Hillary Clinton just toured the Middle East. I have to say that I was somewhat impressed. I think she and Obama are taking the right steps. Talking to Syria is a big deal, even if it's been done before. She proposed a conference on Afghanistan, and mentioned possibly inviting Iran. Which would make sense, since they are neighbors. She brought some aid to the Palestinians, which can't hurt.
I call this the Great Potential Thaw. One good thing about coming after the Bush administration is that there are a lot of things the Obama administration can do to just repair relations and ease tensions. Talking to Syria may lead to a breakthrough on the Golan Heights, which would bolster America's credibility in the region. Syria is closely tied to Iran, and will put Iranian interests ahead of American concerns. The Iranians may try to sabotage American-Syrian relations. But if America talks to Iran as well, that makes talking to Syria easier.
Speaking of Iran, Russia may be somewhat helpful here. The Russians hate the missile defense system in Eastern (or Central) Europe, because they believe that it is aimed at them. Which they have every reason to believe. Obama, during the campaign, supported the missile defense system. Initially, I was disappointed by that, because I think missile defense is a stupid idea, but then I realized that Obama will treat it as a bargaining chip with Russia. Which is exactly what he is doing. Obama is offering to engage in diplomacy about missile defense if Russia puts pressure on Iran. Good call linking those two.
All in all, a great deal of progress has been made very quickly. Opening up to Syria could help with both the Palestinian and Iranian problems; opening up to Russia on missile defense helps on Iran; opening up with Iran has its own benefits, as well as possibly helping with Afghanistan. The fact that oil prices are low helps all the way around, because many of these countries have lost a great deal of their leverage, particularly Iran.
Two unanswered questions so far are Hamas in Gaza and Egypt. If Obama can loosen the blockade, that would be immensely helpful.
What's just insanely refreshing is being able to look at this tangled web, all of these forces pulling in different directions, and start to understand it because you know that the President of the United States actually is making the same effort.