The method in Obama’s madness
As Published in The Times of Israel
So many experts have commented about the seemingly incoherent, erratic and unfocused Obama strategy for the Middle East, many exclaiming that there really isn’t any understandable Obama foreign policy. However, a closer examination reveals that Obama’s real overarching goal is détente with Iran and the establishment of Iran as a regional hegemon in the Middle East.
Rational people read the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran Deal, and quickly come to the conclusion that it is a total failure on many levels and will not prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state and ultimately a nuclear state. This was supposedly the goal of the deal. Analysts are incredulous that Obama and Kerry could conceivably agree to such a terrible deal, but they simply don’t see the forest for the trees. The focus of the Obama foreign policy isn’t a nuclear-free Iran, since the deal at best postpones that outcome, but rather a major shift in American alliances in the Middle East to Iran with the corresponding downgrade of our alliance with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states. Our president is willing to make whatever deal the Iranians demand in order to build Iranian confidence in the US and the path to a “reset” of relations between Iran and the United States.
Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, in an April article in Mosaic Magazine commented on the negotiations with Iran, “The president is not wedded to any set of specific demands. For him, the specific terms of the nuclear agreement are far less important than its mere existence. One of Obama’s greatest diplomatic successes is to have persuaded much of the world, including many of his critics, that the primary goal of his Iran diplomacy is to negotiate a nuclear arms-control agreement. In fact, the primary goal is détente with Iran…. Obama has put an end to containment of Iran as a guiding principle of American Middle East policy.”
Doran further concluded, “Détente requires Obama to demote all of those allies who perceive a rising Iran as their primary security threat. The process, which has been under way for many months already, is most advanced in the case of Israel.”
In an April 2015 interview with the New York Times, Obama envisioned the nuclear deal as influencing Iran’s overall approach to the Middle East, saying that “then what’s possible is you start seeing an equilibrium in the region, and Sunni and Shi’a, Saudi and Iran start saying, ‘Maybe we should lower tensions and focus on the extremists like [ISIS] that would burn down this entire region if they could.’”
In an August 2015 CNN interview, Obama, when discussing the Iran nuclear deal, remarked, “Is there the possibility that having begun conversations around this narrow issue that you start getting some broader discussions about Syria, for example, and the ability of all the parties involved to try to arrive at a political transition that keeps the country intact and does not further fuel the growth of ISIL and other terrorist organizations? I think that’s possible.”
Where did this idea of détente with Iran come from? Well, we have to thank James Baker and the Baker — Hamilton report issued in late 2006 by the Iraq Study Group. Michael Doran argues that the core recommendations in this report have served as the blueprint for Obama’s new strategic vision and, indeed, a review of that report highlights the key elements of a strategy that Obama has followed since he assumed the presidency in 2009.
The Iraq Study Group was a ten-person bipartisan panel appointed on March 15, 2006, by the United States Congress. It was charged with assessing the situation in Iraq and the US-led Iraq War and making policy recommendations. The panel was co-chaired by James Baker III, most recently former Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush, and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. Although there were multiple participants, Jim Baker’s influence held sway; he was considered the “gatekeeper.”
In December 2006, the Baker-Hamilton Report, was issued. It is significant to note that Ben Rhodes, the current Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama and former assistant to Representative Hamilton, helped write the Report. It included four major recommendations. It is notable that three of these go well beyond the Congressional mandate to focus on Iraq.
In addition to the recommendations to withdraw American troops from Iraq, to provide military, economic and political support to Afghanistan, to strongly promote the Arab-Israeli peace process, the Report urged the US to begin a diplomatic engagement of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Assad regime in Syria. Baker believed that both of these regimes have similar interests to the US – they want a stable Iraq and the defeat of al-Qaeda and other Sunni jihadi groups. These shared interests would foster an alliance of powers that would bring stability to the Middle East.
Baker, whose antipathy toward Israel is well documented, believed that the alliance with Israel was a liability, that Bush was too close to Israel and the US-Israel relationship inhibited reengagement with Iran. He recommended downgrading that relationship as a prerequisite to fostering a rapprochement with Iran.
President George W. Bush rejected these Baker-Hamilton recommendations, changed the strategy, surging troops in Iraq, and left office with a relatively stable Iraq. Obama found in these recommendations what he believed was a new way forward in the Middle East.
Why did Obama agree with Baker? Obama came to the presidency obsessed with three strongly held ideologies. Firstly, Obama believes that the United States has not been a force for good in the world. Its actions have caused many problems across the globe. Therefore, reducing America’s foreign leadership role has been one of the primary goals of Obama’s foreign policy since the beginning of his presidency. Obama believes that détente with Iran is a critical part of his overall strategy of reducing America’s footprint in the Middle East. In Obama’s eyes, the United States should no longer lead a coalition dedicated to bringing order to the region. With Iran and Syria, Iran’s satellite, given legitimacy on the world stage, they will work to ease the age-old Shia-Sunni conflict and bring stability to the chaos that is the Middle East. Détente with Iran represents a major shift in our Middle East policy, a new vision of the American role in the Middle East.
Secondly, Obama fundamentally is a pacifist, one who believes that there is no military solution to the world’s problems. As such, he avoids force or avoids others who use force (Ukraine, Syria, Iraq come to mind).
And finally, there is something else at play: A strong, almost religious desire by President Obama to cast Islam as a force for good in the world. In his 2009 Cairo speech (a major address to Muslims from a Muslim capitol), Obama says, “America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam…. [It is] part of [his] responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear…. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace…. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.” Obama has said that America’s past colonialist behavior has created a wedge between the US and the Islamic world and, furthermore, President George W. Bush increased that alienation and divide.
