Understanding Obama’s Strategy

 

I am attempting to understand Obama’s position on Iran.  What I write below is what I think Obama and his cohorts think they are doing. I am trying to write from their perspective, so it will be sympathetic.

Obama’s Grand Strategy:
The real problem in the world is Sunni extremism.  ISIS, al-Qaeda, and all their affiliates are Sunni. Iran is the natural enemy of Sunni extremism, and is thus the natural ally of the United States. Sure, the Iranians have killed many Americans, but that is because America threatened Iran’s interests in the region. Iran’s true ambitions have always been regional. If America shows a willingness to see Iran succeed regionally and to become a protector of Shia everywhere in the region, they will no longer see the need to be hostile to the United States. An opportunity exists to cultivate Iran as an ally and make Iran a proxy in the America’s war on Sunni terror networks.

A nuclear Iran in the immediate future would further destabilize the region and make an even wider war much more likely. A nuclear deal is needed to push the Iranian nuke off the table for at least a few more years. During those years, America will cultivate an ever-closer alliance with the Iranian regime, making the Iran dependent on the United States and its allies for its economic health, without which the regime is at risk from its own restive population. After a few years of economic growth, and feeling less and less threatened by the United States, a mollified Iran will begin to modify its policies. Even when Iran begins to re-arm and finish its nuclear program, it will not matter: We will have affected Iranian policy through economic means, and Iran will discover that its regional goals are being fulfilled.

The regime is comprised of rational actors who understand that a nuclear attack on Israel will lead to Iran’s destruction; therefore, there will be no nuclear attack on Israel. America will remain dedicated to maintaining sufficient Israeli military power to ensure that any conventional or nuclear attack on Israel, successful or not, will lead to the destruction of the aggressor country. By doing this, we will secure Israel from such attacks. This will not, however, secure Israel or the United States from terrorism.

Cultivating an alliance with Iran is important, because this will force the Sunni countries, led by Saudi Arabia, more deeply into the arms of the United States — given that there will be no one but us capable of countering Iranian influence. The Saudis will seek greater protection from us, and we will in exchange demand greater effort from them to defund and fight extremist Sunni terrorist networks. When the Saudis recognize that the Sunni extremists can’t defeat the US or Iran, they will work to dry up funding to Sunni terrorist networks, further isolating ISIS and al-Qaeda. In turn, Iran will see that only by keeping on favorable terms with the US can their influence continue to grow; thus they will fight Sunni extremists for us, and thus they will not fund international terrorism for fear of undermining the regional influence they’ve acquired.

The only problem here is the Palestinians and Israel. Understandably, the Iranians and Arab powers will not let this go.  However, this is a historic opportunity for Israel.  It is in Israel’s long-term interest to make peace with the Palestinians at any price. Once that peace is at hand, funding for Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorists groups will dry up, and Israel will be secure. As long as Israel occupies the West Bank and blockades Gaza, Iran and the Sunni countries will continue to support and encourage terrorism in the region. Once peace is made, however, no power will be motivated to sustain tensions over Israel.

The Logic of the Nuclear Deal:
We all know the Iranians lie and cheat on all the deals they make. We know they will lie and cheat on this deal too. The brilliance of the nuclear deal is that it does not matter. The Iranians have strong incentives to delay their Bomb for the time being, and that delay is all we need. While they delay, our alliance with them will grow. Iran will come to see its interests in a new light. By the time they get the Bomb, they will no longer feel the need to use it, nor will they see the United States as their main enemy. If we can get the stubborn Israelis to see that peace — at any price — is in their interests, Iran will no longer view them as an enemy. By then, a nuclear Iran will be no greater a worry than a nuclear Israel is today.

We are not naive; we know these results are not inevitable and will require deft diplomacy over the coming years. If a warmonger comes to office in the next election, our progress could be lost. But if the alliance with Iran is cultivated properly, and if Israel makes the necessary concessions for peace, Sunni Islamic terrorism will be starved for funds and volunteers. We will have a powerful proxy in Iran to fight Sunni radicals, and the region will be far more stable for it.  Diplomacy in the Middle East will be about managing relations between two powerful regional blocs: the Sunni bloc, led by Saudi Arabia, and the Shia bloc, led by Iran. America can manage that rivalry, and with peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the existence of the Jewish state will fade as a regional grievance. There will be no more large wars, no more major terrorist threats, and stability will thus be brought to the whole region.

