umpteenth time, we are up for disappointment. We may end up witnessing no more than a refurbishing of the middle east wing of the White House, and its upholstery. The M.E. may remain backward, divided and occupied - the Fertile Crescent for terrorism of every ideological stripe.

My purpose here is to raise some specific questions that will spell out the issues facing not only the new administration, but also the rest of us who are wondering if there will be a real and tangible 'change', in particular in our government’s policy toward the M.E. The language of this exam is borrowed (mostly) from the contemporary American political narrative. No attempt is made (certainly not consciously) to include alternative worldviews. The format chosen is dictated by the diversity of options available to the President Obama.

Clearly, it is the President-Elect’s prerogative to opt out of this exam. As for the astute reader, this exam needs not be taken. By definition, she/he is a graduate.

Politics 101

                                       Foreign Policy Toward Middle East

Fall Quarter, 2008

SECTION I: Multiple Choice Questions – Mark the correct answer(s) for each question. There may be more than one correct answer. You will be bestowed 1 kudo for each correct choice, and 1/2 kudo will be deducted for each incorrect one.

1. The vital significance of the M.E. for the U.S. lies with the fact that:

a.       it’s the birthplace of civilization.

b.      it's the birthplace of Abrahamic religions.

c.       it possesses two-third of the planet’s hydrocarbon resources.

d.      it's where Israel was established.

e.       Neo-conservatives say so.


2. The majority of people in the Middle East live in the:

a.       Prehistoric Ages.

b.      Antiquity.

c.       Middle Ages.

d.      Modern period.

e.       Post-Modern era.


3. The industrial revolution has already taken place in:

a.     no M.E. country.

b.      only one M.E. country.

c.       only two M.E. countries.

d.      most M.E. countries.

e.       all M.E. countries.


4. The number of M.E. democracies that have skipped the industrial revolution is:

a.       zero.

b.      one.

c.       two.

d.      three.

e.       more than three.


5. To accelerate the democratization of M.E. countries, the U.S. should:

a.       invade and occupy them.

b.      engineer military coups.

c.       sponsor terrorist groups.

d.      underwrite ‘velvet’ revolutions.

e.       act as a benign role model.


6. The religious governments in the M.E. are:

a.       imported.

b.      endogenous.

c.       incidental substitutes for their preceding secular dictatorships.

d.      fertilizers of terrorism.

e.       prerequisites for future secular democracies.


7. Which of the following statements by Dick Cheney (a), Tariq Aziz (b), George W. Bush (c), Dick Cheney (d), or Mohamed ElBaradei (e) are supported by evidence?

a.    “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”2

b.      “The United States and everybody in the world should know that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”3

c.       "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."4

d.    “(Iran is) heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels.”5

e.    “Have we seen an active weaponization program (in Iran)? No."6


8. Iran is a marked country in the M.E., because she has,

a.       been there, done that.

b.      an enviable oil and gas reserve.

c.       a population averse to subjugation.

d.      an anachronistic government.

e.       defied the Washington Consensus.


9. Iran’s nuclear energy program should be dealt with by:

a.       preemptive use of nuclear bunker busters.

b.      enacting H. Con. Res. 362.

c.       imposing additional sanctions.

d.      face-to-face negotiations to end Iranian-American hostility.

e.       embracing IRI oligarchs.


10. H. Con. Res. 362 was temporarily shelved by the 110th congress because of the concerns expressed by:

a.       AIPAC.

b.      CJCS.

c.       GWB.

d.      NIAC.

e.       none of the above.


11. Diplomacy means:

a.       dangling the carrot (e.g. spare parts for civilian airliners; a promise of possible future consideration of membership in the WTO).

b.      waving the stick ("we should take no option, including military action, off the table."7)

c.       bribing, cajoling, bullying and blackmailing allies to get them to do our dirty work.

d.      earnest negotiations between parties in a dispute for the purpose of finding common grounds.

e.       all of the above.


12. You anticipate that in the next four years,

a.       the two-state solution will be implemented for Israel and Palestine.

b.      Brzezinski will be proven right that, “the Neo-Conservative formula doesn’t work.”8

c.       Iraqis will start to live together in peace and harmony. So will Afghanis.

d.      the U.S. and Iran will be allies against a common enemy (the windmill?)

e.       Middle Eastern people will see the U.S. as a benign and benevolent friend.


SECTION II:  Short Essays – Do not elaborate. Only a few relevant sentences should suffice. Avoid using Palinesque slogans or MLK quotations.

1.  Can first-world countries increase or maintain their growth rate without holding third-world nations back?



2.  Briefly describe the relationship between exceptionalism and expansionism.



3.  Define the term ‘national interest’. Will your definition apply equally to the U.S. and to countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan?



4. In what respects will the Obama Doctrine be different than those of your predecessors?



Notes – 1. Sen. Biden’s campaign speech in Seattle, 10/19/08; 2. Vice President’s speech at the VFW National Convention, 8/26/02; 3. CNN’s Late Edition, 9/2/02; 4. Press Conference by President GW Bush, 10/17/07; 5. Los Angeles Times, 3/26/08; 6. The Associated Press, 10/28/07; 7. Sen. Obama’s speech at the AIPAC meeting, 3/2/07; 8. Le Figaro, 10/21/04.



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