There has been considerable curiosity about Obama’s foreign policy goals in the middle east. He has picked a major fight with Israel and the PM, Netanyahu. It has been known for years that Obama and Netanyahu loathe each other. Obama withdrew US forces from Iraq while American military leaders kept silent but were disapproving. The CIA Director, General Petraeus, was removed after a scandal that had administration fingerprints all over it. Senior generals who opposed Obama’s plans and let it be known, were relieved like like General McChrystal, who had permitted other officers in his commend to talk disrespectfully about the administration in front of a reporter.
As for McChrystal: In a press conference on June 24 of this year, Adm. Mike Mullen said, succinctly, “It was clear that … in its totality, it challenged civilian control … .”
Mullen’s “it” refers to the disrespect for civilian authority by now-former U.S. Afghanistan commander McChrystal’s staff, as portrayed in an article in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine. President Obama, whose wife until his candidacy was never proud of her country, relieved McChrystal for this disrespect — not so much for what McChrystal had said, but for his staff’s biting criticism of other members of the administration, including Vice President Joe Biden.
Not long after this, General Petraeus resigned from the CIA but is still being harassed by the FBI.
“All of us who know him and are close to him are mystified by the fact there is still this investigation into him,” Jack Keane, a retired four-star U.S. Army General said in an interview. Keane has been both an adviser to and mentor of Petraeus since he saved Petraeus’s life during a live-fire training exercise in 1991.
It may be as simple as an effort, so far successful, to keep Petraeus from talking about the Obama Administration’s most important foreign policy initiative.
How eager is the president to see Iran break through its isolation and become a very successful regional power? Very eager. A year ago, Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national-security adviser for strategic communication and a key member of the president’s inner circle, shared some good news with a friendly group of Democratic-party activists. The November 2013 nuclear agreement between Tehran and the “P5+1”—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—represented, he said, not only “the best opportunity we’ve had to resolve the Iranian [nuclear] issue,” but “probably the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy.”
Perhaps this is what Obama meant in his famous open-mike comment to Russian President, in which he said, he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate on the delicate issue of missile defense after the November election, which Mr. Obama apparently feels confident he will win.
The missile defense issue is the New York Times’ addition to the context. What if Obama meant the relationship with Iran ?
“We’re already kind of thinking through, how do we structure a deal so we don’t necessarily require legislative action right away.”
Why the need to bypass Congress? Rhodes had little need to elaborate. As the president himself once noted balefully, “[T]here is hostility and suspicion toward Iran, not just among members of Congress but the American people”—and besides, “members of Congress are very attentive to what Israel says on its security issues.” And that “hostility and suspicion” still persist, prompting the president in his latest State of the Union address to repeat his oft-stated warning that he will veto “any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo [the] progress” made so far toward a “comprehensive agreement” with the Islamic Republic.
So an accommodation with Iran is to be Obama’s most important foreign policy accomplishment ?
For the administration, Rhodes emphasized, “this is healthcare . . . , just to put it in context.”
Well, that one worked out well. This is not a new initiative.
In the first year of Obama’s first term, a senior administration official would later tell David Sanger of the New York Times, “There were more [White House] meetings on Iran than there were on Iraq, Afghanistan, and China. It was the thing we spent the most time on and talked about the least in public [emphasis added].” All along, Obama has regarded his hoped-for “comprehensive agreement” with Iran as an urgent priority, and, with rare exceptions, has consistently wrapped his approach to that priority in exceptional layers of secrecy.
Why is he doing this ?
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.”
Some Obama critics see this as evidence that Obama is a Muslim or at least sympathizes with Muslims. On the other hand, it has been reported that Saudi King Abdullah “could not stand Obama.”
“One of the big ironies here is that President Obama, in his statement, said how close he was to King Abdullah… King Abdullah did not like President Obama. In fact, a lot of people I know that are quite close to the late King Abdullah said that the king could not stand President Obama. This close personal bond between the president and the late Saudi leader, I think, is people being polite at a time of a national funeral.”
Abdullah feared Obama’s naive attitude toward Iran.
If, however, Netanyahu was Obama’s biggest regional headache, there was no lack of others. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was certainly the most consequential. Obama had assumed that the king would welcome his approach to the Middle East as a breath of fresh air. After all, the Baker-Hamilton crowd regarded the Arab-Israeli conflict as the major irritant in relations between the United States and the Arabs. Bush’s close alignment with Israel, so the thinking went, had damaged those relations; by contrast, Obama, the moment he took office, announced his goal of solving the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all, and followed up by picking a fight with Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank. How could the Saudis react with anything but pleasure?