I’m trying to figure out what the Obama Administration believes it might gain from this deal, and this is what I’ve come up with. I disagree with the Administration’s assumptions, but from what I can tell, they’re thinking along these lines.

What do you think?

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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  1. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    Wow Brian, that is an interesting read.  I would only suggest one edit:

    Obama’s Grand strategy:

    The real problem in the world is that the U.S. complicates or contaminates everything it touches.  This has led to Sunni extremism. ISIS, Al-Qaeda all the affiliates are Sunni.

    • #1
  2. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    PsychLynne:Wow Brian, that is an interesting read. I would only suggest one edit:

    The real problem in the world is that the U.S. complicates or contaminates everything it touches. This has led to Sunni extremism. ISIS, Al-Qaeda all the affiliates are Sunni.

    I like your suggestion.  However I am asking seriously do you think that the Obama administration really thinks that America is as responsible for Sunni extremism as it is for Shia extremism?  I honestly think that when the Iranians say that America is the great Satan Obama thinks “You have a bit of a point there.”  I don’t think that before the Iraq war Obama thinks that Osama bin Laden had reason to attack us.  I think he believes that Al-Qaeda was and is unreasonable.  I could be wrong though and I might be too generous to Obama.

    • #2
  3. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Nope. The Obama administration operates on the “can I just eat my waffle” idea of international governance.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbk9RXcEUIc

    In other words, get a deal so he doesn’t look like a failure and get him to the golf course on time.

    Oh and the US is to blame for every bad thing that happens.

    • #3
  4. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @Wiley

    A few unsure premises, but the theory is good as far as it goes. However, I think the larger context is missing: We have switched sides. As you state, correctly I believe, the US is trying to gain Iran as an asset. The US also sought another asset. Judicial Watch has found that the US, with other countries, “wanted to see the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria to “isolate” the Assad regime.” They even knew beforehand the plan “could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria.”  Not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion” — namely, the emergence of ISIS — “but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy, calling the future ISIS a “US strategic asset.” 

    So we want Iran and ISIS as assets. Formerly Israel was the US asset in the region. So the big picture is, the US has switched sides, Israel is out. 

    Here is the link to the secret document quoted above: http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf. Here is an article on ISIS as an asset: https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/secret-pentagon-report-reveals-west-saw-isis-as-strategic-asset-b99ad7a29092

    • #4
  5. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    Here’s my take.

    Obama’s Grand Strategy: My legacy is weak, let me roll the dice and see if this works out.  What have I got to lose?

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @Wiley

    Remember, Assad was Iran’s supreme asset, and the US took him out. So we are not trying to please Iran. There is a larger game being played. The US is playing a chess game of manipulation with the ME countries as pawns, and it will not work because no one wants to be a pawn.

    • #6
  7. liberal jim Inactive
    liberal jim
    @liberaljim

    Obama views himself first and foremost as a citizen of the world.  That means he think ideas like patriotism are arcane and dangerous.  He also believes, if there were more truly knowledgeable, highly rational and superiorly moral people like himself handling things all conflicts would be defused with little or no problem.

    In short the only thing we lack is more Obamas.  Now there is a scary thought.

    • #7
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Brian, I would guess that quite a few elements of this are correct. If you want to look for the most sympathetic interpretation, you could speculate that someone in the Administration has been reading Stephen Kinzner, and that this all sounded very persuasive. (Kinzner has not repudiated the argument, despite this.)

    • #8
  9. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Sounds convincing!

    Imho, the US just doesn’t want to be taken for granted by any of the blocks or players in the Middle East.  “I can be friends with Iran if I want” (overstating) keeps the rest on their toes.

    • #9
  10. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Instugator:Nope. The Obama administration operates on the “can I just eat my waffle” idea of international governance.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbk9RXcEUIc

    In other words, get a deal so he doesn’t look like a failure and get him to the golf course on time.

    Oh and the US is to blame for every bad thing that happens.

    While it does seem what the Obamanoid group does in effect.  I do not agree they were thinking in your way when they actually worked on the deal.  You don’t get through a stressful job like working in the white house if your only goal is to get your man on the golf course.

