Obscured by all the hullabaloo over the Congressional speaking invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the more fundamental mystery of the Obama Administration’s Iranian strategy.
Laying aside the increasingly evident incompetence of the political hacks, wordsmiths and other amateurs the President has surrounded himself as foreign policy advisers, there is still the unanswered question of what Obama intends with his policy toward Tehran.
The pettiness of the White House stance toward Netanyahu notwithstanding, it is unlikely that the Israeli leader will add more than detail and reinforce the vast array of background threat we already have about the Tehran regime: It has violated international obligations for almost four decades, pursued a policy of state terrorism throughout the world, made every effort to diminish and expel American influence in the Mideast region, and seeks a role as a major power. Furthermore, there is unfortunate evidence that is close to achieving regional hegemony with its domination or alliance now with four, however embattled, Arab regimes – in Damascus, Hezbollah in Beirut, Hamas in Gaza, and the new Yemen Sana government. Having squared the Arabian peninsular, it has created near hysteria in Saudi Arabia, the U.S.’ nominal principal ally in the region and a leader of Sunni Islam, which like the other Gulf Arab states feels abandoned by Obama’s Washington.
Were Tehran to succeed in its program to build weapons of mass destruction– nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles to deliver them– it would consolidate its place as Washington’s premier foreign policy problem.
Although the Administration spokesmen claim the final details of an agreement with Tehran are still not finalized, every indication is that Washington is prepared to extend earlier concessions which would give the mullahs “nuclear weapons threshold” capacity. That would include the ability within a short period through an inventory of enriched uranium and large batteries of centrifuges to produce more weapons fuel quickly to become a nuclear power.
It has been the stated policy of previous U.S. administrations– and by the Obama Administration itself– Washington would not permit the Iranian religious fanatics to cross that red line. That position has been endorsed not only by all the NATO allies but also inferentially by Moscow and China, despite their underhanded cooperation with Tehran in pursuit of nuclear power capability. It should be noted that Tehran’s enriched uranium pursuits are not a requirement for a country– still endowed with enormous oil reserves– for a nuclear power program as some two dozen other countries have demonstrated under United Nations and bilateral political and technical agreements eschewing any capacity to enrich fuel.
As this situation inevitably moved toward crises with the Iranians continuing to build nuclear capacity– despite their announced cutbacks under preliminary agreements with the Obama Administration– it behooves us to try to understand the Obama strategy. Incidentally, the Netanyahu controversy has obscured the news just this week that the UN Atomic Energy Commission to which Iran must report its activities under the control treaties has found evidence of new, secret and unreported Iranian nuclear activities. This was the pattern for some 17 years before the Iranian enrichment activities were revealed by Iranian scientists in exile to the UN control group. It is this history which puts a question to any claims by the Administration that it is creating under any new agreement the ability to monitor and halt any violations of the Washington-Tehran pact.
Given this only partial background of U.S.-Tehran negotiations over its attempts to create nuclear weapons capability, there is great puzzlement over what the Obama Administration is attempting in its current search for an agreement. That search, in itself, has created confusion about Obama policies which in the past have supported the Moslem Brotherhood– even after its overthrow by an Egyptian government– with its dedication to the destruction of Shia [Iranian] influence, and the Sunni Arab allies who see Tehran as their principal rival and enemy in the region.
Conflicting statements from the White House, Secretary of State John Kerry and his State Department, it is virtually impossible to discern a central Obama strategy in this miasma.
Since the beginning of the Cold War in the 1940s, of course, the possibility that Iran with its inherited mantle of the long history of the Persian empire, its size and the sophistication of its elite, might become a powerful ally of the U.S. in the region. That earlier strategy collapsed in 1979 when a combination of internal forces and the tacit support of the Washington foreign policy grey eminence, Averill H. Harriman and his protégé, U.S. Ambassador to Iran William Sullivan, helped bring down the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Reza Shah was, to some extent, the victim– as he himself had sometimes warned — of his “white revolution”, an attempt to destroy the landlord-back feudal system he had inherited and moved to modernize. Washington’s hand-handed efforts to back a military government collapsed in the face of the onslaught of religious fanatics, who have periodically dominated Persian history even in pre-Islamic eras.
Whether Obama is attempting a new modus vivendi with a new more powerful Iran, despite the Mullahs’ anti-American record, or not, I the negotiations already endanger the current shaky balance of power in the area. Cairo, long considered the leader and center of the Sunni world, which has just declared war on Hamas, once the Egyptian protectorate, feels doubly threatened by a distant American policy and Iranian terrorist inroads on its doorstep in the Sinai. A tacit approval by the U.S. of nuclear weapons capability by Iran would likely set off a nuclear arms race in the area– with the Saudis already tacitly allied to Pakistan whose nuclear weapons are generally seen as financed through grants and loans from Riyadh.
Whatever information and advice Netanyahu may offer in Washington, is not likely to unlock this mystery of what exactly the Obama Administration thinks it is accomplishing with an Iranian policy which keeps slipping away from original stated intent of removing all possibility of Iran obtaining weapons of mass destruction.