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. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    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.

    Yes one of the problems I have is that I think that Iran is risking a lot for power.  The temptation to real power is great and it is easy to miscalculate.  Germany over reached in World War II by invading Russia.  The Soviet Union beat them but they still lost around 25 million people to do it.  We may not lose to Iran when they make their move but are we making sure they can kill more people losing than if we just took them out now?  I think we are letting them get stronger for no good reason.

    • #31
  2. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Paul A. Rahe:.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.

    This is what I don’t get why do they think that Iran has only or mainly regional interest?  Even in the short term perhaps they want to solidify control over the Middle East but their ambitions don’t end there.  A regime like Iran calculates risk far differently than I think the Obama administration can fathom.  When that can of incomprehension is in place miscalculation becomes more likely Iran will think we will back down when we won’t and we will think that Iran would never make such a crazy move.  It could well lead us to war that we would now wage in far less advantages position than we now have.

    • #32
  3. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Zafar:

    Brian Wolf:

    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.

    Well it is important that they recognize that.  If the Saudis can’t trust us on a basic level they will not think they need us.  Iran doesn’t think it needs us yet and this deal would indicate to them that they can push us around because we need them more than they need us.  If Israel decides they must go it alone their actions will not be co-ordinated with the US.    Will Obama know when to be firm, is he capable of putting pressure on Iran when he needs too or will they always assume he is bluffing?  That is the critical question.

    • #33
  4. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Larry3435: 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.

    Only very intelligent men can make truly catastrophic mistakes.   Noam Chomsky’s ideas would be far less insane if he were a stupid man.  You can only be as wrong as Noam Chomsky is about everything if you are smart.  I think Obama falls into that kind of category.  I think he actually believes that Iran will build nukes but that by the time they do we will have tamed the Iranian regime.  As the Iranians get ready to attack us or Israel with nukes Obama will be rubbing his hands thinking, “It is really working!  The plan is coming together.  We are on the verge of peace!”

    When it doesn’t work Obama will blame his successor for not building on his strategy correctly.

    • #34
  5. user_184884 Coolidge
    user_184884
    @BrianWolf

    Misthiocracy:

    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.

    No I don’t think this part of Obama’s plan will work either. The Palestinians don’t want peace with Israel.  If they did want peace they could have had it by now.  They want to win.  No matter what Israel does the Palestinians will not settle for anything but victory.  Until the Palestinian people think they will never win will they make peace they are not there yet.

    • #35
  6. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    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)

    China is as yet untested, but Russia’s (sole?) protege in the region is not doing so well these days.  (Russia also, I think, produces more oil than they do, so there’s no real economic dependency there.) Yes, they absolutely need the US.  TINA.

    Imho – in the end not that much will change in the short run – the US still offers the best deal to these Governments, why would they risk it?  Especially if they become a little less relatively important and feel hypothetically a little less secure?  Expect lobbying in Congress (to varying degrees of success) but not much else.

    • #36
  7. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Mark:

    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.

    Yes, I think that’s true.  Wrt client state – it’s a matter of degree more than anything else.  The oil embargo had a big effect, but it was hardly a real embargo – more a slow, incremental reduction of production.  They really couldn’t ‘turn the tap off’ – both because of their own need for cash and imho the fear of provoking the US into taking action.

    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).

    Oil is an international commodity – so changes in production by Saudi (or any other large producer) will have an impact on the global oil price and on the global economy. That, I reckon, is Saudi’s real issue with Iran sanctions ending and Iranian oil re-entering the market.

    • #37
  8. Mark Coolidge
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Zafar:

    Mark:

    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.

    Yes, I think that’s true. Wrt client state – it’s a matter of degree more than anything else. The oil embargo had a big effect, but it was hardly a real embargo – more a slow, incremental reduction of production. They really couldn’t ‘turn the tap off’ – both because of their own need for cash and imho the fear of provoking the US into taking action.

    You misunderstand me.  The issue was not the production.  It was control.  Before 1973 the oil companies along with Western countries really did control production.  That has not been true for the past 40 years in Saudi and the Gulf.  The oil companies dance to the tune of those governments.  The largest oil companies in the world today are the national oil companies not private companies.

    • #38
  9. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    They still seem governed by the profit motive.

    • #39
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