Somewhere, somehow, someone wasn’t keeping their eye on the ball. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general announced that Iran was now invited to the Geneva peace conference on Syria, leaving the United States with a bit of a mess on its hands. State Department officials issued strongly worded threats about the invitation having to be rescinded, but it’s not clear whether those threats will amount to anything. The New York Times:
American officials said they had been in regular communication with the United Nations over the requirements Iran would need to meet to be invited, but they appeared to have been caught off guard by Mr. Ban’s hastily organized news conference.
Whoops! Just one among many troubling signs that our Middle East diplomacy is not going well.Meanwhile, in David Remnick’s big New Yorker profile on Obama, the most startling single statement was the following:
Obama told me that in all three of his main initiatives in the region—with Iran, with Israel and the Palestinians, with Syria—the odds of completing final treaties are less than fifty-fifty.
It’s hard to think which is more surprising: that the President thinks his key initiatives in the Middle East are all headed for failure, or that he shared this insight with a journalist in an on-the-record conversation. Did President Obama think that success will become more likely if Secretary Kerry and all his negotiators know that the President thinks that the efforts will likely fall short? How much faith will the Saudis and others now put in an American diplomacy which, apparently, the Americans themselves think is a long shot? And what Palestinian or Israeli leader will put their careers and quite possibly lives on the line for a peace initiative that the Americans think will fail?The question also arises: “What’s Plan B?” Presumably the US has contingency plans if, as the President says he thinks is likely, one or all of his current initiatives sputter out short of success. Bomb Iran? Live with its nukes? Let Syria fester in endless, terrorist-enabling war? Walk away from Israel-Palestine? Readers of Remnick’s piece will walk away wondering where the United States is headed in the Middle East. They will also understand Robert Gates’ frustration with a President who launched an Afghan strategy that he didn’t believe in a bit better. Secretary Kerry cannot have enjoyed reading this public statement by his chief that he thinks Kerry’s diplomacy isn’t going to work.President Obama’s first set of Middle East policies imploded as Libya fell into ruin and the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was overthrown. He doesn’t think his second set will fare much better.It is hardly surprising these days that America’s opponents fear us less and our allies have less faith in us than before.