What happened in Geneva last week was the most significant international event
since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The collapse of the Soviet Union
signaled the rise of the United States as the sole global superpower. The
developments in the six-party nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva last week
signaled the end of American world leadership.
Global leadership is based
on two things – power and credibility. The United States remains the most
powerful actor in the world. But last week, American credibility was
Secretary of State John Kerry spent the first part of last
week lying to Israeli and Gulf Arab leaders and threatening the Israeli people.
He lied to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Saudis about the content of
the deal US and European negotiators had achieved with the
Kerry told them that in exchange for Iran temporarily freezing
its nuclear weapons development program, the US and its allies would free up no
more than $5 billion in Iranian funds seized and frozen in foreign
Kerry threatened the Israeli people with terrorism and murder –
and so invited both – if Israel fails to accept his demands for territorial
surrender to PLO terrorists that reject Israel’s right to exist.
threats were laced with bigoted innuendo.
He claimed that Israelis are
too wealthy to understand their own interests. If you don’t wise up and do what
I say, he intoned, the Europeans will take away your money while the
Palestinians kill you. Oh, and aside from that, your presence in the historic
heartland of Jewish civilization from Jerusalem to Alon Moreh is
It is hard to separate the rise in terrorist activity since
Kerry’s remarks last week from his remarks.
What greater carte blanche
for murder could the Palestinians have received than the legitimization of their
crimes by the chief diplomat of Israel’s closest ally? Certainly, Kerry’s
negotiating partner Catherine Ashton couldn’t have received a clearer signal to
ratchet up her economic boycott of Jewish Israeli businesses than Kerry’s
blackmail message, given just two days before the 75th anniversary of
Kerry’s threats were so obscene and unprecedented that
Israeli officials broke with tradition and disagreed with him openly and
directly, while he was still in the country. Normally supportive leftist
commentators have begun reporting Kerry’s history of anti-Israel advocacy,
including his 2009 letter of support for pro-Hamas activists organizing
flotillas to Gaza in breach of international and American law.
Kerry’s lies to the US’s chief Middle Eastern allies, it was the British and the
French who informed the Israelis and the Saudis that far from limiting sanctions
relief to a few billion dollars in frozen funds, the draft agreement involved
ending sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas sector, and on other
In other words, the draft agreement exposed Washington’s
willingness to effectively end economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for
Iran’s agreement to cosmetic concessions that will not slow down its nuclear
Both the US’s position, and the fact that Kerry lied
about that position to the US’s chief allies, ended what was left of American
credibility in the Middle East. That credibility was already tattered by US
fecklessness in Syria and support for the Muslim Brotherhood in
True, in the end, Kerry was unable to close the deal he rushed off
to Geneva to sign last Friday.
Of course, it wasn’t Iran that rejected
the American surrender. And it wasn’t America that scuttled the proposal. It was
France. Unable to hide behind American power and recognizing its national
interest in preventing Iran from emerging as a nuclear armed power in the Middle
East, France vetoed a deal that paved the way a nuclear Iran.
failure to reach the hoped-for deal represented a huge blow to America, and a
double victory for Iran. The simple fact that Washington was willing to sign the
deal – and lie about it to its closest allies – caused the US to lose its
credibility in the Middle East. Even without the deal, the US paid the price of
appeasing Iran and surrendering leadership of the free world to France and
Just by getting the Americans to commit themselves to reducing
sanctions while Iran continues its march to a nuclear weapon, Iran destroyed any
remaining possibility of doing any serious non-military damage to Iran’s plans
for nuclear weaponry. At the same time, the Americans boosted Iranian
credibility, endorsed Iranian power, and belittled Israel and Saudi Arabia –
Iran’s chief challengers in the Middle East. Thus, Iran ended Pax Americana in
the Middle East, removing the greatest obstacle in its path to regional
hegemony. And it did so without having to make the slightest concession to the
As Walter Russell Mead wrote last week, it was fear of
losing Pax Americana that made all previous US administrations balk at reaching
an accord with Iran. As he put it, “Past administrations have generally
concluded that the price Iran wants for a different relationship with the United
States is unsustainably high. Essentially, to get a deal with Iran we would have
to sell out all of our other allies. That’s not only a moral problem. Throwing
over old allies like that would reduce the confidence that America’s allies all
over the world have in our support.”