    • #10
  11. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Wiley:

    http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf. Here is an article on ISIS as an asset: https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/secret-pentagon-report-reveals-west-saw-isis-as-strategic-asset-b99ad7a29092

    Wow.  Very interesting  will follow you links and check it out.  I think trying to make Iran an ally will work as about as well as making ISIS an ally.  I think their mistake was thinking that the Iraqi army would hold and would not fold like a paper tiger so quickly. I also think they did not think it mattered how badly the Sunni Iraqis were treated.  Your theory makes sense about why Obama was unconcerned ISIS in the first place and only woke up to them when Iraq started to fall.

    • #11
  12. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Manny:Here’s my take.

    Obama’s Grand Strategy: My legacy is weak, let me roll the dice and see if this works out. What have I got to lose?

    That is not what they tell themselves.  That is not what they think they are doing.

    • #12
  13. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Wiley:Remember, Assad was Iran’s supreme asset, and the US took him out. So we are not trying to please Iran. There is a larger game being played. The US is playing a chess game of manipulation with the ME countries as pawns, and it will not work because no one wants to be a pawn.

    Yes, I think that they wanted Assad to go but the Sunni extremist proved too much to handle.  Just like in Iran I think the administration believes that Iran’s ambitions really are regional and they won’t push out into the world and export their revolution.  I think they are wrong in that assumption.  Iran will also make what are for Obama unpredictable moves.  I do not think the Iranians see their interests the way that Obama sees them.

    • #13
  14. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Zafar:Sounds convincing!

    Imho, the US just doesn’t want to be taken for granted by any of the blocks or players in the Middle East. “I can be friends with Iran if I want” (overstating) keeps the rest on their toes.

    It seems to me that the Administration thinks they will gain an advantage by trying to be friends with everyone but the danger I that I do not think they will handle well, is when your old friends think they can’t trust you anymore and the new friends don’t trust you yet, so that you have a certain period of time when no one trusts you for anything.  In that kind a situation a very, very serious war can start.  That is my fear.

    • #14
  15. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Brian, I would guess that quite a few elements of this are correct. If you want to look for the most sympathetic interpretation, you could speculate that someone in the Administration has been reading Stephen Kinzner, and that this all sounded very persuasive. (Kinzner has not repudiated the argument, despite this.)

    I wish it weren’t so.  I just don’t think you can manipulate Radical Islam either Shia or Sunni so easily as the Obama administration thinks you can.  I think that Iran will simply see us a weaker enemy now not as a potential friend.

    • #15
  16. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Brian, I would guess that quite a few elements of this are correct. If you want to look for the most sympathetic interpretation, you could speculate that someone in the Administration has been reading Stephen Kinzner, and that this all sounded very persuasive. (Kinzner has not repudiated the argument, despite this.)

    Read the links.  Sounds like Kinzner was onto my theory before I was.  It is so dangerous when negotiating or fighting to not understand what your enemy really wants.  I think the Obama administration thinks it knows what Iran wants but I believe they are wrong.

    • #16
  17. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Brian Wolf:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Brian, I would guess that quite a few elements of this are correct. If you want to look for the most sympathetic interpretation, you could speculate that someone in the Administration has been reading Stephen Kinzner, and that this all sounded very persuasive. (Kinzner has not repudiated the argument, despite this.)

    I wish it weren’t so. I just don’t think you can manipulate Radical Islam either Shia or Sunni so easily as the Obama administration thinks you can. I think that Iran will simply see us a weaker enemy now not as a potential friend.

    To clarify: I think many elements of your analysis of what the Administration is thinking are probably correct. I think almost no element of the Administration’s analysis, if indeed this is what they’re thinking, is correct.

    • #17
  18. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Brian – very well done.  It’s hard to put yourself in their shoes and try to neutrally describe what the Administration is thinking strategically and this sounds very plausible.

    • #18
  19. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Mark:Brian – very well done. It’s hard to put yourself in their shoes and try to neutrally describe what the Administration is thinking strategically and this sounds very plausible.

    I find I take my enemies down better and oppose them more effectively when I know what they think they are doing.  I like to try and get into the heads of the leftists and figure out what they think they are going to accomplish.  This administration is hard especially in foreign policy.  I really had to work at it.   They are trying to hide their intentions so much it is easy to just think of them as children or fools but I do believe they think they are following a winning strategy.

