THE SPINE APRIL 24, 2010
Frankly, I do not think that Barack Obama ever really believed that an accommodation with Iran over its nuclear designs was possible. What follows is that he prevaricated about this promising turn in diplomacy and that one, all the while knowing he was going straight down a dead-end street. And going down that street in a quite cavalier fashion so as to keep his critics at bay. Some Americans were even persuaded by the seemingly confident president that he must have something up his sleeve. After all, we’d like to have faith in his strategic savvy, especially when a Hitlerian maniac has appeared on the world scene and appeared, as it were, with nukes. Alas, that confidence was a bad attribution.
The fact is that Dr. A’jad was correct. He was tilting against no hard American strategy at all. This is confirmed by the January intelligence document by the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, which was leaked a week ago. It concluded that we had never had a systematic approach to the challenge from Tehran and, given the fact that whatever planning we did operate from had failed, we had even less to go on now. Yes, Obama compelled his defense chief to re-remember things. But what Gates then said said nothing.
There was, of course, the ongoing Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy ventriloquism act about sanctions. First, they would be “ferocious.” All the way down to, well, “we have to get Russia and China on board” and, of course, that would make the sanctions much less than punitive or, as the secretary of state promised, “biting.” It’s too bad Mrs. Clinton doesn’t still have presidential aspirations. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be parroting Obama deceits on Iran. Or, at least, she wouldn’t be.
It’s not as if the Iranians have ignored the opportunities provided them by Obama’s neutered diplomacy. Nobody still gives any credence to the fantasy speculation that Tehran’s atomic designs are peaceful. The only doubt is when an ample supply of bombs and other nuclear instruments will be ready. A year? Two? Maybe a month. The Obami are wishing that it will be sometime after 2016. No such luck.
So, after two decades of virtual disuse, the word “containment” is once again heard in the land. But the mullahs are not as rational as the members of the Politburo. Yet the liberal thinkers and politicians who always fretted that containment would not work and that we were doomed to a nuclear “holocaust” now have confidence in the rationality and commonsense of a government of Muslim madmen. Glenn Kessler has written a provocative analysis of the “containment” soporific in the Washington Post.
The Iranian bomb-in-the-making has already altered the geo-politics of the Middle East (and probably of the whole world, in fact.) Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Syrian dictatorship are now encouraged by the new balance of power in the region, a balance of power that is being reconfigured day after day by a mad Shi’a tyranny. The Saudis, believe me, won’t fight back, but they will retreat into their habitual lazy pusillanimity. In the meantime, Iran makes mischief in Latin America with and among the dictators who want both the theatrical and nuclear attention of America’s self-designated enemy in west Asia. President Karzai also plays the ayatollah’s game just as we put in troops and begin to pull them out at the same time. For a devastating analysis of the U.S. predicament in Afghanistan, read Fouad Ajami’s elegantly explosive essay, “Afghanistan and the Decline of American Power,” in the Wall Street Journal of April 9.
The position of the United States in world politics has become so low that one is almost nostalgic for George Bush. At least Bush did not think of himself as a great man—which he wasn’t—or as a visionary prophet, which he also wasn’t. But the present president does view himself as some kind of illuminating seer. The fact is, however, that Obama’s big take on international affairs is quite prosaic and antiquarian. It anchors America in a world that does not exist, a world structured on the equality of states and the essential justice of its institutions. He would think it an unsurpassable achievement if he could get every government beneath the vault of heaven to sign a treaty outlawing war. Like the Kellogg-Briand Pact which won each of its progenitors a Nobel Peace Prize. Obama has already gotten his Nobel. All he needs now to do is to deserve it. You know his plan. Kellogg-Briand preceded World War II by 11 years. Germany and Japan were among its initial signatories.
The president convened a swarm of heads-of-state and other lesser dignitaries two weeks ago in Washington to face the future of atomic weapons. In a way, he excels at such abstract spectaculars. Still, like his much-heralded new agreement with the Russians on nuclear missilery, it conveyed a sense of deja vu. Where was Iran? No, not in a personal appearance by some ayatollah. But as a burdening presence on the agenda. Of course, this is a subject to which, for Obama, the less attention paid the better. Still, the gathering did focus on the danger of nukes falling into the hands of terrorists. And, truth be told, these terrorists would likely be death-ecstasy Muslims. Which country might most likely find it in its interest to proliferate a dirty bomb to one or another army of God? Wow. Yes, of course, Iran.
There is a certain sophomoric charm (or maybe it is a certain sophomoric ease) with which he stabs at grand topics, especially as he is very inclined to look away from real blood. Obama can’t stand blood. He especially can’t stand looking at African blood. For which president in our time has done less in trying to stop the rivers and rivulets of African blood that flow continuously from Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa all the way down to Zimbabwe? And I don’t only mean Darfur.
As it happens, the very international system that Obama is so intent on maintaining (with band-aids and confab rhetoric) is the one that facilitates and protects genocides. Danny Goldhagen makes that point in his new book Worse Than War,which he digested for TNR. He is featured in a desolating film by the same title. You will see in the movie a longish self-exculpatory apologia by Mme. Albright as to why nothing was done or could have been done in Rwanda.
The president’s palsy over Iran is also motivated by his intellectual genuflections before and faith in the international system. No, I do not think we or, for that matter, Israel should rush to attack Qom. It is certainly a last option and, even then, not a certain one. But, since it is altogether evident that Obama has made no progress in putting together a sanctions regime, what does he propose now? Notice he no longer even talks about sanctions himself, leaving the empty verbiage to satraps like Clinton. So shouldn’t the U.S. be engaged in a campaign to undermine the Tehran regime? Not on Obama’s watch. But that’s the only watch we got. And why not? Because that would hurt the international community—what a community!— to which he is so attached.
Obama has one other passion, and it is Palestine. Actually, Palestine above all. Must I say this again? The Palestinians are a fissiparous fantasy, contemptuous of each other and especially hating of the Jews, hating of the Jews in a way that almost no Jews hate them, although some Jews do hate them. Obama now thinks the deus ex machina fixative to the entire problem is for the Israelis to cease building in East Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah is now the designated focus and locus. As it happens, Sheikh Jarrah is already a mixed neighborhood and the entry point to the Hebrew University and the Mount of Olives. Oh, yes, I forgot: Sheikh Jarrah is also where the Israel National Police Center has been located for decades. Now, I do not like the Jews heading for the old Shepherd’s Hotel. They also don’t like me. But that is not at all the point. The point is that what’s preventing a peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not an incursion or non-incursion of the Jews onto this piece of land claimed by the Arabs or that. What no one has ever shown is that a cohesive and coherent Palestinian authority is ready to live with Israel.