Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, August 28, 2015.
Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran is meant to redirect the entire vector of American Middle East policy: To retreat from Pax Americana and allow Iran to take its place as a major regional power. That’s why Netanyahu won’t scale back his opposition. Obama’s retreat must be stopped, and the Iran deal must be made politically toxic.
Just in case there was any doubt what President Obama is up to, Prof. Andy Bacevich of Boston University has laid it out for us in a series of recent articles.
Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is meant to reboot and redirect the entire vector of American Middle East policy: To retreat from Pax Americana and allow Iran to take its rightful place as a major regional power.
For decades, two propositions have informed US policy in the Mideast. The first is that US interests there are best served by the US establishing a position of unquestioned preeminence. The second is that military might holds the key to maintaining that dominant position. (In this context, Israel has been an important US regional ally).
This approach is what Bacevich calls the “Big Enchilada” – the America-as-top-dog approach that Obama is seeking to overturn.
Obama rejects this notion since he essentially views America’s preponderance in world affairs as arrogant and sinful. He feels that American “bullying” has brought about disastrous results.
Most telling was Obama’s infamous lament in 2010 about America as “a dominant military superpower, whether we like it or not.” In other words, he really doesn’t like it at all. No statement could be more revealing of Obama’s disgust for American global leadership.
In the context of the current deal with Iran, Obama has been equally clear as to how he expects this play out. If successfully implemented, the agreement that slows Iran’s nuclear program will also end Iran’s isolation. This will allow Teheran over time to become a “legitimate” and “extremely successful regional power” and a “powerhouse in the region.” These are Obama’s own words.
All this leads, of course, to American retreat – blessed retreat from Obama’s perspective – from the projection of power in the region. Replacing America will be a revanchist, greatly-emboldened, anti-Semitic and genocidal (towards Israel), Islamic Republic of Iran. Poof goes the big enchilada.
Obama has been mostly dismissive of Iran’s “bad behavior” – as he flippantly calls it. He says that he “hopes to have conversations” with Iranian leadership that might lead someday to their “abiding by international norms and rules”; that he “hopes and believes” that Iranian “moderates” will leverage their country’s reintegration into the global economy as an opportunity to drive kinder, gentler and less revolutionary foreign policies.
Whether Obama himself believes such nonsense is moot. The rub is that Obama doesn’t view American behavior in the region over past decades as any more moral or legitimate than Iran’s behavior. Consequently, the main thing for him is the humbling and retreat of America.
What happens after that? Well, that will be some other president’s problem, and Israel can lump it.
IT IS AGAINST THE BACKDROP of such unfounded expectations and dangerous strategic vision that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is leading the fight against the JCPOA with Iran.
Netanyahu understands that the nuclear deal isn’t just about Iran’s nuclear program. It’s about American détente with Iran and a perilous re-jiggering of America’s global strategic posture. As such, Netanyahu’s main goal is to prevent American retreat from the region, to thwart any intensification of American rapprochement with Iran, and to avert the inevitable corollary of this: the further downgrading of US-Israel ties.
To do so, the Iran deal must be kept strategically disputed and politically fragile. Even if/when Obama steamrolls over Congress, the deal must remain controversial and questionable. It should become politically toxic.
American and European companies must know that investing in Iran is still a risky business. Iran must know that it is under extraordinary scrutiny, and that American opponents of the deal will jump at every opportunity to scuttle the deal if red lines are crossed. Space must be cleared for the rescinding or cancellation of the accord in the face of Iranian “bad behavior.” Obama’s successor should be under pressure to vigorously oppose Iranian hegemony in the region and to act more forthrightly than Obama to block Teheran’s nuclear program.
In fact, a climate must be created that would encourage the next US administration to backtrack from the deal, to reassert and reinvigorate America’s traditional foreign policy approach, and to revitalize the US-Israel relationship.
This explains why Netanyahu has rebuffed all attempts by dozens of well-meaning mediators to scale-down his opposition to the deal and cut a compensatory deal with Obama. Aside from the fact that Obama never rewards his “friends” and has little to offer Israel of meaningful counter-weight to this terrible deal, Netanyahu understands that far more is at stake. It’s the big enchilada.
IN THIS REGARD, it’s worth considering the status of Obama’s “comprehensive plan of action” with Iran. It is not a formal treaty between the US and Iran; it is not even a signed agreement with the P5+1 – but rather a set of multilateral “understandings.” Such “understandings” can and should be considered ephemeral.
The Iran “agreement” should be thought of as no more authoritative or binding on future US administrations than, say, the “Bush letter” to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in which President George W. Bush suggested recognition of settlement blocks. Obama has tossed this letter out the window.
The Iran “agreement” should be thought of as no more authoritative or binding on future US or Israeli administrations than, say, the “Clinton parameters” for Israeli-Palestinian peace that were outlined in President Bill Clinton’s waning days in office. Netanyahu is correct to have dismissed these parameters as no longer relevant.
The Iran “agreement” should be thought of as no more authoritative or binding on future US administrations than, say, the apparently-ridiculous, secretive “side agreements” on inspections which the International Atomic Energy Agency has reached with Iran, with or without Obama administration review.
Presidential promises, letters, memos, agreements and understandings – especially when pronounced or imposed unilaterally – are transient things. They are valid and binding only for as long as the principal holds political power. In Obama’s case, that is another 510 days, and no longer.
Then, hopefully, American can snapback to solid, assertive foreign policy principles, and clawback to a position of responsible leadership against truly dangerous actors in the Middle East.