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Obama's Middle East Recessional
Part 3: Gambling With Iran as Iraq Disintegrates

Some intemperate statements to a journalist may reveal just how the Obama administration is approaching the thorny problems of Iran and Iraq. This is the third part of a longer essay, with part 1 here and part 2 here.

Published on: January 21, 2014
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  • lhfry

    On NPR last Friday Susan Page interviewed some journalists, one of whom represented Al Jazeera Arabic. His take on Obama administration policy was that Obama had decided that Egypt was no longer a reliable ally in preserving stability in the region and that he was looking to Iran to serve that function. That would explain a lot and is one of the scenarios posited in this article.

    • Kavanna

      It’s completely nuts, of course. But that’s what “weak ideologues” do — take others’ bad ideas and translate them into (failed) policy and pay the price, then double down, beat their heads against the wall all the harder, etc.

  • mc

    You seem to be using “order of battle” more as metaphor than as concept or thing. TOE would be better for this purpose. Still better would be to cease stretching perfectly good concepts into ungainly metaphors.

  • rheddles

    We have an interest in Iraq not disintegrating utterly

    We do? Why are we responsible for maintaining Sykes-Picot? Let Iraq, and the whole mid-east, split up and reassemble itself in ways that work. And if they can’t, let them live with it. I just don’t see what our interest is int the mid-east beyond oil. And whoever controls the oil will be happy to sell it. We should focus on making sure the ships that carry it can do so freely.

  • One element: while we celebrate having other sources of oil in the world, the weakening of oil actually makes ME policy more complicated. It means we’re less invested in particular governments there, and other policies and concerns increasingly matter more than “the oil must flow”. Ironically, having easily accessible domestic oil, particularly if other countries don’t, makes us relatively weaker there simply because we care less and other countries care more.

    • Kavanna

      During WWII and the Cold War, ME policy was simple: keep the bad guys out and stabilize the oil supply. In the post-1919, post-colonial world, securing oil supplies meant, not running the oil fields ourselves, but supporting native regimes that would enable the oil to flow safely.

      While these policies could be objected to on various grounds, they had the advantage of simplicity and clarity — they were a kind of “no brainer,” with simple criteria of success. Since then, that simplicity and clarity have disappeared. Oil stability in the ME is still important, but, for the US, less and less every year. (This concern is more the US acting on behalf of other countries more dependent on ME oil, like Europe, Japan, and China.)

      However, as many have warned over the last 20 years, the last thing we or the ME needs is Iran as a regional hegemon. Clinton, Bush Jr., and (early on) Obama half-heartedly did things to prevent this. But Obama, doubling down on his portfolio of failures, has determined to reinvent the Nixon-Kissinger strategy of making Iran a regional ally — which, with its current regime, is total lunacy.

      Obama’s fecklessness have destroyed much of what remained of US credibility in the region. Every (former) US ally is busy re-evaluating its relationship with the US. (Israel started to do this in 2001-2, after the failure of Oslo.) When it’s not re-evaluating, it’s ripping itself apart, like Turkey and Egypt.

  • TommyTwo

    “Let’s please not invent an Obama Doctrine out of mostly thin air.”

    Thin air indeed.

    On a less snarky note, your admonition is well taken for this audience, but it is unlikely to assuage American friends and allies who are wondering just what this Administration is up to. “Leave them guessing” is not the best way to make friends and influence people.

  • CiporaJuliannaKohn

    The notion that the totalitarian, genocidal Shia terror regime can be trusted with a nuclear weapons program is utter lunacy.
    We see that this terror regime is willing to assist the genocidal Assad regime in slaughtering well over a hundred thousand Syrians, including well over ten thousand children.
    The election of Rouhani to the presidency is just a ploy by Khamenei, probably within the framework of secret negotiations with Obama, to dress up this extremist regime as more moderate. However, the regime has not conceded any substantial poinst, be it the enrichment of uranium, R&D, or weaponisation.
    The total lack of support by Obama for the young demonstrators against this vile regime is a disgrace. It was a clear signal that Obama will push his personal agenda of “engagement” as opposed to human rights.
    As regards Ben Rhodes, he is clearly unqualified to opine on matters of geo-strategic interests, and is simply Obama’s mouthpiece.

