Sunday, August 31, 2014

Foreign Policy: Obama Readies a “September Surprise”

“I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet.”

--Barack Obama, 8.28.14
Iran Foreign Minsiter Mohammad Javad Zarif with Sec. John Kerry
People are unfairly jumping on the president for his “no strategy” comment. Obama does have a strategy. He’s just not ready to spring it on us. When he does, he hopes it will have the impact that John Kennedy’s “October surprise”--the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis--had on that year’s mid-term congressional elections. Hapless Republicans arguing at the time that Kennedy was soft on Cuba ended up embarrassed and their party defeated. Obama is about not only to be tough on ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), but also dramatic: Obama is readying an anti-ISIS coalition he hopes will include current enemy Iran.

We have argued that President Obama is moving toward a rapprochement with Iran that will be a lesser version of President Nixon’s dramatic 1971-72 opening to China. Evidence this move is on the way continues to mount. FOX News correspondent James Rosen recently reported that
Iran – one of four countries the United States accuses of supporting terrorism – has begun arming the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq, as the Kurds scramble to combat the threat posed by ISIS. . . Dr. Dlawer Ala'Aldeen, a former Kurdish Cabinet officer [said] in an interview. “If you are in the place of the Kurds, what would you do when you’re facing that? You would ask for help from any neighbor.”
The link-up of Iran with Iraq’s Kurds is a surprise, because, as Rosen says, Iran
has used brutal means to suppress Iran’s own population of 8 million Kurds, whose yearning for independence matches that of their Iraqi brethren. By steering arms to the Iraqi Kurds, . . . the Iranians may be trying simultaneously to weaken the military position of ISIS and use influence with the Kurds to slow their bid for complete autonomy.
The Iran-Kurd link makes more sense if we notice that Iran’s backing a U.S. ally in the fight against the terrorist ISIS moves Iran and the U.S. itself closer together against the common enemy, along the path foreign policy guru Les Gelb earlier recommended.

 Peter Beinart, like Gelb a liberal New York City-based Jewish critic of Israel associated with New York’s Council on Foreign Relations, has in the Atlantic similarly hinted at an Iran-U.S. link. Beinart has done so by separating Iran from terrorist entities such as ISIS that plan for direct attacks on the U.S.

According to Beinart, Obama has a coherent strategy: it’s “don’t take on any foreign entity except al Qaeda-related forces.” That means leaving Iran alone:
Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is [h]undreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.  . . Electoral politics has driven him in the same direction. There’s a reason Obama spent his reelection campaign declaring that it’s time to “focus on nation-building here at home.” Those declarations won him votes.
Already, we can see the outlines of the coming Iran-U.S. anti-ISIS coalition in Secretary of State John Kerry’s Friday New York Times “we DO have a strategy” op ed. Kerry wrote that ISIS:
if left unchecked, will not be satisfied at stopping with Syria and Iraq. . . Even as they butcher Shiite Muslims and Christians in their effort to touch off a broader ethnic and sectarian conflict, they pursue a calculated strategy of killing fellow Sunni Muslims. . . With . . . the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries. . . The United States will hold the presidency of the United Nations Security Council in September, and . . . President Obama will lead a summit meeting . . . to put forward a plan to deal with this collective threat. . . no decent country can support the horrors perpetrated by ISIS, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to help stamp out this disease.
Drawing Iran into an anti-ISIS coalition works for Syria, Turkey, Qatar, Hezbollah, Shia Iraq, and Hamas, all already on Iran’s side. But it is most certainly a problem for Israel and Iran’s Sunni Muslim enemies worried about a nuclear, terrorist-helping Iran. Iran’s growing power has brought together Israel with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Re-read Kerry’s words above. He’s not addressing Shia Iran when he talks of ISIS pursuing “a calculated strategy of killing fellow Sunni Muslims.”

Discussion about Obama’s lack of strategy, along with growing signs some sort of major foreign policy re-alignment is afoot--one that possibly includes a surprise patterned after Nixon’s trip to China--has prompted the 91-year-old Henry Kissinger to educate us once again. Kissinger still believes in the relevancy of the nation-state, balance-of-power strategy he feels kept the peace in his time. Kissinger writes in the Wall Street Journal:
The clash between the international economy and the political institutions that ostensibly govern it . . . weakens the sense of common purpose necessary for world order. The economic system has become global, while the political structure of the world remains based on the nation-state. Economic globalization, in its essence, ignores national frontiers. Foreign policy affirms them.
Yet although Kissinger honors nation states, they are growing ever more irrelevant in the Middle East. Aren’t we able to see that though Kissinger is right about the power of the global economy to disrupt the traditional order worldwide, the chief counterforce isn’t the nation state?  Rather, it’s religion in the form of anti-modern Islam, whether Sunni extremism or Shia extremism, and whether Mecca- or Tehran- or ISIS-based.

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