The deadline for the Iranian nuclear negotiations is almost at hand, and the proposed deal appears to be even worse than expected. Number of centrifuges, decommissioning of Fordow, previous work on military applications — the Obama administration’s negotiators have backed down on issue after issue. The one thing that seems to be certain is that sanctions will be removed, sooner rather than later.
President Obama has said that he would rather see no deal than a bad deal, but the behavior of his negotiators is making a liar out of him. In fact, an Iranian press aide who defected to the West while covering the talks in Switzerland said that “the US negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal.”
Administration policy toward Iran is hard to understand. On Obama’s watch, Iran has consolidated its control over Syria and Lebanon, and is moving toward adding Iraq to a new Persian Empire. Its Houthi proxies are close to securing control of the critical Bab el Mandeb strait, a choke point between the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. But Obama and company have gone out of their way to not upset Iran’s plans, going easy on the nuclear issue, backing down after Iranian client Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons, and now even providing air support to Shiite militias in Iraq.
Obama has no problem, on the other hand, with being tough on Israel. After trying and failing to bring about regime change in the Jewish state (he didn’t try in Iran in 2009), he embarked on a contempt campaign aimed at PM Netanyahu, as well as announcing a “reassessment of relations” that may include US votes for anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council.
But there is a method in administration madness. It all goes back to the Iraq war (remember that)?
The US removed Saddam from power (and ultimately allowed the new Iraqi government to remove him from this world), but it also destroyed the conservative Sunni Baathist army and political structure. Radical Sunnis and various Shiite militias tried to fill the vacuum, fighting each other and US troops. Life in Iraq devolved into chaos with sectarian executions and mass-murder car bombings occurring daily. US troops suffered numerous casualties from IEDs, many provided by Iran via Syria. Iran supported the Shiite militias, but also aided the Sunni insurgents in their operations against US troops.
On this background, the Iraq Study Group, led by James A. (“F— the Jews”) Baker and Lee Hamilton, submitted its report to the Bush Administration in December, 2006. It made numerous recommendations, including what it called a “new diplomatic offensive” to stabilize Iraq. The report recommended creation of a “support group” of Iraq’s neighbors — including Iran and Syria — and other “important countries” (not Israel, of course) that would work together to support the integrity of Iraq, reduce the violence, improve the economy, etc. A stable, unified, sovereign Iraq is in Iran’s interest, the writers suggest, and Iran can be persuaded to help bring it about. [p. 53]
The report does mention the connection between Iran and some of the Shiite militias. But nowhere in its 142 pages does it consider the danger of a huge change in the balance of power in the region as a result of an Iranian conquest of Iraq, the traditional countervailing power against Iranian ambitions. The closest it comes is when it warns that “the regional influence of Iran could rise at a time when that country is on a path to producing nuclear weapons,” [p. 33-4] and when it notes that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel worry about “aggrandized regional influence by Iran,” and might act to prevent it. [p. 48] Indeed they might — the Arabs are doing exactly that in Yemen today.
This is the fundamental flaw in the report: it ignores the fact that since 1979 the overriding objective of Iranian policy, the driver of the regime’s nuclear program, its export of terrorism, and its subversion of its neighbors has been its desire to become the regional hegemon, to establish a Shiite caliphate that will dominate the region from Iran’s eastern border to the Mediterranean. An integral part of the plan is to control, even annex, Iraq. A bit more than “aggrandized regional influence,” I think.
Such an Iran would not be interested in stabilizing Iraq as a sovereign state. But Baker and Hamilton didn’t notice, or pretended not to.
The other thing they did — I wrote about this in my very first blog post back then — was to assert the “linkage theory” [that all the problems in the Middle East depend on the Israel-Palestinian conflict] in a big way. “The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict,” [p. 54] they announce, without any proof or even argument. And naturally the solution is to have Israel give Syria back the Golan Heights and withdraw from Judea and Samaria to create a Palestinian state. Baker and Hamilton believed that a grateful Syria would then stop its mischief in Iraq.
Which brings me back to the Obama Administration’s mysterious policy. Trying to get closer to Iran and Syria is the heart of the Baker-Hamilton diplomatic offensive. And this is exactly what the administration is doing. It believes that Iran and its proxies will mop up the Sunni radicals in Iraq and Syria, so that the administration’s pullout from Iraq won’t be blamed for the chaos.
But it isn’t dumb enough to think that Iran wants to help stabilize Iraq and Syria, after which it will go back to minding its own business. The administration understands that the Iranians want the whole enchilada. And they are OK with that. After all, who is to say that a Shiite caliphate is worse than the Islamic State, or the Wahhabi regime of the Saudis? All those Arabs are crap, they think, so who cares what kind of dictatorship they have. We can work with Iran, they think. One address for the whole Middle East. Pax Persarum.
Unfortunately, Israel stands in the way of the Iranian dream. And it might be small, but it’s still a nuclear power. It’s a much bigger threat to the Shiite caliphate than the Saudis or anyone else. So Israel has to go, and the best way to bring that about without a nuclear war is to weaken it, until the conventional forces of Hizballah, Hamas and the PLO combined with boycotts and isolation from the Western world can make it so unpleasant to live here that it will collapse.
For me that would be a big problem. For Obama, not so much.
