Iran isn’t afraid of Barack Obama. The Ayatollahs have looked at the clues, added up the numbers, and come to the conclusion that the President will not use military force as Iran presses forward with its nuclear plans.One of the clues that lead them to this conclusion is the U.S. decision to cut back the number of aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region. If Washington were serious, the Iranians believe, we would be building up our naval presence, not drawing it back.President Obama’s choice of one of the most prominent “Iran doves” in American public life as his new Defense Secretary is also being read in Tehran as a sign of the President’s thinking. Surely, the mullahs appear to believe, if the President were really serious about using force to stop Iran’s nuclear program, he would be appointing someone who isn’t deeply opposed to it. In any case, this kind of appointment is what people overseas often see as a signal. The President may not have meant to send it, but he did. […]If President Obama is serious about opposing an Iranian nuclear bomb with force if necessary (and we both hope and believe he is serious), then the signals the White House is sending to Iran are unintentionally making war more likely, not less. Right now, the administration is heading pretty rapidly to a point at which it will either suffer one of the greatest humiliations in the history of American foreign policy as Iran achieves a nuclear capability in defiance of years of American warnings, or it will face another armed conflict in the Middle East. If the President wants to avoid this choice, he needs to start sending signals that convince even the hardest-line mullahs that he really does mean it.
News from Asia this week centered on China, where the “Great Firewall” is slowing down the internet hurting businesses. Elsewhere, leaked text from a speech given to party insiders suggested that Xi Jinping isn’t the reformist the Chinese middle class is hoping for, while Chinese hawks went on the offensive in the Game of Thrones with more inflammatory rhetoric towards neighboring countries. China’s strained relations with Russia were highlighted by the dramatic meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk.Meanwhile, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in six years, provoking both China and the US. South Korea responded by bragging about new cruise missiles precise enough to target the window of the North Korean leader’s office.In the Middle East, Damascus burned as Syrian rebels launched a “Battle of Armageddon” in the city streets. President Obama’s policies have so far clung to the sour spot in Syria, but increasing Israeli involvement could give the president a chance to do something constructive in the region. Elsewhere, a battle looms in Iran as the country gears up for elections, and a UN report suggested that Iran is buying time to build a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll showed that ordinary Iranians support the country’s nuclear program and blame the economic consequences of sanctions on the US more than on their own leaders.In Europe, we learned more about Beppe Grillo, one of the colorful characters in Italy’s upcoming elections. The Eurozone, Germany included, slid further into recession. Meanwhile, the US and the EU announced plans to negotiate a new transatlantic free trade pact, shutting out the BRICs and driving a nail into the coffin of global free trade. In Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan jailed four former generals on coup attempt charges, while Russian Prime Minister Putin continued to struggle with counter-terrorism efforts in the run up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.Energy news in the US was upbeat his week: We found out that last year’s prolonged drought in the US actually did some good, and a respected commodity analyst has predicted that the US will be free from all foreign sources of oil—save Canada’s—in just five years. In “green” Europe, by contrast, consumers are revolting against their countries’ green energy policies, while Germany’s environmental minister told shale gas producers to frack off.The blue social model continued its slow decay, evidenced by the continuing fracas between the USPS and Congress over Saturday delivery. The War on the Young opened a new front in Baltimore, just as we learned that Obamacare is going to hit the youth especially hard. Meanwhile, the embattled youth of the world are relying less and less on cars for transportation.Law schools are preparing for big changes, as the proposed two-year law degree moves closer to becoming a reality. In his State of the Union speech, Obama announced more planned reforms for higher education. Pensions continued to prove problematic for governments, from San Bernadino to Argentina.In tech news, IBM’s supercomputer Watson saw its first patient, as the idea of digital doctoring picks up steam. Meanwhile, the U.S. is leading the way towards the nanotechnology of the future.The most alarming news this week concerned the revival of infectious diseases, as a new form of SARS popped up in Britain while a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis spread across South Africa. Stay healthy!