Monday 20 April 2015

Iran and Obama

What is it that is driving US President Barack Obama to seemingly single-mindedly pursue an agreement with Iran?  From the outset, he has appeared determined to reach this agreement, almost at any price.  This is despite strong opposition and warnings from the US's key allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Although the agreement that is being sought with Iran comes under the auspices of the United Notions and the European Union together with a group of countries that includes Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia, there is no doubt that it is the US and Obama that are making all the running in trying to achieve this agreement.  On the face of it, there seems no obvious reason why Obama would wish to do this.  In the absence of clear publicly-visible reasons to reach such an understanding with Iran, the situation inevitably gives rise to conspiracy theories about what may be happening behind the scenes, that is driving Obama to act in the way that he is.

The US broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980, soon after the Shah was deposed and around the time of the Iran hostage crisis.  The US gave strong support to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, even if this meant providing support to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the 1980s.  All of this was done in the interests of opposing Iran.  The current threat that the Iranian regime represents in the world order is clearly not new to the US administration.  The question remains as to what has happened over the past few years that gives the urgency for Obama to reach this agreement with Iran, where his predecessors followed policies towards Iran that were exactly the opposite?

Some have put forward the theory that Obama is pursuing a policy of engagement with Iran.  The theory on engagement says that it is better to have a relationship with Iran to allow visibility and supervision of its nuclear program, rather than allow it to proceed with its nuclear activities in an unsupervised and secretive way.  There are certainly cases where a policy of engagement has proven itself to be successful, and reach positive results.  There are also glaring examples of the failure of engagement, where even more damage was done as a result of the belief that all parties are pursuing a common objective.  Possibly the most obvious failure of engagement was when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain pursued his policy of appeasement in relation to the Nazi regime during the late 1930s.  His triumphant declaration of securing "peace for our time" after concluding the Munich Pact in 1938 could not have been a greater misjudgement of the facts.  The Second World War broke out less than a year later.  A policy of engagement has a place, but only under very specific circumstances and conditions.  The moment there is any doubt about what may be driving the other party to wish to pursue engagement, it is a policy that can do much more harm than good.  This certainly seems to be the case with Iran.

Iran has two clear objectives from the talks with the P5+1 group.  The first and primary objective is to lift the crippling sanctions that have been applied to it over the past few years by western countries.  There can be no doubt that these sanctions have had a devastating effect on Iran's economy.  Iran has a heavy burden in funding daily economic activities, funding its nuclear development and also funding a large number of proxies conducting terror activities around the world.  This is tough for any economy, and even more so for an economy where its primary economic activity is suffering severe constraints due to international sanctions.  Iran's second clear objective is to gain an international stamp of approval for its nuclear activities.  These activities have been conducted in secrecy until now, despite the international community being aware of the fact that this has been pursued behind closed doors.  The opportunity has now been offered for Iran to get international approval for its nuclear development program, and Iran would certainly wish to accept this chance with both hands.

By giving such great compromises to Iran, President Obama is allowing a golden opportunity to slip through his hands and is breaking the cardinal rules of international diplomacy.  The fact that Iran has been brought to its knees by the effects of the sanctions, should present the chance that Obama needs to force Iran to kill off its nuclear program once and for all.  The "concessions" that Obama triumphantly announced that he had received from Iran sounded more like Chamberlain's misguided announcement of "peace for our time".  After Iran admitted to having lied about the fact that its nuclear facilities were not being used to produce a nuclear weapon, Obama still felt comfortable about accepting Iranian promises about how it would conduct its nuclear activities going forward.  Why do Iran's past lies not count for anything when moving into this brave new world?  Why would anybody believe that Iran has suddenly decided to reveal all details of its nuclear program moving forward, when it has never done so in the past?   As president of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, Iran's President Rouhani frequently boasted of how he succeeded in using talks with western countries to buy time to advance Iran's nuclear program.  It seems as though nothing much has changed.  According to some interpretations of the framework agreement reached in Lausanne, Iran will be formally free to pursue a nuclear weapon as soon as 10 years from now.  It is a frightening thought that Obama has officially signed this off.

In his announcement of the successful conclusion of the framework deal, Obama clearly showed the weakness of the agreement and the betrayal of his Middle Eastern allies.  He acknowledged that Iran is engaged in sponsoring terror activities and groups around the world.  The fact that Iran continues to publicly call into question Israel's right to exist and advocates her annihilation is undisputed.  The terror activities and ongoing threatening behaviour is all being funded out of Iran's economy.  Despite Obama trying his best to separate between Iran the terrorist and Iran the nuclear power, and to emphasise that the new deal does not change the US policy towards Iran's terror activities, it doesn't require an advanced knowledge of politics and diplomacy to understand that all of these things are linked and intertwined.  Lifting sanctions against Iran will immediately channel more money into terror activities, and channel money into building further nuclear activities and nuclear weapons away from the prying eyes of the international community.  Despite Israel's constant requests, there was no requirement on Iran to cease its anti-Semitic and discriminatory activities against the state of Israel.  In agreeing to lift restrictions on Iran while refusing to demand that Iran stop its activities of terror around the world and stop its discrimination against Israel, Obama has effectively becomes a party to them.  Not only has he let down Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other countries in the Middle East who are threatened by Iran on a daily basis, he has placed the entire free world at risk.

The question still remains as to why Obama would find it fit to pursue this policy, that has so much risk attached to it?  Does he honestly believe that the greater visibility that he believes he has achieved will really place a limit on Iran's nuclear activity?  I would like to think that the president of the US is smarter than being duped into such a misconception.  Perhaps it has to do with the need to show some success in an otherwise dismal record in the pursuit of its policies in the Middle East, or to have a legacy of some sort before leaving office.  This legacy promises to dog him to his dying day and beyond, in the same way that appeasement continues to cloud the legacy that Chamberlain left.

It took less than two weeks for the effects of the Lausanne agreement with Iran to be felt.  Russia, one of the P5+1 countries, announced that it would be selling its sophisticated S-300 anti-missile system to Iran.  This is a sale that has been on hold for many years, delayed as a result of the sanctions regime against Iran.  Now that the US and the P5+1 group have found it acceptable to reach a formal international agreement with Iran, it opens the floodgates for international trade with Iran to resume, even before sanctions have been lifted.  Iran is already benefiting from the policy of engagement, even before it has lifted a finger to implement any of the terms that it has undertaken to implement under the terms of the agreement.

Iran is unashamed in its sponsor of terror and pursuit of conflict, death and destruction against Sunni Muslims, Jews and western countries.  Any person or country that enters into an agreement with Iran effectively becomes part of these activities.  Obama has entered into the agreement with Iran in full knowledge of this situation.  History will judge him accordingly.