Ever wonder whether Obama’s policy towards Iran represents something coherent, or just naive incompetence? Here’s an excellent article by Michael Doran in Mosaic that fleshes out the details of a theory about Obama’s approach to Iran. It doesn’t take the most extreme stance of all—which would be the “Obama is a secret Iranian sympathizer” theory—but the piece’s premise is credible, and it is well worth taking the time to read in its entirety.
It’s a bit difficult to summarize, but the article makes several points. The first two are that much of Obama’s approach focuses on his deep contempt for Bush and his powerful desire to differentiate himself, as well as Obama’s general penchant for secrecy. But there’s much more:
During the Bush years, an elaborate myth had developed according to which the mullahs in Tehran had themselves reached out in friendship to Washington, offering a “grand bargain”: a deal on everything from regional security to nuclear weapons. The swaggering Bush, however, had slapped away the outstretched Iranian hand, squandering the opportunity of a lifetime…
Obama based his policy of outreach to Tehran on two key assumptions of the grand-bargain myth: that Tehran and Washington were natural allies, and that Washington itself was the primary cause of the enmity between the two. If only the United States were to adopt a less belligerent posture, so the thinking went, Iran would reciprocate. In his very first television interview from the White House, Obama announced his desire to talk to the Iranians, to see “where there are potential avenues for progress.” Echoing his inaugural address, he said, “[I]f countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”
Unfortunately, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, ignored the president’s invitation…
Because, of course, the entire thing was a myth.
Did Obama actually believe the myth? Your answer to that depends on how you answer that old “knave vs. fool” question; but I can practically guarantee that many of Obama’s liberal advisors and aides believed it and believe it still, and I contend that they are fools—otherwise known as “useful idiots.”
Later developments forced Obama’s hand—for a while:
In 2010, [Obama] signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), which eventually would prove more painful to Iran than any previous measure of its kind.
In later years, whenever Obama would stand accused of being soft on Iran, he would invariably point to CISADA as evidence to the contrary. “[O]ver the course of several years,” he stated in March 2014, “we were able to enforce an unprecedented sanctions regime that so crippled the Iranian economy that they were willing to come to the table.” The “table” in question was the negotiation resulting in the November 2013 agreement, known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), which we shall come to in due course. But masked in the president’s boast was the fact that he had actually opposed CISADA, which was rammed down his throat by a Senate vote of 99 to zero…
Obama’s heart was not in it, to say the least: “For Obama, to force a confrontation with Khamenei would destroy any chance of reaching an accommodation on the nuclear front and put paid to his grand vision of a new Middle East order.”
That grand vision fits in well not only with Obama’s idea of the reasonableness of the mullahs (and let’s not forget the influence of Valerie Jarrett, although the article does not mention her), but it fits in even better with Obama’s own towering grandiosity. Obama believes that he is the one who can do it, because he’s smarter, more reasonable, craftier, more perceptive, more persuasive, more whatever-is-needed than all his predecessors.
As for Syria, Obama’s policy (which looked to some like mere confusion) was dictated by his fear of antagonizing Iran and jeopardizing the wonderful transformative agreement that he sees as being just on the horizon. Doran also believes that shortly before the 2012 election, Obama assured Teheran (as he did Russia) that in his second term he’d have a lot more freedom and “flexibility.” The course of subsequent negotiations makes for depressing reading, although we pretty much already know the gist of it, which can be summarized as, “Obama concedes.”
Obama’s Middle Eastern policy has been so Iran-centric that it’s hard not to notice the pattern. But Doran’s article offers a detailed history and a coherent way of looking at the big picture.
That it will make your blood run cold is no surprise; your blood has probably already been running cold for quite some time.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]DONATE
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