Posted by MataHarley on 21 February, 2009 at 11:54 am. 14 comments already!


One heck of an interesting article from Amir Taheri today that documents Obama’s indecision on an Iran policy, and the internal battles over control of that policy.

A MONTH after he took office, some analysts are starting to wonder whether President Obama has an Iran policy.

What of his controversial policy of opening an unconditional dialogue with the Khomeinist regime in Tehran? Hussein Qashqawi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tehran, told a press briefing last week: “We have had nothing other than some talk about change.”

He has a point. For example, Richard Holbrooke’s recent demarche to Iran on stabilizing Afghanistan continues the policy of the Bush administration, which consulted Tehran from the start of the post-9/11 Afghan war. (The Bush team also consulted Iran about Iraq.)


The latest noise from the administration is that the president has ordered a “thorough review of policy on Iran.”

Did you think Obama had already reviewed a policy that he had vehemently condemned and opposed? Wrong: As in many other cases, he opposed Bush policy without bothering to study and understand it.

The starting point of all this was Obama’s campaign pledge to talk to Iran “anywhere, anytime and without conditions.” Now, however, one could compile a long list of conditions set by Rice, Clinton, Power and Jones: “Anytime, anywhere” is gone.

In fact, the administration will try to prevaricate until after Iran’s June 20 presidential election. The hope is that former President Muhammad Khatami, a mid-ranking mullah and the darling of the Davos crowd, will beat Ahmadinejad and offer Obama an acceptable interlocutor.

There is also the unfortunate fact of three UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran. Legally speaking, America can’t ignore them. Politically, it can’t stick to them without making Obama’s promise of “unconditional talks” meaningless.

Obama campaigned on his talk without preconditions… but has done little tangible action save making some token flowerly speeches about extending a hand. Yet, as Taheri points out, those pesky UN Resolutions stand in Obama’s “no preconditions” way.

But thus far, we’ve seen the Campaigner-in-Chief do more delegating than leading, outsourcing the architecture of the stimulus and the proposed Homeowners Affordability and Stabilization Act to Summers and (in the case of the latter) Geithner. Once the basics are founded, Pelosi and Reid take over for the ensuing mutilation.

Now, according to Taheri, Obama’s Iran policy appears to be an outsourced task as well… but the question is, to whom?

Meanwhile, it’s unclear who will be in charge of Obama’s Iran dossier. Initially, it was rumored that Dennis Ross, a seasoned diplomat and senior scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, would be solely in charge, reporting directly to the president. But, a month into the administration, it’s still not clear what role, if any, Ross will play.

And several heavy hitters are fighting over control of Iran policy.

Susan Rice, Obama’s UN envoy, opened the hostilities last month by formally claiming control. That invited a riposte from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who pointed out that nothing could be done about Iran without her say-so.

Then a third claimant entered the fray: Samantha Power, the former journalist who is believed to be Obama’s closest foreign-policy adviser. As director of the National Security Council’s Middle East desk, she insists that Iran falls on her turf. And National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones advances his own claims as the administration’s top Iran expert.

The result has been confusion.

Certainly there can be no love lost between Powers and Clinton, as the former ended up resigning from her Obama campaign advisory role after calling Hillary a monster. Once inaugurated, Obama wasted no time in reappointing her to his administration after Powers offered to bury the hatchet with a woman with whom she would have to work closely.

But if there is one thing we all know about the Clintons, they have memories like elephants.

The problem is, as Obama stalls and reviews… possibly trying to wait out the Iranian election… Iran pushes forward with it’s nuclear agenda. Considering the latest reports that that they have acquired enough uranium to build a nuclear bomb, this dodging the issue while trying to figure out what to do may have serious consequences.

As Hillary pointed out during the campaign, Obama has this pesky habit of dealing with international crises by scheduling a speech with lofty phrases as a substitute for policy… a habit he continues after gaining the power of the Oval Office.

It works like this: The president makes a speech, orders a review and appoints a special emissary. Sympathetic newspapers praise the president’s prudence and wisdom compared to President George W. Bush’s gung-ho, trigger-happy foreign policy. The special emissaries are shown on TV going to faraway places and taking pictures with exotic foreign leaders. Think-tank experts then go on TV to remind us that Obama is dealing with problems that are “complex and multidimensioned.”

The hoped-for impression is that the problem has been taken care of, allowing the president to move on to tackle some other aspect of his Herculean task.

This John Kerry’esque “I have a plan” illusion gets peppered with photos ops of dialogue attempts. But, as Taheri points out – and in case you missed this in the first excerpts above – this differs not an iota from the previous POTUS.

