American Ideology vs. Realpolitik: Iran, Syria and the Return of Russia (part 1)

For my readers, a Happy 5776th New Year!

There are times in writing that the material determines its own length. Such was the case in American Ideology! I have decided to divide it into two segments, the second to follow shortly after the first moves off the front page. DT
The president’s nuclear agreement with Iran is described as the result of two years effort as if the administration had not initiated the process soon after Obama entered office. But, then, two years sounds heroic while a six-year slough is far less inspiring. In fact even as Candidate Obama in 2008 he had broadcast his desire for the agreement, advance notice to the Iranians that he, more than they, was anxious for that outcome. Anybody entering an automobile showroom knows better!
“During his campaign and after taking office, President Obama repeatedly declared his determination to break the 30-year downward spiral in U.S.-Iranian relations…. Iran’s nuclear program became the centerpiece of relations.”
But it was not Obama who first pursued Iran for a nuclear agreement. America’s most recent pursuit of Iran began during the Bush years. Having missed Iran’s feelers for a nuclear accord in 2003 Bush continued to play catch-up with the EU-3 (forerunner to the P5+1) until passing the baton to his successor.
“Spring 2003: Iran makes a comprehensive proposal of negotiations with the United States that offers "full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD", joint decisive action against terrorists, coordination on a stable Iraq, coordination on nuclear matters, stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad etc.) resisting Israeli occupation, and a normalization of relationships. The offer is spurned by V.P. Cheney and the Bush administration, which instead criticizes the Swiss ambassador who forwarded the offer.”
It was likely the same hubris that inspired the decision to invade Iraq that colored the administration’s rejection of the 2003 offer. According to the CIA Iran had stopped work on it’s nuclear program for a period of time in 2003, which, with much exaggeration, became the centerpiece of the WH-serving 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. According to the NIE the combined wisdom of America’s “independent” intelligence agencies, “judged with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program… We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.”
According to most credible intelligence agencies outside the US the exaggeration was, “We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years.” According to Bush,
“The NIE didn’t just undermine diplomacy. It also tied my hands on the military side…. [A]fter the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”
By all evidence, beginning with Bush’s defense secretary Robert Gates repeated warnings against the “military option,” having failed in Iraq and failing in Afghanistan neither the administration nor the military were eager to get involve in yet another regional military adventure. Cheney protested, Bush complained and in the end the Iranian bomb was left to Bush’s successor.
Obama and the Bomb
Regarding the details of Obama’s “understandings” with Iran the public and, by appearances, the US Congress know only what appears in the press. So it is not possible to judge the benefits/risks of the agreement. Regarding the fact that the deal leaves Iran a “nuclear threshold state” we can say with complete assurance that, had the deal been struck six (Obama) or twelve (Bush) years earlier then whatever its details the outcome would have been far better than even the most stringent terms contained in the agreement in its present form. And the only thing missing between that earlier agreement and its present form was a credible and forcefully-expressed intention by both presidents to represent “all options on the table” as meaning “all options.”
Described as his signal foreign policy achievement and legacy, whatever its merits or failings the 2015 “agreement” must be viewed in context of Obama’s overall Middle East policy initiatives and their results:
Iraq: Although Obama was responsible and took credit for withdrawing US troops from Iraq, the actual decision and timetable for withdrawal had been set in the closing days of the Bush Administration. Subsequent actions or absence of action by Obama contributed to that country’s present “failed state” status, but Bush deserves the lion’s share of blame for that outcome. But the train of events from 2003 to present represents what can only be described an unmitigated disaster of American policy for the region and, eventually, for the American homeland. Follows is a brief survey of specifically Obama Administration contributions to that America’s policy failures:
Libya: What was described at its outset a “limited action,” in-and-out with “no boots on the ground” turned into a continuing blood bath for Libya. It is a truism of war that air power alone does not win wars, only “boots on the ground” to capture and hold territory can achieve, the present failing conflict with Islamic Republic (ISIL) an immediate example. As Bush committed US forces to conquer Iraq and then turn it into an Iranian satellite, so did Obama follow suit by destroying the Qaddafi regime and then leaving the “Libyans,” the various competing insurgents with no governing experience in charge of putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again. The result, as in Iraq, the rise of radical Islamists and the outcome, another US intervention transforming a relatively stable state (if not suited to America’s ideal of “liberal democracy” resulting in yet another “failed state.”
Egypt: As Bush insisted on the ideology of “full and fair” elections for the Palestinians which, he insisted, meant including the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas so did Obama, imbued with the same need for “fairness,” support including the Islamist Brothers in the elections following the removal of Egypt’s secularist President Mubarak. For Gaza the result was “government” by the radical Islamist Hamas; for Egypt the Obama-backed election of Mohamed Morsi led to a year of replacing secular for religious governance by introducing Sharia law. In both instances the United States backed radical Islamists opposed to the United States over former secularist allies.
In both instances American policy contributed to undermining regional stability and American interests in the area.
Syria: Syria represents yet another failure except this time, where American leadership was needed Obama chose to not get involved. From the street demonstrations that signaled the start of the civil war, the White House was caught off guard, had not been prepared for events as they escalated. Policy options existed, such as no-fly zones to protect civilians. But determined to maintain America’s longstanding policy of “no boots on the ground” meant a systematic aerial campaign to enforce the zones which meant risk to pilot having to first dismantle Syria’s air defenses. Regarding “risk” Israel was able to attack strategic weapons movements and depots at will without losing a plane leaving open the question: why did the administration not intervene and, when it did, do so on an intentionally minimal level?
As the war dragged on and particularly Obama retreating from “red line” response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons: was “hesitation” a reflection of the president as “reluctant warrior,” or was there an as yet an undisclosed policy goal motivating his actions? Whatever, his hesitancy as leader of “the world’s only superpower,” his failure to take any action created a policy vacuum soon filled by ever more radical regime challengers, the hallmark of today’s chaos that describes Syria as the third “failed state” on the doorstep of Obama as representative of American foreign policy.