The world's population is expected to expand by 2.5 billion souls by 2050, and almost half of them will be Muslim. For the first time, Islam and Christianity will count roughly the same number of adherents, as the Muslim population surges to 2.8 billion from 1.6 billion. No major religion is growing as fast as Islam, with all the social and geopolitical consequences that implies.
India, a bastion of Hinduism, will be home to more Muslims than any other country. The population of Iraq, where various Islamic sects are engaged in a struggle for dominance and/or independence, will double and then some to more 80 million. Yemen, now descending into sectarian civil war, will see its population nearly triple to more than 60 million.
These projections from a new Pew Research Center report suggest a future in which sectarian conflict, within and between countries, is likely to proliferate. The question that follows is whether the so-called Obama Doctrine – U.S. President Barack Obama's approach to spreading world peace – is the right foreign-policy strategy for an evermore volatile planet.
"We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities," is how Mr. Obama recently put it when asked by The New York Times's Thomas Friedman to explain his foreign-policy doctrine. "We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk … Iran understands that they cannot fight us."
For more than six years, the world's smartest experts in security and diplomacy have been at a loss to explain the motivating principles or underlying objectives of Mr. Obama's foreign policy. Beyond the grandiose early speeches and the Nobel Prize, Mr. Obama has – to borrow his own baseball metaphor – produced a series of singles, walks and strike outs.
The much ballyhooed "reset" with Russia is in shambles. The "pivot" to Asia has been fleeting and minimally productive. The Middle East, post-Arab Spring, is even more chaotic and unstable now than it was in 2008. The thaw with Cuba is welcome, but small-ball. If that's all Mr. Obama has to show for two terms in the White House, history will treat him as a spectator in world affairs.
Mr. Obama, hence, has a lot riding on reaching a final agreement with Iran that would see the Islamic regime halt its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Putting aside the attempts by Mr. Obama's opponents to sabotage the negotiations out of partisanship or fealty to Israel, it's legitimate to ask whether the President is too willing to compromise in order to get a deal. But Mr. Obama at least deserves credit for trying.
Yes, in 2012, he insisted that "the [only] deal we'll accept is they end their nuclear program" and, yes, the framework agreement reached 10 days ago by the so-called P5+1 falls far short of that. But while opponents and proponents debate the agreement's pending details – involving centrifuges, uranium stockpiles, compliance and the timing of lifting sanctions – it remains that a final deal would be the most critical test yet for the Obama Doctrine.
If it works, Mr. Obama will have hit a home run. Engagement is always a preferred approach. Here, however, the problem is not so much with the message, but with the messenger. Mr. Obama's proven aversion to the use of force raises questions about how seriously Iran takes his threats and whether it will "cheat" on this agreement just as it has always deceived the world about the existence and scope of its nuclear ambitions.
That's a considerable risk to take. Despite the illegality of Iran's nuclear program, the framework agreement legitimizes its existence and even lifts limits on its military aspect after 10 years. Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, both former secretaries of state under Republican presidents, warn that "some of the chief actors in the Middle East are likely to view the U.S. as willing to concede a nuclear military capability to the country they consider their principal threat. Several will insist on at least equivalent capability."
Although Mr. Obama insists he's "not counting it," he has expressed hope that a final agreement and the removal of sanctions would empower Iran's moderates and lead the regime to cease sowing destruction across the region by sponsoring Hamas, Hezbollah and, now, Houthi rebels in Yemen. But that's only remotely likely if the next U.S. president is more committed to the Obama Doctrine than its author.