Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Obama's legacy: an nuclear-armed Iran?

From: The Australian April 03, 2010, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor:

US President Barack Obama has decided to abandon any serious effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He is determined instead to live with a nuclear Iran, by containment and, if possible, negotiation...

...This is the giant story of the past few weeks which the world has largely missed, distracted by the theatre of the absurd of Obama's contrived and mock confrontation with Israel over 1600 apartments to be built in three years' time in a Jewish suburb in East Jerusalem.

...Obama has not explicitly announced his new position and he and his cabinet secretaries still make speeches saying they will try to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. But if you look at the statements closely you see a steady weakening of resolve, a steady removal of any threat of any consequence for Iran. Similarly, if you look at the actions of the administration, the sombre conclusion is inescapable.

Given Iran's missile program ...profoundly undermines American strategic credibility, which is the bedrock of whatever global order this troubled planet enjoys.

The troubling realisation that the Americans have given up, or are in the process of giving up, the fight to prevent Iran going nuclear is backed by the best informed security sources in Washington, London, Jerusalem and Canberra.

The bust-up between Washington and Israel only makes sense in this context....
...It is inconceivable that Obama would have treated any Arab or Muslim leader with the same considered contempt that he showed to Netanyahu. I speculated last week that Obama engaged in his furious over-reaction in order to pursue personal popularity in the Muslim world, and perhaps to force Israel to make so many concessions that the Palestinians would come back to negotiations. Although these negotiations would not produce a comprehensive peace deal, at least Obama could claim the talks themselves as a victory of sorts.

I still think these were important considerations but there was a much bigger strategic purpose, as well. In 2008, Israel told Washington it was planning to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. Washington talked Jerusalem out of the move, not least by showing its own determination to stop the Iranians.

...When Obama spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2008, he said  ,,,"I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - everything." That was Obama's equivalent to Bush's "all options".

Obama doesn't talk anything like that any more. In his message to Iran on the Iranian new year a few weeks ago, he reiterated his determination not to meddle in Iran's internal affairs and said the nuclear matter should still be negotiated.

Clinton, in her address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last week, spoke only briefly about Iran ...the bulk of her speech was all about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

...The sub-text of Obama and Clinton's recent speeches can only be that they have decided that the battle against a nuclear-armed Iran is over.

One thing they are determined to do is to stop Israel from taking its own unilateral military action to stop or retard Iran's nuclear program. Israel has taken this type of action twice before. In 1981, it destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak. And in 2007, it bombed into obliteration a North Korean-supplied secret nuclear reactor in Syria.

... for several years the most senior US officials would agree that a nuclear-armed Iran represented an existential threat to Israel. Iran's rulers, after all, not only deny the Holocaust but have made militant anti-Americanism, confrontation with Israel and even anti-Semitism, defining ideologies of the Iranian state. Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Most analysts believe that for all their extremism, the Iranian rulers are rational actors and would not actually use nuclear weapons. But this is a slender analytical thread to ask Israelis to hang their very lives on. And the danger of Iran proliferating some element of nuclear material or technology to terrorists is much more plausible.

This is where the Obama-Israel dust-up comes in. By so isolating Israel, by irresponsibly unleashing a global wave of anti-Israel sentiment, especially in nations which normally support Israel, Obama has made the possibility of Israel considering unilateral action against Iran much more unlikely. The Israelis would weigh such action very carefully. There are many pluses and minuses. By creating the impression of Israel as a besieged, isolated and reckless nation, which the wildly disproportionate reaction to the East Jerusalem apartments accomplished, Obama has made the potential cost to Israel of action against Iran much greater.

Is it fair to conclude definitively that Obama has decided to give up, except for symbolic and meaningless actions, the fight against a nuclear-armed Iran?

Obama might still change his mind - he is nothing, after all, if not flexible - but that is the inescapable conclusion of his actions so far.

He has set so many deadlines for Iran. Each of them has passed and nothing ever happens. There are never bad consequences for the US's enemies in Obama world, it seems, only for its friends.

Remember, initially, that the Obama administration wanted to wait for the Iranian election in the middle of last year before it exhausted dialogue or went down the sanctions road? Remember then the deadline was September? Remember the proposal for Iran's uranium to go to Russia for enrichment? Remember the revelation of Iran's secret nuclear facility at Qom? Remember Iran's announcement that it intended to enrich uranium up to 20 per cent, a vast leap on the technological road to weapons? Did you notice a couple of weeks ago Iran's announcement that it would build new nuclear facilities?

And where are we today? Now it is April and Obama is still talking in his feckless way about possible UN sanctions. Anything that is passed by China and Russia at the UN Security Council will be weak and ineffective. A serious US administration would have built a critical mass of like-minded countries to impose crippling sanctions on Iran outside the Security Council.

The only explanation that fits with all the facts is that the US administration is no longer serious about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. ....

...There is no chance Obama will produce a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in his first term in office, which is how he would like to be remembered by history.

There is every chance history will remember him for something altogether different, as the American president on whose watch Iran became a nuclear-weapons state.
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