That analysis nails the argument and comports with the facts, and in the process gives the lie to two ideas: 1) Obama doesn’t know what he is doing; 2) that he hatched this idea on his own without any continuity from prior administrations. There is a third idea that also isn’t true that doesn’t get floated because this make-Iran-big strategy appears to be, and in many senses is, an abdication of American authority in the Middle East: 3) Obama is doing this on behalf of America alone.
1) He knows what he is doing…
To carry out a plan in broad daylight, systematically forcing Israel to agree to numerous humiliations, with the cooperation of the Europeans, squandering Israel’s energies for remediating the Iran problem, over the course of 6 years… is a very well-sustained strategic policy. To say in various seasons that Jerusalem will be forever undivided, that you have Israel’s back, that Iran will never get the bomb on your watch and that no deal is better than a bad deal, and then as the strategy slowly reveals itself you roll up every one of these pronouncements, so that the exact opposite is in the works… well, that’s just plain hard, determined work; work that Obama relishes and the media abets. And it undermines the idea that this fellow is experimenting with ideological strains of faculty chatter on a world stage out of ignorance and is not learning from the results. These are the results he wants.
2) There has been plain continuity of thought favoring an Iranian opposition to Sunni extremism over several Administrations.
Jimmy Carter catalyzed the birth of the mullahcracy in 1979. Reagan thought better of teaching the Iranians a lesson directly. The original Iran-Iraq war, in the 1980’s, was observed by Western strategic thinkers to provide an opportunity to weaken Sadaam’s and Khomeini’s regimes simultaneously. Certainly, the slaughter seemed to devastate both regimes to exhaustion and there was the added benefit of payback for the Iranian hostage crisis. When the war was over, Sadaam still had ambitions for Kuwait. The US ousted the Iraqi forces in Desert Storm and wiped out so many of them that the Iraqi strongman was further weakened. I don’t know what Iran hatched in this period, but they were certainly already active with Hezbollah, Hamas and the Syrians and were exporting terror regularly; the AMIA bombing took place in 1994. Regime dissidents overseas were regularly targeted. The militias in Shi’ite strongholds in Iraq were fortified.
By the time 9/11 occurs, Iran is aiding the transit of the mostly Saudi 9/11 plotters and working with al Qaeda to help attack the US. Where Iraq had been mortally wounded by Sadaam’s adverturism, the Iranians had plodded along. The death knell for Iraq was the second US war with Iraq. Whether George Bush believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or not, he had to know that wiping out the Baathists would be an invitation to Iran. While US forces were fighting Iraqis, they already knew that the Iranians were pitching in to kill Americans. They, the Iranians, never suffered for that; it was as if Iran had the assent of the Americans then for Iraq’s takeover. This looking away for Iran’s benefit started with Carter, survived Reagan after the barracks bombing, Bush 1, Clinton and Bush2. By the time Obama is President, Iran has been given a pass for everything it’s done against the US since 1979. Obama was just the first to publicly endorse this as normal enough to cut a deal recognizing their strategic takeovers.
3) Russia and China are on board with Iran’s takeover of turf.
The Syrians provide a Russian access and presence in the Mediterranean. The Russians want their geopolitical goals to come at US expense. Oil destined for China comes primarily from Iran. The Sunnis have been routed in their many encounters with Shia, or Shia-supported forces throughout the Middle East, so they are a wavering reed for protecting Chinese interests. Stabilize the situation by replacing American sheriffing with Iranian hegemony goes the thinking. Obama is merely a facilitator of this shift to favor Iran. Israel, to quote Bob Gates, is an ungrateful ally for interfering with US intentions regarding the Iranians. What’s good for the US should not be undone by Israel’s concerns. Getting right with Iran and using them to nullify Sunni extremism should be accepted as brilliant strategic thinking, they must tell themselves.
This whole sequence is breathtaking. A President who is a poor liar, bad decision-maker and a thin-skinned manipulator, had the opportunity to execute on this Iranian Pax, as you call it, and be accused of many things all along the way, but never acknowledged for having successfully executed on his desired goal.
The result will be a fight between Israel and Iran one way or the other, while the cover of Obama’s overall plan is still unfolding and keeping Israel off-balance during these last 22 months. And it would not be enough to simply check Iran’s aggression–they have far better resources to bleed Israel slowly for decades. Despite the fact that they will have largely been given every advantage lately by Obama, the Iranians will want to go after Israel.
The only thing that would impress the Russians and Chinese would be absolute and total victory.
The lifting of sanctions is an act that will promote hostility and threat throughout the region but especially to Israel. Money is the fuel of the war machine . Even with the sanctions the Iranians have managed to take over more and more territory. With the sanctions removed and the Iranians with great wealth again the funds to Hizbollah and other surrogates will increase.
In this sense alone the agreement with Iran increases the threat of its taking over the region and its threat to Israel.
This analysis is correct. The Iranians do aim at being regional hegemon and they are now apparently taking control of Iraq. The U.S. has supported regimes of repression in many areas of the world, and for more than seventy years has done so with Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia except for its spreading hatred of Israel is a non- revolutionary regime. Iran is on the march, and the U.S. is self-defeatingly not only not stopping it, but helping it.
Another dimension of this is the U.S. back-stabbing of its traditional allies first and above all Israel.
It is not very pleasant to anticipate a future confrontation between Israel and Iran plus surrogates without having U.S. support. Hamas is one thing, Iran is a far different story.