  • CiporaJuliannaKohn

    Assad’s Syria is essentially a protectorate of Iran. Without the financial and military support of the Shia terror regime, Assad would most likely have been defeated.
    Just as significantly, Obama’s early pro-Iran policies indicated to both Iran and Assad that they had a free hand to slaughter Syrian civilians and use any means, including the use of chemical weapons, to crush the Syrian revolt.
    Obama’s unflinching support of the regime in Tehran has inflamed the Sunnis, and has drawn Jihadists to Syria and re-started Al Qaeda attacks in Iraq.
    Obama’s shameful support for the Shia terror regime of Iran is a stain on American honour.
    Just as importantly, the policies pursued by this president have not been in the inteersts of the United States or of the free world.
    Although Iran does not have the conventional military capabilities of the Third Reich, it does have similar motivations and methods in spreading a noxious, totalitarian, genocidal revolutionary ideology by force of arms and terror.
    Given the extremely beneficial agreement to Iran that was negotiated by the Obama administration, it is predictable that the terror regime of Iran will acquire nuclear weapons.
    The election of Rouhani was just a ploy by Khamenei to dress up the regime as moderate while it continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program.

    • CiporaJuliannaKohn

      This post was meant to be on Part 2, Syrian policy.

    • Kavanna

      Yes on all points.

  • Nat

    Could the author elaborate on what exactly is to be feared from the Iraqi Sunni Tribesmen? Does he mean that they could retake Baghdad, or take on the Shia in a full on civil war? I’m pretty sure the last ten years have settled that question. If the author means that Maliki and the Shia will never be able to put down a Sunni insurgency in the countryside (probably true), that would just be another argument for partition.
    As another commenter noted below, we have no inherent interest in the unity of Iraq. Whoever is in charge will need to sell the world oil as much as the world needs to buy it.
    Moreover, a smaller, homogenous Shia Iraq might actually be a stronger state, and thus better able to break free of Iran’s yoke, since it will no longer have an internal Sunni problem. As for Sunni terrorism emanating from a partitioned Sunni Iraq, my understanding is that Anbar isn’t exactly Waziristan. It’s flat and desert, and surrounded by states that don’t want terror exported to their borders; in other words, it’s an area that can be monitored from the sky, and threats developing there can be neutralized from the sky, in large part.
    We don’t have to actively push partition, but approach it as we often approach Israel-Palestine: say that the “current dynamics are untenable in the long run”, open dialogues with both parties, etc.

  • diderot à la campagne

    I disagree with this analysis. It appears that Obama is focused on diplomacy, working as a midwifery, which means to galvanize changes among the iranians who aspire for regime change, it is obvious that they no longer believe in their so called #islamic revolution which is a too provincial
    a concept in our global, interconnected, multi-plural planetary civilization. The columnist is not taking into account the new information technologies, their role to shape new power-driven life forms unknown before, he is still seeing the mideast as an isolated and fragmented actor as whole. His pessimism about the capacities of the arabs to change their lives, is a classical hidden western hegemony discourse which has now run of fuel for a quite a time. The semi-unilateral approach wished by Garfinkel is not constructive any longer. We must allow the new actors to tell about their visions. The not so hidden discourse on so called moral superiority of the west is repugnant because we have seen since 1914 what the west has done against itself and against the non-westerners.
    Obama is aware of this new complexity and tries to allow new creative forces to emerge. In this context, Israel should instead participate to the dialogue with the iranians instead of falling in non-constructive suspicion politics, which in other words can be interpreted like in a psychoanalytic context the neurotic´s finding unconscious solutions to his seemingly paradoxical behavior, by adopting a delay, as primary and secondary gain by repressing his creative impulse to communication.

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