    • #19
  20. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Brian Wolf:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Brian, I would guess that quite a few elements of this are correct. If you want to look for the most sympathetic interpretation, you could speculate that someone in the Administration has been reading Stephen Kinzner, and that this all sounded very persuasive. (Kinzner has not repudiated the argument, despite this.)

    I wish it weren’t so. I just don’t think you can manipulate Radical Islam either Shia or Sunni so easily as the Obama administration thinks you can. I think that Iran will simply see us a weaker enemy now not as a potential friend.

    To clarify: I think many elements of your analysis of what the Administration is thinking are probably correct. I think almost no element of the Administration’s analysis, if indeed this is what they’re thinking, is correct.

    I am with you Claire, I am with you.

    • #20
  21. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Brian Wolf:

    I wish it weren’t so. I just don’t think you can manipulate Radical Islam either Shia or Sunni so easily as the Obama administration thinks you can. I think that Iran will simply see us a weaker enemy now not as a potential friend.

    This is the heart of the problem. Even when you find a handful of “rational actors” (as that term is understood by Western standards) you cannot assure yourself that they possess sufficient control to effect an integrated strategy. If you review the history of the Cold War both the US and the Soviet Union were able to exert control (in different ways) over their constituent elements of military power. The off rogue element was a feature of fiction and not fact.

    But Islamism is different. If death and destruction is the gateway to reward, if prophecy has a strong hold on the mind, rational control can only be exerted by withholding access to weapons from zealots. That Pakistan has not (yet) engaged in nuclear war suggests that withholding from zealots can be done. But that was when Pakistan was the sole Islamic nuclear power and under persistent threat from a nuclear India. When nuclear weapons proliferate in the Islamic world all bets are off.

    • #21
  22. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    Brian Wolf

    Manny:Here’s my take.

    Obama’s Grand Strategy: My legacy is weak, let me roll the dice and see if this works out. What have I got to lose?

    That is not what they tell themselves. That is not what they think they are doing.

    I was being snarky.  But I think it’s a subconcious motivation on Obama’s part.

    • #22
  23. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    PsychLynne:Wow Brian, that is an interesting read. I would only suggest one edit:

    The real problem in the world is that the U.S. complicates or contaminates everything it touches. This has led to Sunni extremism. ISIS, Al-Qaeda all the affiliates are Sunni.

    I think that your edit is correct. Barack Obama and Rand — I mean Ron — Paul are on the same page.

    They also share another view — the surreal set of assumptions that go under the name Realism. Put simply, they assume that all state actors are alike, that their aim is to increase their power, and that the basic rules of geopolitics dictate that the United States and Iran be allies.

    There is something to this Realism. It is at least half-true. All state actors are concerned with their own preservation and with material interests; and, if the Shah or one of his heirs still governed Iran, geopolitical concerns might dictate Iranian policy.

    But it is also half-false — for Realism resolutely abstracts entirely from the question of regime. To understand what Iran is apt to do, one must take into consideration what Barack Obama and one or both Pauls resolutely refuse to acknowledge: that a revolutionary theocratic regime is apt to be profoundly ambitious and deeply hostile to us and our way of life and that it will not be inclined to be risk-averse.

    Time and again, when we have confronted revolutionary regimes, we have underestimated their ambition, their hatred of us, and their willingness to take great risks in its pursuit. Our regime is commercial. Our political ambition is considerable but material interest looms large and we are restrained by calculation; and when we confront other regimes we are inclined to suppose that they are just like us.

    It can be a fatal conceit.

    • #23
  24. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Brian Wolf:

    It seems to me that the Administration thinks they will gain an advantage by trying to be friends with everyone but the danger I that I do not think they will handle well, is when your old friends think they can’t trust you anymore and the new friends don’t trust you yet, so that you have a certain period of time when no one trusts you for anything.

    But they all still need the US – and need is a strong persuader.

    Saudi, for example, will stay in bed with the US because there is no other believable alternative for which it can be a client state.  Oh, there’s another country in the region with lots of oil and which can also serve as a strategic asset for the US (possibly, in the future)?  Hey, Saudi Arabia, maybe it’s time to clean up your act and be a better ally, hmmm?  Be more useful and less inconvenient? I’m sure they’re thinking about it, though I’m equally sure it hasn’t been spelled out quite so crassly.