What of his controversial policy of opening an unconditional dialogue with the Khomeinist regime in Tehran? Hussein Qashqawi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tehran, told a press briefing last week: “We have had nothing other than some talk about change.”

He has a point. For example, Richard Holbrooke’s recent demarche to Iran on stabilizing Afghanistan continues the policy of the Bush administration, which consulted Tehran from the start of the post-9/11 Afghan war. (The Bush team also consulted Iran about Iraq.)

While Obama dodges any substantial “change”, and vacillates on just who he plans to outsource his Iranian policy to, Steve Rosen of the Middle East Forum blog (normally a supporter of Obama’s appointees) documents what he considers a very disturbing Obama appointment to the National Intelligence Council. This, of course, only serves to make what should be clear Iranian policy more muddy.

According to Laura Rozen at the Foreign Policy blog, Chas W. Freeman, Jr., the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, will become chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and may at times participate in daily intelligence briefings to President Obama.

This is a profoundly disturbing appointment, if the report is correct. Freeman is a strident critic of Israel, and a textbook case of the old-line Arabism that afflicted American diplomacy at the time the state of Israel was born. His views of the region are what you would expect in the Saudi foreign ministry, with which he maintains an extremely close relationship, not the top CIA position for analytic products going to the President of the United States.

Here is a sample of his views on Israel, from his Remarks to the National Council on US-Arab Relations on September 12, 2005:

“As long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected. Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands is inherently violent. …And as long as such Israeli violence against Palestinians continues, it is utterly unrealistic to expect that Palestinians will stand down from violent resistance and retaliation against Israelis. Mr. Sharon is far from a stupid man; he understands this. So, when he sets the complete absence of Palestinian violence as a precondition for implementing the road map or any other negotiating process, he is deliberately setting a precondition he knows can never be met.”

Here is another example from 2008:

“We have reflexively supported the efforts of a series of right-wing Israeli governments to undo the Oslo accords and to pacify the Palestinians rather than make peace with them. … The so-called “two-state solution” – is widely seen in the region as too late and too little. Too late, because so much land has been colonized by Israel that there is not enough left for a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel; too little, because what is on offer looks to Palestinians more like an Indian reservation than a country.”

So here we are… Obama dances indecisively, his admin members jockey for individual power and influence, and he throws an anti-Israel Saudi into a prime position at the NIC. So far it looks like that evil and nefarious Bush architect, Karl Rove, may be right about the Obama administration merely winging it.

One has to wonder how all this waxing eloquent vs leadership will play with Netanyahu, ready to assume his Prime Minister position in Israel. His past Iranian policies were hardline, but right now the world expects BiBi to be more “center right”, matching the election composition of new Israeli parliament.

Center right or not, Netanyahu wasted no time in telling the world what he thought about Iran.

Immediately after he was invited to become the next prime minister by President Peres, Mr Netanyahu lost no time in restating his warnings about a nuclear-armed Iran, calling it the greatest existential threat faced by Israel since its creation. His words came a day after the UN announced that Tehran had acquired sufficient uranium to build a nuclear bomb — a “red line” development Israel has said it will not tolerate.

Considering the not-so-united path of Obama’s Middle East team, Taheri may be spot on in his final summary:

Remember you first read it here: Obama has no policy on Iran or any of the other major issues of foreign policy, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and China. He hopes to avoid endorsing the policies of his predecessor but is at a loss as to what could be done differently. The result is political paralysis.

Political paralysis generally results in status quo “leadership”… if that’s what it can be termed from a guy who spent years convincing us of his abilities to lead us to “change”. Or perhaps that change is primarily confined to driving the US domestic economy into the ground.

So until our Campaigner-in-Chief can make up his mind, I suspect we will be seeing Obama continue to embrace the Bush foreign policy… as in the Afghanistan detainees, his continuation (if not stepped up) of military action in Pakistan using the Bush drone/Predatory tactics, escalating Afghanistan with his own “surge” (surprisingly unopposed), and assuming the Bush legal stance on the “extraordinary rendition lawsuit” in California (as reported by our own FA author, Scott).

While Obama may quietly embrace the Bush foreign policy until he stops “winging it”, and figures out what to stand for, you can be sure his “political paralysis” will be carefully masked by speeches saying the contrary.

In the case of Iran… the bigger question is will Obama and his power-jockeys figure out a genuine direction before they have that nuclear bomb built? And will it be soon enough for BiBi’s Israel?

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x