American Elephants


Obama’s Secret Strategy for Iran And the Middle East by The Elephant's Child

Richard Epstein, professor of law at University of Chicago, and New York University, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, spoke about President Obama early on in his administration. He had known Obama at the University of Chicago, and through his next-door neighbor who was one of Obama’s best friends. He said that Obama was very dogmatic. Once he made up his mind, it was fixed in concrete. He does not change his mind. I have found it useful to keep that in mind.

In an important essay by Michael Doran in Mosaic magazine, the author writes about “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy,” and suggests that a strategy, centered on Iran, has been in place from the start and consistently followed to this day.

In the giddy aftermath of Obama’s electoral victory in 2008, anything seemed possible. The president saw himself as a transformational leader, not just in domestic politics but also in the international arena, where, as he believed, he had been elected to reverse the legacy of his predecessor, George W. Bush. To say that Obama regarded Bush’s foreign policy as anachronistic is an understatement. To him it was a caricature of yesteryear, the foreign-policy equivalent of Leave It to Beaver. Obama’s mission was to guide America out of Bushland, an arena in which the United States assembled global military coalitions to defeat enemies whom it depicted in terms like “Axis of Evil,” and into Obamaworld, a place more attuned to the nuances, complexities, and contradictions—and opportunities—of the 21st century. In today’s globalized environment, Obama told the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009, “our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. . . . No balance of power among nations will hold.”

For the new president, nothing revealed the conceptual inadequacies of Bushland more clearly than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Before coming to Washington, Obama had opposed the toppling of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein; once in the U.S. Senate, he rejected Bush’s “surge” and introduced legislation to end the war. Shortly after his inauguration in January 2009, he pledged to bring the troops home quickly—a commitment that he would indeed honor. But if calling for withdrawal from Iraq had been a relatively easy position to take for a senator, for a president it raised a key practical question: beyond abstract nostrums like “no nation can . . . dominate another nation,” what new order should replace the American-led system that Bush had been building?

When he arrived in Washington in 2006, Obama absorbed the ideas of the final report of the Iraq Study Group, in which the co-chairs of the bipartisan congressional commission. Lee Hamilton, former Indiana congressman, and former secretary of state James Baker,” interpreted their mission broadly, offering advice on all key aspects of Middle East policy.”

The report, published in December 2006, urged then-President Bush to take four major steps: withdraw American troops from Iraq; surge American troops in Afghanistan; reinvigorate the Arab-Israeli “peace process”; and, last but far from least, launch a diplomatic engagement of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its junior partner, the Assad regime in Syria. Baker and Hamilton believed that Bush stood in thrall to Israel and was therefore insufficiently alive to the benefits of cooperating with Iran and Syria. Those two regimes, supposedly, shared with Washington the twin goals of stabilizing Iraq and defeating al-Qaeda and other Sunni jihadi groups. In turn, this shared interest would provide a foundation for building a concert system of states—a club of stable powers that could work together to contain the worst pathologies of the Middle East and lead the way to a sunnier future.

There you have the basic strategy. Engage Iran to stabilize Iraq and Syria, to defeat ISIS, and enter an era of harmonious relations with the rest of the world. Obama is very anxious to show himself as that “transformational leader.” He, at least, is not in thrall to Israel, He wants Iran to become a “successful regional power and a friend and partner to the United States.”

Meanwhile, Iran has sent a thousand rockets to Hezbollah, is supporting the Houthi in Yemen (look at a map to see why that is important), and adding more centrifuges. White House national security advisor Susan Rice denied, in a speech to Brookings Institution, that the threats facing the United States are in any way “existential” — blaming that perception on media “alarmism.” (With more centrifuges, a bomb in 2 months!)

After a year that saw a Russian invasion in eastern Europe, continued violence in Israel, massive international cyber-attacks on American companies and the rise of an ultra-violent Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, Rice took pains to assure her audience that all is well.

“Too often, what’s missing here in Washington is a sense of perspective,” she said. “Yes, there is a lot going on. Still, while the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War. We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism or an instantaneous news cycle.”

She listed other threats to U.S. security, including “the very real threat of climate change” and the necessity of promoting equality for homosexuals. The new National Security Strategy is here, should you wish to delve more deeply. Foreign Policy remarked:

Of course, if you are like most Americans, you won’t ever read it at all. Which is just as well. Along with being devoid of strategy, the document is also devoid of surprises or new ideas. That could be because its focus is not, as would be the case in a real strategic planning document, the future. Instead, it is the past. This document is really a brief filed by the president in defense of his record to date.

The discussion of the rising cyber-threat is under a heading called “Access to Shared Spaces”. preceded by “Climate Change” and followed by “Increasing Global Health Security.”

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline quotes the Washington  Post’s concerns:

The three concerns are: (1) that a process began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and temporarily restrict that capacity; (2) during the negotiations, Obama seemingly has conceded Iran’s place as a regional power at the expense of Israel and other U.S. allies; and (3) Obama has signaled that he will implement his deal without a vote by either chamber of Congress.

Charles Krauthammer sees us as back in the perilous days of the late 1930’s, when some could see glimmers of what was coming down. I’m inclined to agree with him.


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