With its attempt to tame the Tehran mullahs, the Obama Administration now adds mystery to its already established credentials for obfuscation and incompetence.
* Obfuscation. Pres. Barrack Ohama’s special friend and adviser, Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett, apparently, has been secretly creeping around the Persian Gulf for a year holding “unofficial” talks with the Persians, without informing allies including Israel. Meanwhile, not so secretly, the Obama Administration has reinforced its entreaties to the mullahs by partially defanging the sanctions. As a token of Foggy Bottom’s love and devotion to successful Geneva negotiations at any price (i.e., Laos, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.), the Treasury Department has not been going after new sanctions violations or violators.
* Incompetence. But former housing (and slumlord) expert Jarrett, who apparently didn’t tell Secretary of State John Kerry how successful she thought she was, invited his nibs to parachute in to sign the give-away on the dotted line in Geneva in mid-November. But somehow those well known negotiating tactics Ms. Jarrett learned at the feet of the Mayors Daley fell apart and Kerry found himself holding a signing pen dipped in French béchamel instead of the usual invisible ink. Paris, bedeviled with a failing economy and calling up “gloire” as once “protectors” of the Syrians and Lebanese, said no. France’s role was as a full-fledged member of the UN Security Council plus Germany/EU’s negotiating team. But never mind, Kerry – who knows real humiliation when he sees it, having run to the Paris Vietnamese Communists in between Congressional hearings where he lobbied against American soldiers in Vietnam, returned for a second try.
Success in these “successful negotiation” came this time with the Obama Administration’s fairly simple Iran line: Americans are tired of Mideast wars, costly in men and treasure. As even wartime leader Winston Churchill put it, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” The Tehran mullahs have a “reform government” trying to mitigate US, EC and UN sanctions, which, finally, after a decade are beginning to bite. The economy is near runaway inflation — not least because of throwing more than $150 billion into the building a nuclear weapon, vast sums (to the North Koreans and Chinese) for missile technology (including ICBMs that could eventually hit the U.S.), and supporting overseas terrorism. Tehran is now ready for a bargain after almost half a century of antagonism toward the world’s only superpower.
Of course, all these arguments have, to say the least, devastating counters: The so-called reform government has executed 190 political prisoners since it came in power in June. One of the most reactionary governments the world has ever known not only represses its own citizenry but spends billions on overseas subversion and terrorism — from Damascus to Buenos Aires. Tehran continues to be the main support — not only with funds and weapons but cadre of its Iranian Revolutionary Guard — for the Assad regime in Syria which has murdered some 200,000 of its own citizens. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani once bragged earlier negotiations which he headed permitted the mullahs to advance their nuclear program. Tehran supports not only its Shia Arab cousins in Hezbollah in Lebanon, in the eastern Saudi Arabian oilfields, and in troubled Bahrain with a Sunni sheikh but a Shia majority. The mullahs even cross the line to try to create another Hezbollah doing its dirty work around the world with the ultra-Sunni Hamas in Gaza, now at loggerheads with its former sponsor, Egypt. Cairo has its hands full with a full-fledged insurgency based on Iran’s gunrunners to Hamas in the Sinai Peninsula.
That is why no amount of spinning by Obama or Kerry can possibly disguise this great gamble.
There are other geopolitical implications to a six months “deal”:
* It will have the critical if indirect effect of confirming to all and sundry in the volatile region that America is withdrawing its support from its Mideast allies and, indeed, in effect enlarging the vacuum of power with which Obama has unleashed all the old regional conflicts.
* The very negotiations themselves with the power structure of the West have come to the rescue of the failing prestige of a crippled Tehran regime, presenting itself as David against Goliath. It builds on the imperial designs — which preceded this regime as they did the former Shah’s — of an ancient civilization to dominate the region.
* It has further alienated the United States’ traditional allies in the area — ironically uniting two of its most bitter enemies, the Israelis and the Saudis in their opposition, fear and anger over moves to accommodate Iran. They are joined by all the governments in the Gulf and the Egyptian military — always clutching at their traditional role as center of the Sunni world and now at odds with Washington.
* The technical details of the agreement — which are likely to reveal new potholes once they are completely exposed — are onerous for an alliance once united in opposition to the mullahs acquiring a nuclear weapon. They inevitably will permanently weaken the sanctions regime abroad, so painfully arrived at. The agreement only slows enrichment of uranium. It does not provide foreign destruction of Iran’s stockpiled highly enriched uranium, the raw material for a bomb. It fuzzes the whole concept of whether Tehran has the right to enrich while pledged under the non-proliferation treaty not to develop a bomb.