The Obama administration just paid
that unsustainably high price, and didn’t even get a different relationship with
Most analyses of what happened in Geneva last week have centered on
what the failure of the talks means for the future of Obama’s foreign
Certainly Obama, now universally reviled by America’s allies in
the Middle East, will be diplomatically weakened. This diplomatic weakness may
not make much difference to Obama’s foreign policy, because appeasement and
retreat do not require diplomatic strength.
But the real story of what
happened last week is far more significant than the future of Obama’s foreign
policy. Last week it was America that lost credibility, not Obama. It was
America that squandered the essential component of global leadership. And that
is the watershed event of this young century.
States act in concert
because of perceived shared interests. If Israel and Saudi Arabia combine to
attack Iran’s nuclear installations it will be due to their shared interest in
preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal. But that concerted action will
not make them allies.
Alliances are based on the perceived longevity of
the shared interests, and that perception is based on the credibility of
Until Obama became president, the consensus view of
the US foreign policy establishment and of both major parties was that the US
had a permanent interest in being the hegemonic power in the Middle East. US
hegemony ensured three permanent US national security interests: preventing
enemy regimes and terror groups from acquiring the means to cause catastrophic
harm; ensuring the smooth flow of petroleum products through the Persian Gulf
and the Suez Canal; and demonstrating the credibility of American power by
ensuring the security of US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. The third
interest was an essential foundation of US deterrence of the Soviets during the
Cold War, and of the Chinese over the past decade.
Regardless of who was
in the White House, for the better part of 70 years, every US government has
upheld these interests. This consistency built US credibility, which in turn
enabled the US to throw its weight around.
Obama departed from this
foreign policy consensus in an irrevocable manner last week. In so doing, he
destroyed US credibility.
It doesn’t matter who succeeds Obama. If a
conservative internationalist in the mold of Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy or
Ronald Reagan is elected in 2016, Obama’s legacy will make it impossible for him
to rebuild the US alliance structure. US allies will be willing to buy US
military platforms – although not exclusively.
They will be willing to
act in a concerted manner with the US on a temporary basis to advance specific
But they will not be willing to make any longterm commitments
based on US security guarantees.
They will not be willing to place their
strategic eggs in the US basket.
Obama has taught the world that the same
US that elected Truman and formed NATO, and elected George H.W. Bush and threw
Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, can elect a man who betrays US allies and US
interests to advance a radical ideology predicated on a rejection of the
morality of American power. Any US ally is now on notice that US promises – even
if based on US interests – are not reliable. American commitments can expire the
next time America elects a radical to the White House.
uninterested in surrendering their role as global leader to the likes of
Tehran’s ayatollahs, Russia’s KGB state and Mao’s successors, must take
immediate steps mitigate the damage Obama is causing. Congress could step in to
clip his radical wings.
If enough Democrats can be convinced to break
ranks with Obama and the Democratic Party’s donors, Congress can pass veto-proof
additional sanctions against Iran. These sanctions can only be credible with
America’s spurned allies if they do not contain any presidential waiver that
would empower Obama to ignore the law.
They can also take action to limit
Obama’s ability to blackmail Israel, a step that is critical to the US’s ability
to rebuild its international credibility.
For everyone from Anwar Sadat
to South American democrats, for the past 45 years, America’s alliance with
Israel was a central anchor of American strategic credibility. The sight of
America standing with the Jewish state, in the face of a sea of Arab hatred, is
what convinced doubters worldwide that America could be
America’s appalling betrayal of Jerusalem under Obama likewise
is the straw that has broken the back of American strategic credibility from
Taipei to Santiago. If Congress is interested in rectifying or limiting the
damage, it could likewise remove the presidential waiver that enables Obama to
continue to finance the PLO despite its involvement in terrorism and continued
commitment to Israel’s destruction. Congress could also remove the presidential
waiver from the law requiring the State Department to move the US Embassy in
Israel to Jerusalem. Finally, Congress can update its anti-boycott laws to cover
new anti-Israel boycotts and economic sanctions against the Jewish state and
Jewish-owned Israeli companies.
These steps will not fully restore
After all, the twice-elected president of the
United States has dispatched his secretary of state to threaten and deceive US
allies while surrendering to US foes. It is now an indisputable fact that the US
government may use its power to undermine its own interests and friends
What these congressional steps can do, however, is send a
message to US allies and adversaries alike that Obama’s radical actions do not
represent the wishes of the American people and will not go unanswered by their
representatives in Congress.