What is US game plan?
Patrick Seale, Nation (Pakistan), Jun 9 2012
Obama’s Middle East policies seem increasingly problematic. His expanded use of missile strikes by Predator drones against targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, now being launched at a rate of about one every week, seem certain to create more “terrorists” than they kill. They arouse fierce anti-US sentiment not least because of the inevitable civilian death toll. Obama is said to decide by himself which terrorist suspect is to be targeted for killing in any particular week, as if to confer some presidential sanction on operations of very doubtful legality. Even more worrying is Obama’s apparently wilful sabotage of two diplomatic initiatives, one by Europe’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the other by Kofi Annan. Ashton has been leading an attempt by the P5+1 to negotiate a ‘win-win’ deal with Iran over its nuclear programme, while Annan has been struggling to find a negotiated way out of the murderous Syrian crisis. Obama seems intent on compromising both initiatives.
Ashton managed to launch the P5+1 talks with Iran in Istanbul on Apr 14, after having agreed upon the ground rules with the chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili. She pledged at that time that the NPT would be “a key basis” for the talks, thus sending a clear signal that Iran, as a signatory of the NPT, had the right to enrich uranium up to 3.5% for power generation and other peaceful purposes. She also declared that the negotiations would “be guided by the principle of step-by-step approach and reciprocity,” thus giving a strong indication that the sanctions would be lifted in stages once Iran gave up enriching uranium to 20% and provided convincing evidence that it was not seeking nuclear weapons. Iran responded favourably to this approach and the talks got off to a good start. However, at the next meeting on May 23, in Baghdad, the talks ground to a virtual halt. No progress of any sort was made save for an agreement to meet again in Moscow on Jun 18-19. The early optimism was dispelled because Obama had hardened the US position. There was to be no recognition of Iran’s rights to enrich lower-grade uranium, indeed the P5+1 refused even to discuss the subject, and no easing of sanctions. On the contrary, Iran was faced with the prospect of even stiffer sanctions coming into force on Jul 1. The only sweetener was an offer of some spare parts for Iran’s civilian aircraft in exchange for an Iranian pledge to freeze 20% enriched uranium. Iran was asked, in effect, to give up its trump card in exchange for peanuts. It was no surprise that Tehran considered the miserly offer insulting.
Obama seems to have been persuaded that Iran, already reeling under crippling sanctions, would meekly submit to US demands if still more pressure was applied. This was a fundamental error of judgement. Far from submitting, Iran reacted defiantly and hopes for a win-win deal evaporated. There are now no great expectations of a breakthrough at the Moscow talks. So what is Obama up to? He seems to have adopted Israel’s hard-line view that Iran should be compelled to close down its nuclear industry completely, a clear deal-breaker. It is not all together clear whether he is doing so to counter accusations of weakness from his Republican challenger Mitt Romney or whether his hard, uncompromising line is intended to stave off Israel’s much-trumpeted threats to attack Iran in the coming months which, in view of the US electoral calendar, would inevitably suck in the US. Obama has already joined Israel in clandestine warfare against Iran. In an article on Jun 1 in the NYT, David Sanger revealed:
From his first months in office, Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities.
USrael then jointly developed the cyber-weapon Stuxnet, which caused considerable damage to the centrifuges in Iran’s Natanz facility. By any standards, launching Stuxnet against Iran was an act of state terrorism. That Israel should engage in such practices is not surprising: its entire regional policy is based on subverting and destabilising its neighbours so as to ensure its own supremacy. But how can the US, which claims to be the supreme guardian of international order, justify such lowly behaviour? Not content with sabotaging Ashton’s efforts, Obama is also undermining Annan’s difficult mission in Syria. Obama pays lip-service to Annan’s peace plan while at the same time secretly coordinating the flow of funds, intelligence and weapons to Assad’s enemies. Numerous sources attest that the US has taken upon itself the role of deciding which among the various armed rebel groups deserve support. Obama seems to have embraced the argument of USraeli hawks and neocons that bringing down the Syrian regime is the best way to weaken and isolate Iran, sever its ties with Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements and eventually bring about a regime change in Tehran.
The puzzle is to understand what has happened to Obama. This former professor of constitutional law was expected to correct the flagrant crimes of the Bush administration, such as the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the water-boarding, the network of secret prisons where torture was routine, the practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’. Instead, by his own violent and questionable acts, he is widening the gulf between the US and the Muslim world. Henry Kissinger in a Jun 2 WaPo article reminded the US of the dangers of humanitarian intervention in Syria, writing:
If adopted as a principle of foreign policy, this form of intervention raises broader questions for US strategy. Does the US consider itself obliged to support every popular uprising against any non-democratic government? The US has strategic as well as humanitarian reasons to favor the fall of Assad and to encourage international diplomacy to that end. On the other hand, not every strategic interest rises to a cause for war; were it otherwise, no room would be left for diplomacy. [If we depose Assad,] a new civil war could follow. In reacting to one tragedy, we must be careful not to facilitate another.