Sunday, September 27, 2009

• Obama’s Blunder On Iran

We cannot listen to Iran’s Ahmadinejad posturing on the expansion of the Iranian atomic energy program, without recalling Obama’s dramatic reversal on the U.S. land based missile defense system in Europe only days ago. The blunder was not in the reversal, but in its timing and its process.

The degree to which Iran has advanced its uranium enrichment capabilities will remain an unknown factor, and the international community reaction will continue to be perplexed, and marooned in paralysis of fear. Iran will not let anyone into whatever enrichment facility exists. No one will see what the ayatollahs do not wish to make public, sending us into recollections of the disastrous outcome following a long hide-and-seek dance with Saddam Hussein seven years ago. This leaves the world, Israel and the U.S. in particular, with a conundrum of literally seismic proportions. Iran’s nuclear progress is not new, nor is it news. What is new is the loss of one very powerful strategic negotiating tool that could have been useful in addressing Iran’s dangerous belligerence – the land-based European missile defense system.

When Obama backed off the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, he did so without gaining a single concession from Putin and Russia. Russia had long blustered and railed against the U.S. missile deployment plan. Putin claimed the missiles were intended to threaten Russian sovereignty in the region, and that they were not meant to defend against Iran. The hovering menace from the U.S. was a significant affront to Putin's self-image. Obama’s abrogation of such significant “stance” on behalf of the United States suggests that this Administration learned nothing from the Ronald Reagan approach to international negotiations. Reagan changed the world when he boasted of his Strategic Defense Initiative satellite based defense system. The long list of concessions extracted from Gorbachev by Reagan, as well as his brilliance throughout the process of negotiations, should be compulsory reading for any student of Presidential impact on history.

Disclosure that Obama has known about Iran’s second uranium-enrichment facility all along, and that he has supposedly sprung an international trap for Iran, as some media such as the Washington Post are now suggesting, is peculiar analysis, as well as it is pandering in the extreme. Obama gave up a major negotiating card that could have been used to push Russia toward joining the strengthening of sanctions against Iran. China cannot be counted on to assist any future confrontation with Iran, having taken itself out of the equation with investments in Iran to feed its own requirements for energy and natural resources. The only other power, whose advocacy is truly needed in the region for serious containment of the ayatollahs in Tehran, is Russia. China and Russia provide Iran with enough trade to successfully finance the Ayatollahs through many more elections no matter what sanctions Obama might think of adding to the existing limitations. Iran’s path to becoming a nuclear power appears unobstructed.

The alternative to the controversial land based system being mothballed, according to Obama, is cheaper, quicker and more effective. This means the decision to embrace the new technology is very likely a good one. If you had this information in hand, would you have run headlong into an announcement, given that the planned European shield had been a major thorn under Putin’s belly? The diplomatic clout that the West’s tension with Iran has provided Putin still remains, and no concessions have been extracted, nor are we likely to see any extracted in the near future. Russia’s response has been to provide more rhetoric, and more blustering. The Russian envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said, “… Americans have simply put their own mistake right. And we are not duty-bound to pay for someone to put their own mistakes right.” Putin will continue to view Iran as an economic opportunity that will be exploited without interference from the West. The threat of crisis and instability in the region will also maintain energy prices at levels that Russia requires to finance its annual operating budget.

Adding to the confusion of signals emanating from the White House, Obama suggested that he could resurrect the European missile defense plan if Russia doesn’t help with the threat presented by Iran. This kind of accessory statement further weakens America’s hand. It suggests a lack of resolve on the initial reversal of the strategy, and it also infers apprehension about the new strategy and the underlying technology. Can America rely on the new capabilities and technologies or not? Are the interceptor capacities more flexible and cost-effective? Are the advanced sensor technologies capable of detecting and tracking enemy missiles, or aren’t they? Why would Obama even hint at such uncertainty?

The signals showered on Americans and their allies by this Administration’s decisions and announcements are confusing, but to Russia, they seem to be welcome and they reinforce its strategy of saber rattling. Sanctions have also not deterred Iran's ayatollahs. Now, with the loss of a major strategic and negotiating option against the Kremlin, the enlistment of the Russian bear’s assistance will undoubtedly be impossible, and will lead to a more belligerent Iran. We can expect an increase in its destabilizing activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its financing of terrorism. The violence we witnessed against the Iranian people after the recent elections should be indication enough that a strategy pursuing, "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect," as Obama wishes it, is simply just that, … wishful thinking.

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