    Any single one of those countries needs the US on side more than the US needs it – bringing that core fact back into focus is not a bad thing for US interests. jmho.

    • #24
  25. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I just watched a video of Bill Clinton saying the exact same as Obama but he was talking about N.Korea. Same woman wrote both agreements.

    • #25
  26. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Zafar:

    … But they all still need the US – and need is a strong persuader. …

    Are we certain that they do still need to US?  Are we certain that they believe that they still need the US?  What is the likelihood that they now believe  or will soon believe that they can cover their own needs with the help of China and/or Russia?  (I have no idea)

    • #26
  27. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    My take is fundamentally different from the OP.  I expect that my comment here will be taken as being facetious, but I mean it to be literal and totally serious.  I think Obama is just plain stupid.  He is a moron who surrounds himself with “yes men” who tell him what he wants to hear.  He believes that because he now has a piece of paper that says Iran will not build nukes, that means that Iran will not build nukes.  Anyone with a working brain and one working eye can see that this treaty guarantees that Iran will build working nukes and a delivery system that can reach Israel and the U.S. within 15 years.  I’m sure Obama’s advisers know this, but they don’t tell him because it isn’t what he wants to hear.

    Iran is not going to become a U.S. ally in a Shia / Sunni conflict.  To the mad mullahs in Tehran, the Sunnis are infidels but Americans and Jews are worse infidels.  Iran is not working to get nukes in order to defeat ISIS.  Iran has one simple and unchanging goal, and they will gladly tell you what it is:  “Death to America!  Death to Israel!”

    Our feckless and stupid President has now signed on to that goal.

    • #27
  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Brian Wolf: Obama’s Grand Strategy: The real problem in the world is Sunni extremism. ISIS, al-Qaeda, and all their affiliates are Sunni. Iran is the natural enemy of Sunni extremism, and is thus the natural ally of the United States. Sure, the Iranians have killed many Americans, but that is because America threatened Iran’s interests in the region. Iran’s true ambitions have always been regional. If America shows a willingness to see Iran succeed regionally and to become a protector of Shia everywhere in the region, they will no longer see the need to be hostile to the United States. An opportunity exists to cultivate Iran as an ally and make Iran a proxy in the America’s war on Sunni terror networks.

    That’s a fair hypothesis.

    Now, who have threatened Israel more, Sunnis or Shiites?

    Brian Wolf: It is in Israel’s long-term interest to make peace with the Palestinians at any price. Once that peace is at hand, funding for Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorists groups will dry up, and Israel will be secure. As long as Israel occupies the West Bank and blockades Gaza, Iran and the Sunni countries will continue to support and encourage terrorism in the region. Once peace is made, however, no power will be motivated to sustain tensions over Israel.

    On this point, I am skeptical, since the responses to previous withdrawls and overtures of peace has almost always been an increase of violence.

    • #28
  29. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Zafar:

    Brian Wolf:

    But they all still need the US – and need is a strong persuader.

    Saudi, for example, will stay in bed with the US because there is no other believable alternative for which it can be a client state. Oh, there’s another country in the region with lots of oil and which can also serve as a strategic asset for the US (possibly, in the future)? Hey, Saudi Arabia, maybe it’s time to clean up your act and be a better ally, hmmm? . . .

    Any single one of those countries needs the US on side more than the US needs it – bringing that core fact back into focus is not a bad thing for US interests. jmho.

    I think it more useful to think of Saudi as an ally (however untrustworthy and unreliable both partners view each other).  The client state stuff ended in 1973 with the oil embargo; when the U.S. and its Western allies went along with it the balance of power changed.

    It’s a pretty simple equation now – the Saudis and the Gulf States need us to buy their oil to keep them afloat so they can enjoy their riches and buy arms to protect themselves and we want the oil at a reasonable price (though the U.S. itself is a much smaller customer than in the 1970s).

    • #29
  30. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @Wiley

    The first term was about transforming domestic policy, The 2nd term is trying to transform US foreign policy. Other things are secondary. Even Iran is secondary. They fact that they might get the bomb is secondary. Primary is switching sides in the middle east and reorienting the US.

    • #30
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