Will the enforcers really know what is happening? For 17 years, the mullahs were able to disguise their nuclear program from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency — most recently under a compliant chairman, the now fugitive Mohamed El Baradei. (He is running from the Cairo military because of his collaboration with its former Brotherhood regime.) In fact, news of the race for the bomb only reached the West through the Khalq, the left wing of the coalition which overthrew of the Shah but who lost out to the mullahs. (The Obama Administration has reneged on Washington’s promise, despite their once being listed as terrorists for their implication in American deaths, to protect them from the new Shia-dominate Iraqia regime where they were once refugee allies of Saddam Hussein against the mullahs.)
Even were the mullahs to live up to the agreement, what would prevent them from simply refusing to negotiate — as is Washington’s strategy — into a new protocol to end their bomb efforts?
Worst of all, the relaxation of sanctions will save the regime’s neck from being wrung by an increasingly hostile and deprived population. The sanctions began to bite only after their invocation against third parties. Unfortunately, not only the Russians and the Chinese, but our allies in Europe are salivating over the possibility in these straitened times for new sales to a near bankrupt regime, Tehran will get its hands on some $10 billion in additional oil sales.
And now to the secret:
Indeed, it is no secret to anyone who knows the region and the Obama Administration that its strategies and policies from its inception have veered toward a traditional “Arabist” view of the region. That group of scholars and their fellow travelers in the State Department and CIA insist, as do their British confreres, the source of all the Mideast problems is the Israel-Arab confrontation and a “solution” to it would go a long way to pacify the region.
But this is a Tehran regime, after all, which almost daily advocates the destruction of Israel and blasts forth gutter level anti-Semitism. Couple that with manifest hostility to Israel in Obama’s insistence that the 1948 armistice lines be the basis for Israel-Palestinian negotiations. (Prime Minister Netanyahu bumptiously on camera gave him a history lesson, pointing out that such lines which imperiled his country’s very existence were not acceptable.)
Early on Obama condemned to failure recommenced Israel-Palestine negotiations by insisting that Jewish “settlements” in the West Bank and (formerly in) Gaza were the first obstacle to peace. They had never had the highest priority in earlier failed negotiations. (Since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew from Gaza including forcing out Jewish settlers, his reward has been the continual missile barrage on southern Israel.) There are, after all, 1.5 million, mostly Muslim, Arabs in Israel within the so-called Green Line of the 1948 armistice. So the presence of Jews living in the original Biblical lands of the Jews in any new Palestinian state would only be reciprocal.
Despite the strong Israeli lobby in the Congress which has staid Obama’s hand, he has engaged in shin kicks against Jerusalem, e.g., leaking word the Israelis were the authors of the May 2013 strike inside Syria against arms en route to Hezbollah. Because neither wants a prolonged confrontation, both the Israelis and Assad have publicly refused to acknowledge this — and at least two previous raids. Neither wants to face his public with publicity for an action that would require retaliation or at least explanation, hardly a secret to Foggy Bottom and the President’s team.
It is certainly no secret the President, before he reached the office, had close associations with Arab and Muslim activists including a close friendship with a former spokesman for Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization then a Columbia University professor. The toleration of the increasing authoritariansm of Egypt’s former Morsi presidency that led to a popularly supported military overthrow was a symptom of wider sympathies. John O. Brennan, CIA director, has made repeated controversial public statements on Muslim issues — for example, explaining jihad as only a search for a Muslim soul rather than the Islamic battle cry for 1300 years, or that the Muslim Brotherhood, the fountainhead of modern Islamist terrorism, was in transition to more moderate doctrines, etc., etc.
There is little wonder, therefore, that any Obama Administration movement toward an accommodation with Iran is seen as endorsing the end of Israel’s position as holding the monopoly on nuclear weapons in the region. Now, there is considerable danger a nuclear arms race will begin with the Arab states and Turkey.
So, again to the secret: Why, then has the Administration bent such effort to turn its back on its Sunni friends and offer the Iranians a path toward dominance in the region? Is it any wonder that the Saudis are outraged and have uncustomarily expressed their dissatisfaction publicly to Obama’s policies?
Even the most optimistic of Obama’s advisers could not have believed, even when negotiations began a year ago, that they would have had an impact on his sagging polls. Certainly, now they will be no more than a 48-hour distraction from the collapse of Obamacare, given the U.S. public’s notorious obliviousness to foreign policy issues until they are in full crisis.
About the only answer seems to be that this is another aspect of “leading from behind”, through which the ideologues and geopoliticians in the Administration think by enhancing Iran’s role in the region will present a balance they can manipulate.
If so, a little history is in order: For almost two generations after World War II, Washington strategists through several administrations thought something like that was plausible, with its tacit alliance with the Shah, the Israelis and Turkey against Egypt’s Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism. The region’s infernal tribal conflicts and the Shah’s vainglorious dreams coupled with President Jimmy Carter’s acquiescence to subversion of his throne brought that strategy to an abrupt end.
The current attempt for a modus operandi with one of the history’s most reactionary regimes to facilitate its regional hegemony is not likely to fare better.
* A version of this column is scheduled for publication November 25, 2013, at world tribune.com and at yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com