Throughout Obama’s presidency his outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood, his support for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP party, the constant disclaimers from administration spokespersons denying any connection between Islam and terror (claiming Al Qaeda and ISIS are not Islamic), the incessant “religion of peace” rhetoric and support for the “Islamophobic” mindset of victimization among American Muslims all reflect his ideological view of Islam.
Obama, grounded in these ideologies and with an obsessive and grandiose belief in his own brilliance, vision, power and ability to change the world, saw in the Baker recommendations a strategic pathway to ending Pax Americana by empowering Iran to assume the role of regional hegemony and allowing America to reduce its involvement in the region. Our President embraced the Baker recommendations and has worked assiduously and doggedly to implement them. He pulled the US military out of Iraq, temporarily increased military action in Afghanistan, harshly but unsuccessfully pressured the Israelis to agree to Palestinian demands, worked to downgrade the US relationship with Israel (putting “daylight” between the US and Israel) and has taken a major step, the Iran Deal, in his rapprochement with Iran. Regarding Iran, Doran commented in Mosaic Magazine, “If, in Bushland, America had behaved like a sheriff, assembling a posse (“a coalition of the willing”) to go in search of monsters, in Obamaworld America would disarm its rivals by ensnaring them in a web of cooperation. To rid the world of rogues and tyrants, one must embrace and soften them.”
Despite the fact that Iran is the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism, is anti-Semitic and threatens Israel’s existence and that of the United States, despite its religious apocalyptic, eschatological world view in which mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent but an inducement for Iranian religious leaders, President Obama chooses to believe that through the power of his personality and persuasiveness and with the Iran Deal in place as a “sweetener,” he and he alone will bring Iran back into the family of nations and transform it into a cooperative, strategic partner in the Middle East. Obama believes that if the United States adopts a less belligerent posture, unclenches its own fist, Iranians will reciprocate and unclench theirs. In his very first television interview from the White House, the President announced his desire to talk to the Iranians to see “where there are potential avenues for progress.” Echoing his inaugural address, he said, “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”
From the early days of his first administration, Obama began courting Iran, ignoring its belligerent rhetoric towards America, repeatedly turning a blind eye to Iran’s “Green Revolution,” to Iran’s support for terrorist militias in Iraq which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Americans, to Iran’s collaboration with North Korea to advance its nuclear capabilities, to Iran’s violations of UN resolutions, to its provocation of Sunni extremism and to it’s anti-Semitic hatred towards our ally Israel. He discouraged sanctions against Iran and, once strong sanctions were about to be passed by Congress, insisted that they include escape clauses such that the President is able to mitigate their impact. President Obama reached out to Iran in secret negotiations, the precursor to the P5+1 public negotiations. We just learned that in 2011, he sent then Senator Kerry to woo the Iranians. Kerry came with an opening offer that Iran could continue its nuclear enrichment even if a nuclear disarmament deal were struck. And in February 2015, an annual security assessment presented to the U.S. Senate by James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, excluded Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah from its list of terror threats to US interests, despite both being included as threats in previous years.
Now the Iran deal has been agreed upon. Obama traded major American concessions for Iran’s temporary restraint. He is convinced that Iran will recognize that it is in its national interest to cooperate with the US and abide by international norms and international rules and such a development would be good for everybody. This is the Obama mindset. The reality is something else.
The opinion of foreign policy and nuclear experts is that Iran, Obama’s new strategic partner, will continue to grow stronger militarily and economically and will use the vast benefits of the Iran Deal that came at little cost to foster increased terrorism around the world, move closer to nuclear breakout capacity and threaten Israel with annihilation, confident in its destiny as hegemonic ruler of the Middle East and beyond.
The deal has just be agreed upon, but this has not stopped Ayatollah Khamenei from publishing a new book called “Palestine,” a 416-page screed against the Jewish state (A blurb on the back cover credits Khamenei as the flag bearer of jihad to liberate Jerusalem). The rallies promoting “Death to America, Death to Israel” continue unabated. Iran is financing Hamas’ building of new underground tunnels to attack Israel. Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, is wielding its military might and increasing its anti-Israel rhetoric in possibly a precursor to another war with Israel. Iran’s subversion in Yemen, the Gulf States, South America and even the Balkans continues. Qasem Suleiman, commander of the Iranian Quds force, in violation of UN sanctions, traveled to Russia recently. And a deal to supply Iran with an advanced Russian anti-aircraft system (a S-300 surface-to-air system) has been finalized. It seems as if it’s business as usual for an empowered Iran.
It is clear that Iran plays an excellent game of chess and has outwitted an American president blinded by his own ideologies and inflated self-image and a Secretary of State, driven by his ego and pacifism. Both were too wedded to a faulty strategic vision that has no basis in reality. Whatever you think of George W. Bush’s Middle East policy, Bush had the good sense to reject the Baker recommendations.
Call it naiveté and incompetence or the arrogance and delusions of a narcissist or worse, Obama has brought us the worst of all worlds –enabling the world’s most dangerous terrorist state to become a nuclear nation and tremendously enhancing its terrorist capabilities and power around the world, downgrading our strong relationship with our democratic ally Israel, severely weakening its security, and alienating our former allies, the Saudis and Gulf States. If the Iran Deal survives a vote to sustain his veto and Iran’s Khamenei supports the agreement, Obama’s effort to significantly alter US foreign policy in the Middle East will, indeed, give him a lasting legacy, the impact of which will be far worse than Jimmy Carter’s overthrow of the Shah of Iran. Americans and the world will suffer from this curse for generations.
Commenting on the Iran Deal during his July 2015 Al-Quds Day speech, Ayatollah Khamenei remarked, “A word of thanks to officials in charge of these long and arduous negotiations — the honorable President and particularly the negotiation team who really made great efforts and worked hard. They will certainly be divinely rewarded.”