Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Obama's Iran policy: lost and not profound

Barrack Obama's recent interview regarding his views on Iran and the nuclear threat they pose and the possibility of a preemptive Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities was almost comical in the kind of empty and overblown rhetoric with nothing substantive behind it  that has been Obama's political hallmark. Except that with the possibility of a nuclear Iran, the stakes arent just political, they are deadly.

 Obama has had a long history of using overblown rhetoric to cover up the fact that he is not saying much of anything, often misusing words to make something he is saying sound weightier than it really is and in an interview leading up to his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu it became not just comical but something to worry about.

 Perhaps in an attempt at trying to give the impression that he understands the gravity of the situation, Obama used the word "profound" no less than seven times in a matter of minutes. It was as if he thought that simply by using the word "profound", people would think what he was saying was profound. It wasn't. It was just the opposite.

 Here are some "profound nuggets" from the interview, all quotes from Obama:

 "a peaceful and stable and representative Syrian government would be a profound loss for Iran."

 "Preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn't just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States."

 "The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound."

 "Netanyahu has a profound responsibility to protect Israelis" (given the Holocaust and anti-Semitism)

 "..one of the reasons that the U.S.-Israeli relationship has survived so well....is because it has been a profoundly bipartisan commitment to the state of Israel. "

"If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won't name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries  in the Middle East who say, ' we are going to start a program and we will have nuclear weapons'. And at that point the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has many tensions and fissures, is profound".

 "If people want to say about me that I have a profound preference for peace over war -- I make no apologies for that.These aren't video games that we're playing here."

The question is who gets taken in by this stuff? Who believes that  all these other countries in the Middle East, none of whom have ever expressed an interest in a nuclear weapon are all sudden going to rush off to develop one because of Iran? If that were the case theyd be doing it now.

 The danger here is not just to make fun of the emptiness, even silliness, of Obama's rhetoric, his thinking and his repetitive use of the word "profound"  to make it sound like he saying profound things when he isnt, but to understand how it  reveals that, as always, he prefers talk over anything. And almost always empty talk. Backed up, as history and experience has shown, by nothing.

 A nuclear Iran is the single biggest danger facing the world today and that should be an easy point to make without a lot of rhetorical gobbledygook. Which points to the real danger of whether or not  Obama is capable of dealing with the danger of Iran since he has made it clear he is reluctant to draw any red lines.The Israelis have suggested that talks with Iran only resume if they allow UN weapons inspectors in first to verify Iran's claims. Obama has rejected that as a non-starter indicating that talking for him, even if its empty, is better than acting.

It is impossible to read the entire interview with Obama or even dissect the statements reprinted above and find anything that Obama said that a 10th grader doesn't already know.

 Is he supposed to be taken seriously because he points out that real war isn't a video game? Is there anyone who doesn't prefer peace over war? Doesn't everyone already know that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is the most important national security issue of the time? Doesn't a ten year old know that nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists are a mortal danger  and an unacceptable risk? Does Obama think he is making a point when he says these dangers are profound?

 Does Obama think he needs to point out that Netanyahu has a responsibility to protect Israel and Israelis? Does he think saying the responsibility is "profound"  is proof that  he understands? Or approves? Does he know that even if he didnt approve it wouldnt matter one scintilla to Netanyahu or the Israelis?

Its' worrisome because it is a hallmark of a mind not capable of dealing with the significance or reality of the nuclear threat, only the politics of the moment. And saying whatever he thinks he has to say to make political points. And hoping that talk is enough. It may be enough for the New York Times which tends to mimic even the most absurd of Obama's statements,like the idea that an Israeli strike on Iran would make Iran look like the victim. Who Obama and the  New York Times think will feel sorry for Iran if their nuclear facilities are hit neither says. And they are forgetting or ignoring that a year ago Israel hit Syria's nuclear facility destroying it ( though no one will officially admit it) and no one felt sorry for Syria or portrayed them as a victim. It's an absurd argument.

The constant talk may also be an indication that there is a good chance Obama doesn't have any idea  what he will do if sanctions fail, and based on his 16 year history as an elected official, there is a good chance he would prefer not to do anything if it contains some risk. Which, as everyone else knows is the riskiest strategy of all.

Obama is the most risk adverse president in American history. As a state senator in Illinois Obama voted "present" more than 100 times so he wouldn't have to vote for or against anything. As a US senator he both supported the Washington DC gun ban AND the Supreme Court decision a year later that ruled it unconstitutional. And his quick capitulations to political opponents on policy issues, even when he had the biggest congressional majority in 60 years is well documented.

When Obama says, as he did in the interview that,"I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," it's telling that he felt the need to say it. The reason he felt the need to say is because the Israeli government recognizes, as Iran does as well --  that the opposite is true. All Obama has ever done throughout his political career in terms of policy is bluff.

 Whether its bluffing on a public health care option, rattling a saber in Libya but taking no action until France and England got so tired of his waffling they launched their own air strikes without even bothering to tell Obama first, or his promise to get rid of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, something he promised to do not once but four times, Obama's history is he is all about bluffing. And his biggest bluff is  when he says " I don't bluff".  Netanyahu knows it. And Iran knows it too even if many in the American press led by a blind leading the blind New York Times and what's left of in-denial Democrats and progressives still refuse to  accept it. It's amusing that a New York Times editorial warned Iran not to "test this president's mettle", when it was this president who, during the demonstrations against Iran's rigged elections said he didnt want to "meddle". With Obama, there is more not wanting to meddle than mettle.

