Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Failing Iran Nuclear Deal


When Barack Obama circumvented the Constitution to sign a nuclear deal with Iran, his many supporters pronounced it a significant foreign policy achievement. They agreed with him that it would be his foreign policy legacy. Now, some re having second thoughts.

Writing in Slate commentator and deal supporter Joshua Keating remarks that if the deal was intended to calm the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, it has failed miserably.

Any alert observer could have seen it at the onset:

On May 15, 2015, just a few months before the U.S. and other world powers signed a nuclear deal with Iran, President Barack Obama convened what was to be a high-profile meeting of Middle East leaders at Camp David. King Salman of Saudi Arabia, however, was a no-show. King Hamad of Bahrain elected to go to a horse show in the U.K. instead. The elderly rulers of Oman and the UAE also stayed home, citing health concerns. This was widely seen as a snub by leaders deeply angered by the soon-to-be-signed nuclear deal and an overall sense that the Obama administration was shifting politically toward Tehran.

Obama shifted toward Iran, a lead member of the axis of evil, a lead state sponsor of terrorism, a country with the blood of hundreds if not thousands of Americans on its hands, away from traditional alliances with Sunni Arab states and with Israel. Obama wanted to lift sanctions on Iran, to provide Iran with cash funding and allow it an eventual nuclear weapon. If it were not politically incorrect to question Obama’s patriotism, many people would have asked themselves which side Obama was on. The Sunni Arab states and Israel rejoiced at the advent of the Trump presidency.

Keating explains the Obama rationale:

Obama always made clear that an agreement on nuclear weapons wouldn’t necessarily change Iran’s larger pattern of behavior or that of its rivals. “If they don’t change at all, we’re still better off having the deal,” he argued. Still, he suggested that the diplomatic opening provided by the deal could change the dynamics of the region. “It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” he told the New Yorker’s David Remnick in 2014. “And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion—not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon—you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.”

If that was the deal’s purpose, Keating continues, it has failed:

This is not what happened on either side of the Middle East’s sectarian divide. Instead, the deal has more often contributed to escalating tensions. In retrospect, this was foreseeable: Iran was perfectly capable of projecting power across the region with or without a nuclear arsenal. As for its rivals, they never trusted Iran’s assurances and saw warming relations between Tehran and Washington as a new and potentially even greater threat.

And also,

… rather than moderating its regional ambitions as the JCPOA’s proponents might have hoped, Iran has spent the years since the deal was signed supporting a network of Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and other countries, part of a larger project to, as BuzzFeed’s Borzou Daragahi put it, “establish territorial dominance from the Gulf of Aden to the shores of the Mediterranean.” Iran might have done all this regardless. But it was also responding to the Saudi actions. Either way, there’s certainly no evidence that nuclear diplomacy, or the lack of a nuclear weapon, has helped the neighbors overcome their differences.

Keating adds another salient point. In order to get the nuclear deal Obama walked away from the war in Syria. By his inaction Obama facilitated a conflict that murdered hundreds of thousands and destroyed the lives of millions. But, don’t let that tarnish the Obama legacy.

Any consideration of Obama’s priorities in the Middle East has to address the most contested part of his legacy, the still unfolding crisis in Syria. Many critics, including former members of his administration, have charged that Obama’s reluctance to intervene to a greater extent in Syria was motivated in part by the desire to achieve the nuclear agreement with Bashar al-Assad’s patron, Iran. In the new documentary, The Final Year, which follows Obama’s foreign policy team throughout 2016, adviser Ben Rhodes essentially legitimizes this claim by defending Obama’s hands-off policy in part by saying that if the U.S. had intervened more forcefully in Syria, it would have dominated Obama’s second term and the JCPOA would have been impossible to achieve. Rhodes may be right, but it’s less and less clear as time goes on that this was the right trade-off. Looking at the devastating consequences of the Syrian war, not just for that country but for the region and the world, it’s hard not to argue that Obama should have made Syria his main and overwhelming foreign policy focus, to the exclusion of nearly everything else, Iran deal be damned.

Perhaps, Keating continues, Obama feared getting sucked into yet another war in the Middle East. The Trump administrations actions have put the lie to that pretense:

What seems likeliest is that a president who was elected promising to end the Bush administration’s wars was wary of yet another costly quagmire in the Middle East. But the Trump administration’s limited airstrikes on Assad’s air force last April in response to a chemical weapons attack—an action the previous administration famously did not take in a similar situation—has not sucked the U.S. into a larger unwanted war against Syrian forces or led to an accidental clash between the U.S. and Russia, as Obama defenders would have predicted. (The U.S. is keeping troops in Syria, as the Trump administration recently announced, but so far they have not engaged directly with Assad’s military.) In other words, not every military action is a slippery slope leading to a new Vietnam or Iraq.

Despite it all Keating still supports the Iran nuclear deal.

Lee Smith does not. Writing in Tablet, Smith explains that Obama was trying to rebalance American interests in the Middle East, to betray traditional American allies and to enhance the power of America’s enemies. The premise was that America’s alliance with Israel, especially, and its nastiness toward Iran had caused the conflicts in the region.

On those terms the deal has failed:

Barack Obama’s signature foreign-policy initiative wasn’t just an arms agreement. It was an instrument used to rebalance U.S. interests, downgrading traditional allies like Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia, and upgrading Iran. The hope, Obama told an interviewer, was to create a geopolitical “equilibrium … in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.” Given the poverty of that hope, it should hardly come as a surprise that instead of the airy and ever-elusive notion of “geopolitical equilibrium” there is instead mayhem.

But, finally, Smith adds, the purpose of the deal was to stick it to the Jews, to the neocons who supported the Iraq War to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and to the Jewish state of Israel.

After all, the deal brought Iranian forces into Syria and Lebanon up to Israel’s borders:

No, the Iran deal was a form of virtue-signaling that used the lives of tens of millions of people living in the Middle East as props—and whose favorite hate-word was “neocon,” a word that was enthusiastically applied to people of widely varying political leanings and stripes, especially if they were Jewish….

It was clear starting in 2014 that the point of the deal, as I explained hereand here, was to realign American interests with Iran’s. I wrote that ignoring the anti-Semitism that inspires the Iranian leadership and filling its coffers would unleash the clerical regime and facilitate its expansionary ambitions, reaching even the Golan Heights. Iran wouldn’t spend the money from sanctions relief on fixing the economy, I showed, but rather on weaponsterrorism, and war.

Anyone who finds this hard to believe was did not give sufficient weight to the influence of the company Obama kept in Chicago. Would you really expect anything else from Jeremiah Wright’s protégé?

4 comments:

Sam L. said...

It was all for show. As The Bard wrote, "It is a tale of an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Redacted said...

Slight correction: "A tale told by an idiot..."

And your point is still true.

Sam L. said...

I am reminded of an editorial cartoon of the early '80s: Picture of a Jihadist and a tin of shoe polish. Text: "Shi'ite"; "Shinola".

Sam L. said...

More than slight. Thanks!