This week’s essay looked at the partial, temporary agreement between Iran and the six major powers that may be taking shape:
VM is not ready to express a decisive judgment on an as-yet unfinished agreement whose details have neither been hammered out or made public. We don’t want Iran to get a bomb, and we don’t want the United States to have a war with Iran, so we are definitely among those who hope that at the end of the day the negotiations succeed.But success will be tricky. Even assuming that the Iranians are willing to put the nuclear drive on hold, America’s problems with Iran are not limited to its quest for nuclear weapons. Iran’s attempt to dominate its region threatens the security of key US allies, and America’s relations with Iran need to be understood in this wider context. Between its advances in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Iran right now looks closer to achieving its regional goals than ever before; if American diplomacy focuses only on the nuclear issue and fails to address the concerns of others in the region, we could end up with a bigger mess on our hands than the one we have now.We have not, on the whole, been impressed with the Obama administration’s Middle East diplomacy to date. Other than killing some bad guys, we look in vain for any serious accomplishments since President Obama took the oath of office to hymns and hosannas from a besotted American press corps. The opening to ‘moderate Islamists’ like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt appears to have begun with starry eyed optimism about the triumph of democracy, and ended in blood and tears. The failure to negotiate an agreement with Iraq that would have left non-combat US forces in the country is costing more each day. The surge in Afghanistan does not seem to have achieved what the President expected. The Libya invasion was a foolish intervention that diminished the administration’s political capital in the United States and failed to do much for either the people of Libya or the Arab Spring. The administration’s track record on Syria is one of serial self-humiliations, as blustery invocations of high principle were succeeded by timorous inaction in the face of a growing threat. Our relations with Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia all seem to be going downhill. […]The negotiations in Geneva could potentially be the most consequential discussions about the Middle East since the British and the French carved it up during World War One. We hope that the White House is not looking at this negotiation purely through the prism of the Iranian nuclear program. There are much wider interests at stake, and reaching a nuclear agreement that doesn’t satisfy the non-nuclear concerns of other countries in the region could be a recipe for trouble on a vast scale.
Talks with Iran about a potential deal have Saudi Arabia and Israel fuming, and Jerusalem was already upset with Washington over a leak identifying Israel as responsible for air strikes on a Syrian military base. Israel’s new bounty of offshore natural gas featured heavily in the news this week, and the economics of bringing that gas to market might be enough to repair Israel’s fraying relationship with Turkey. The Syrian peace process had only just begun before it was delayed, while Libya slipped back towards civil war after heavy fighting erupted in Tripoli.India launched a satellite to Mars this week, defying critics at home and abroad convinced that the Indian government could find a better way to spend that money. New Delhi teamed up with Beijing to combat terrorism, while Pakistan looked on in “strategic ambivalence.” After a drone strike killed a Taliban leader, Pakistanis turned their anger on the US, a reaction emblematic of the growing chasm between America and Pakistan. Elsewhere in Asia, Abenomics seems to be working tremendously well for Japan, while a Japanese master’s latest—and possibly last—film is stirring up nationalist emotions. In a sign of deepening distrust in East Asia, South Korea rejected the prospect of talks with Japan.In Europe, Greece looked to be turning into Weimar Germany, while anti-Semitism on the continent reached terrifyingly high levels. Italy made a biofuels breakthrough, but Italian businesses are feeling the green policy pinch. German industry’s green energy loophole is coming under scrutiny from Brussels, where even the EU’s green-minded policymakers can see that Europe’s energy policies are broken.In education news, an alarming new study suggested that college debt could delay retirement for young grads. Education reformers won in Coloradan elections, though voters shot down a $1 billion tax hike to raise money for schools. Stanford joined the MOOC arms race, choosing to host its online courses on an open-source system, rather than cede control to private companies like Coursera. India may be a bellwether for the MOOC movement, as online courses are threatening to become the dominant educational force there. And some MOOC providers are experimenting with proxy lecturers, allowing potentially more charismatic speakers—like, say, Matt Damon—to deliver the professor’s message.Obamacare’s struggles continued this week, and politicians and their staffers are trying to distance themselves from the the fallout. The unexpectedly close race for governor in Virginia exposed Democratic panic over the failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act. And the ACA isn’t just toxic for politicians, it may also be a threat to your marriage. President Obama apologized for misleading the American people about the ACA, and it seems clear that political realities are trumping wonkish wishes. There are some worthy health care reform ideas out there—letting nurse practitioners work autonomously in retail health clinics being one such example. Price transparency is another, and it looks like it’s coming to Northern California.[Image: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks while Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu listens during a meeting in the Oval Office, September 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama was meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister to discuss the situation in Syria and Iran; courtesy Getty.]