The one profundity that Obama is sure to pay attention to though, is the reality that the US commitment to Israel is, in Obama's words, a "profoundly bipartisan commitment". As is his practice of misusing words to make what he is saying sound deeper than it is since no one knows exactly what "profoundly bipartisan" is, a bill went before the senate to isolate and black list the Bank of Iran to  ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran. Obama opposed that bill and made his opposition clear, and made his case for why he opposed the bill.The bill passed the senate anyway 100-0.

It is not likely that anything Obama says is going to influence Netanyahu. Israel has a window of opportunity in terms of a military strike that is far shorter than that of the United States. Iran has the missile capability, once it has a nuclear weapon that could strike Israel years before it would have the ability to launch a missile that could reach the United States. And when discussing preemptive strikes, its also important to remember that it was the Israeli's who saved the world from Sadaam Hussein acquiring a nuclear weapon when they launched a preemptive strike and bombed Sadaam's nuclear plant in 1981 over the irate objections of Reagan and the United States and the rest of the world. A UN resolution, joined in by the United States, condemned Israel for the attack. And regarding Israel's track record they have been proved right every time and US intelligence has proved wrong, going back to Sadaam's supposed WMD that was the Bush excuse for invading Iraq.

 There is little doubt that the Gulf War would have had very different consequences if not a different resolution, and the world would be a very different place had Sadaam had a nuclear weapon.

Instead of publicly emphasizing diplomacy, Obama should be emphasizing that Iran's time is running out even while pursuing a diplomatic solution. And Obama should talk of a military strike if necessary not in vague or subtle terms but openly. Obama  should realize  that for the Israelis the window for using sanctions is fast closing. Something everyone else seems to know but him.Which may be what  is truly profound.


James Ala said...

Winston Churchill is quoted as say it is better to jaw jaw than to war war.

I will leave aside whether Obama's jaw-jaw is worth anything to anyone. I find it interesting that Obama's attempt to pander to the Israel First block failed to impress either the Likudnicks or the non-interventionists. It is quite pathetic to see Obama attempt to play the game of "who is a better friend of Israel" especially when the rules are being set by the likes of Bibi and AIPAC.

I will comment on the whole logic, or lack of same about an air strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A strike at this time serves no one's interest; especially if Israel plays lone wolf.

First off Iran learned much from Saddam's follies. The nuclear infrastructure of Iran is much more dispersed, and lot more hardened than the Butcher of Baghdad ever dreamed of for his efforts.

So right off the bat, an air strike by Israel is poor tactics. Air power is a very blunt and imprecise tool to end Iran's nuclear ambitions. Maybe Israel sets back Iran a few years, maybe not.

An air strike could be counterproductive; giving the Mullahs the excuse to abrogate the NPT and what little enforcement the International community has.

But this all predicated on the supposition that Iran is going to build a device. That supposition has no support in reality.

What Iran has been building is the capability to produce a device. That is not the same as actually building a device.

The easiest way to illustrate the difference is to look at Japan. Japan has the nuclear plants, it has the manufacturing capability, it has the technical know-how, it even has the delivery vehicles. If it desired Japan could build and deploy numerous nuclear devices at will. What Japan lacks is that will.

So why would Iran get the big boom? Where would it find the will? To answer this question, it is best to forget considerations of Mad Mullahs bent on Israel's destruction, and call on Clausewitz. Realpolik cuts through the miasma of the right and left.


James Ala said...


The first and foremost reason for Iran getting a nuclear device is for national survival. It is a way for the Mullahs to stay in power. It ends any and all notions of regime change by Israel or anyone else. A nuclear device ensures the Islamic Republic and its leaders continuance.

The second reason for getting a device is to counter the devices that Israel possesses. It breaks the Israeli monopoly. From the Iranian prospective, this could be a good thing. It strips the Israelis of the option of a first strike. It provides one hell of a defense.

As for offense, an Iranian device makes Geo-political sense against the Shia State true bete noire : Saudi Arabia. The Sunni state is the real thorn in the side for Shia Iran. Again this is raw power politics.

Going after Israel with a nuke makes zero sense, there is no way a strike against Israel does not kill many Palestinian and Israeli Arabs.

If going after Israel makes no sense, going after the US makes even less. First off, how does Iran get that bright idea past its two great allies in the UN: China and Russia? In what Geo-political calculation does that make any sense? "Hey were going to launch an attack against the US, a nation with enough nukes to turn us into a radio-active parking lot hundreds of time over. Hope you don't mind the fallout coming your way."

I also wonder, where Iran would be getting the delivery vehicles to launch said attacks? Iran only has medium range missiles at this time; who is selling them the next jump up? The theory of rocketry is well known, this is true; but building said ICBM is another matter all together.

James Ala said...

Obama may be right for all the wrong reasons on his go-slow approach, but he is right. Iran is not in violation of the NPT as written; capability is not intent.

A head long charge into the military option is not warranted; the facts on the ground do not support it. Those specific areas of non-compliance are being acted on by the International community as best as such thing are. Sanctions are slow, messy, and often feckless tools of diplomacy; but they beat out 500lb bombs. Sanction can be tightened or loosened with Iranian behavior; bombs on the other hand can not be un-dropped.

And since I'm back to the subject of bombs, one last point about them: they are not enough. The only true way to put a stop to the Iranian move to a nuclear device, if it exists, is boots on the ground. That would be 1.7 million boots on the ground to occupy Iran using Gen David Petraeus' COIN calculations.

But of course that is not going to happen; you would have to fire up the draft to do that. Thus, yet another flop, flail and twitch were our gals and guys in the military attempt to do the impossible on the ground. It will be Iraq on steroids.

alibe said...

Obama is profoundly challenged.