In fact, they distanced themselves—bluntly and publicly.
The King had no tolerance for fools. In fact, the Saudis have on several occasions allied themselves with Israel and may feel that Israel is a more reliable ally than the US. They have made plans together.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are secretly working together on plans for a possible attack against Iran in case the Geneva talks fail to roll back its nuclear program, British paper The Sunday Times reported.
The two countries’ shared concern has put them at odds with the United States as the latter continues to seek an agreement with Iran to ease economic sanctions in return for pulling back nuclear development.
One argument that Israel could not successfully attack the Iranian nuclear sites was that they would not have passage through Saudi airspace. That appears to be a myth. The article quoted was in 2013. Matters are more urgent now.
At the end of the Bush administration, King Abdullah had made his top regional priority abundantly clear when, according to leaked State Department documents, he repeatedly urged the United States to destroy Iran’s nuclear program and thereby “cut off the head of the snake” in the Middle East.
When Obama strode into office and announced his desire to kiss the snake, the Saudis lost no time in making their displeasure felt. Three months later, the king responded gruffly to an extensive presentation on Obama’s outreach program by Dennis Ross, then a senior official in the State Department with responsibility for Iran. “I am a man of action,” Abdullah said according to a New York Times report. “Unlike you, I prefer not to talk a lot.”
Dennis Ross seems to have become a skeptic on the Obama plan.
Hence it is time to acknowledge that we need a revamped coercive strategy, one that threatens what the Islamic Republic values the most—its influence in the Middle East and its standing at home. And the pattern of concessions at the negotiating table must stop if there is to be an acceptable agreement. Iranian officials must come to understand that there will be no further concessions to reach an accord and that time is running out for negotiations.
This, of course, is what the Congress wants to do with new legislation.
The U.S. Senate Banking Committee voted 18-4 on Thursday to advance a bill that would toughen sanctions on Iran if international negotiators fail to reach an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program by the end of June.
Ten Democrats support it and, if Obama vetoes it, there may be enough support to override that veto.
Why has Obama threatened to veto a bill that only supports his stated objectives ?
In early 2013, at the outset of his second term, Obama developed a secret bilateral channel to Ahmadinejad’s regime. When the full impact of this is taken into account, a surprising fact comes to light. The turning point in the American-Iranian relationship was not, as the official version would have it, the election of Hassan Rouhani in June 2013. It was the reelection of Barack Obama in November 2012.
Indeed, the first secret meeting with the Iranians (that is, the first we know of) took place even earlier, in early July 2012, eleven months before Rouhani came to power. Jake Sullivan, who at the time was the director of policy planning in Hillary Clinton’s State Department, traveled secretly to Oman to meet with Iranian officials. The Obama administration has told us next to nothing about Sullivan’s meeting, so we are forced to speculate about the message that he delivered.
Even so, why threaten a veto ?
Obama has repeatedly stated, most recently in his 2015 State of the Union address, that the interim agreement “halted” the Iranian nuclear program. Or, as he put it in his March 2014 interview, the “logic” of the JPOA was “to freeze the situation for a certain period of time to allow the negotiators to work.” But the agreement froze only American actions; it hardly stopped the Iranians from moving forward.
He has no plans to actually implement sanctions if the Iranians renege.
President Rouhani went even further. In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, he emphasized not just that Iran had refused to destroy centrifuges within the terms of the JPOA, but that it would never destroy them “under any circumstances.” Currently Iran has approximately 9,000 centrifuges installed and spinning, and roughly 10,000 more installed but inactive. Until Rouhani made his statement, the Obama administration had led journalists to believe that the final agreement would force the Iranians to dismantle some 15,000 centrifuges.Rouhani disabused the world of those expectations.
“This strikes me as a train wreck,” a distraught Zakaria exclaimed after the interview. “This strikes me as potentially a huge obstacle because the Iranian conception of what the deal is going to look like and the American conception now look like they are miles apart.”
Zakaria is no hawk. This promises to end in a confrontation with Congress and the Democrats have to decide if country or party are more important. Hillary Clinton is obviously no help in this situation.
This is what we call smart power: using every possible tool and partner to advance peace and security, and leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect, even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible empathize with their perspective and point of view — helping to define the problems, determine the solutions, that is what we believe in the 21st century will change. Change the prospects for peace.
As Neville Chamberlain once said, We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analysing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will.