Obama Administration Delays Iran Sanctions in Quiet Deal
Middle East Briefying/January 09/16
The Obama Administration has postponed new sanctions against Iranian officials, implicated in the country’s advanced missile program. After having informed Congress that there would be new sanctions announced by the US Treasury Department against Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other regime officials involved in the October testing of a new, precision Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), the Administration delayed the announcement of those added sanctions, after negotiators reached a deal with Iran to restrict further missile testing. While Iranian officials argued that the missile test did not technically violate the P5+1 nuclear deal, negotiated last year and now ratified by both the US and Iranian legislatures, the key to the sanctions delay was the deal reached that Iran could pursue research and development of new missiles, but would refrain from any live test firing. In effect, Iran made last moment concessions. With elections scheduled next month for the Iranian Majlis and the Council of Guardians, the timing of the quiet deal, delaying sanctions for the time being, could impact on the electoral outcome. US officials will be carefully monitoring whether the government officials who negotiated the last moment deal will be able to actually enforce the agreement. Obama Administration officials are anxious to see moderate conservatives come out on top in the mid-February Majlis elections, and they also hope that either President Hassan Rouhani or former President Ali Rafsanjani will be elected to chair the Council of Guardians. US officials are worried that, in the final phase of P5+1 negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry failed to extract any firm commitments from Iran to back off from actions that undermine overall US interests in the region. The elections will, in the eyes of Obama Administration officials, determine the strength of hardline factions in the Iranian clergy and the IRGC. The US Intelligence Community sees Supreme Leader Khamenei as the defender of those radical factions. The judiciary, under Khamenei’s control, made every effort to sabotage the ratification of the P5+1 deal, and Khamenei has permitted the IRGC to interfere in both the domestic and foreign policy of the country. For the Obama Administration, a moderate victory in the Majlis elections, particularly if Rouhani and Rafsanjani are elected to the Council of Guardians, can put the kind of pressure on Khamenei that is vital, if US and Iranian regional conflicts are to be diminished. The Council of Guardians will oversee the selection of the next Supreme Leader. Pentagon officials who studied the October 2015 missile test are now deeply concerned that, unless the Iranian work on longer range ballistic missiles is curbed now, they will eventually develop the capacity to deploy Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that can reach targets on the continental United States. Pentagon brass insist that, unless there are verifiable curbs on Iran’s missile program, all bets are off, including the completion of the P5+1 deal. United Nations experts have confirmed and reported to the UN Security Council that Iran violated existing UN sanctions, barring them from testing any ballistic missiles, capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Independent of the US-Iran deal, the UN Security Council will be taking up the question of punitive action against Iran. However, with both Russia and China maintaining veto power at the Security Council, the chances of new sanctions being imposed, at the point that Iran is completing its compliance with the P5+1 deal, are remote.
Saudi-Iran Crisis: The Tragic Failure of Obama Foreign Policy
Middle East Briefying/January 09/16
Another additional flare in the Middle East crisis is evolving rapidly-the escalation between Saudi Arabia and Iran after the execution of a Shia cleric and 46 other Al Qaeda terrorists. The crisis which followed the executions is but the last reminder that the general regional crisis is indeed turning into a primary threat to global security and yet another testimony to the extent of failure of President Obama foreign policy. We will show here how President Obama’s strategy based on giving more and more concessions to the Ayatollahs in Iran is blocking the way to advance important U.S. pressing regional objectives like improving Arab-Iran relations, fighting ISIL, contributing to ending Syria’s and Yemen’s civil wars and preserving the unity of Iraq.
This failure hurts the regional stand of the U.S. It hurts its interests. It hurts long established ties with regional players. And it hurts the region itself. Furthermore, it contributes to regional flames that show over and over their ability to go beyond the region. In that sense it is also a global security issue.
The repeated concept that frames the administration’s view of the region’s crisis is best summarized by a former U.S. official. He said in a comment he published recently that “it would be irrational to conclude that U.S. actions and inaction hadn’t contributed to the messes in the Middle East. But the region’s challenges are rooted in internal, religious and sectarian problems that are not amenable or conductive to US military power or political persuasion”. The problem here is not only that the writer is talking about a situation that is not exclusive to the Middle East (every region in the world has its fair share of problems), nor is it that he states something that has always existed in the region, long before the President took office. This view reflects how politics and “practicalities” caused the U.S. foreign policy to fall into an oversimplification and superficiality. For it is the function of foreign policy to navigate the world problems, consider their real impact, study the multiple forces that shape the nature of any major crisis and chart a way of dealing with it in a way that consider its realities and serve the general interests.
Of course, one would ask now a legitimate question: Why should there be any policies, actions or inactions, if all this ends up with nothing. If the object of these policies (the Middle East) is “not amenable” and “not conductive”?
When one thinks of a certain region in an effort to form a proper concept to approach it in terms of foreign policy, it is important to see the multiple factors that have shaped and are shaping the region as it stands before us. If the result is a foreign policy that has no effect whatsoever, it is the fault of the policy, and not the fault of the nature of its targeted region or its being “not conductive or amenable” to the tools of foreign policy. For this policy must have considered beforehand the conceptual frame that supposedly included all the major factors that shape the nature of that region at any given moment.
The major countries of the region are clearly responsible about the messes we see there. Yet, in similar cases where regional parties are locking horns and determined to fight no matter what, it is global leaders that should interfere, prudently and with all realities considered, to implement a proper concept to defuse the time-bomb. It is evident now that the U.S. administration is not capable of forming the necessary concept. In fact, the President’s insistence to force some of his subjective and ideological views on the realities of the region in a relatively crude fashion is partially responsible about the convulsions we see there.
We have seen the President’s policy on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Mrs. Clinton’s emails talk volumes about the details of the administration’s “policy” to empower the MB, a group that seeks to build an Islamic supra-national Caliph “through democratic means”. Once in power in Cairo, the MB suspended all democratic processes and immunized its Presidential decrees of any review by the Parliament or the Judiciary.
The President’s policy in that regard hurt Egypt, the future prospects of democracy in the Middle East and the MB itself. Do we find anyone now willing to question the administration in this tragic failure? If it will be done, it will be done for partisan motives and will be answered in a partisan fashion. But the truth is not partisan. The President policies in Iraq (supporting Maliki before asking for his departure-Rushing to pull out forces without real negotiations with Baghdad, etc.) produced ISIL. The President’s policies in Syria (Standing alone against every single other senior official in his cabinet and against the evaluations of his security agencies in 2012 and 2013) helped expand ISIL and got few hundred thousand more Syrians killed.
And now, we may see a conventional war erupting between the Sunni Arabs and Iran.
That is an impressive record indeed. And instead of talking about where things went wrong, we hear some murmur about “problems that are not amenable or conductive to US military power or political persuasion”. The President’s major conceptual flaws stemmed from his attachment to strong ideological beliefs, not understanding that if he rushes to implement these subjective ideals he will be in fact be hurting them and causing an uncontrollable mess. Each President has his ideological inclinations. The problem would always be: How to turn those ideals to reality? In this link between objectives and realities, having a clear concept of moving things forward is crucial. Instead of reflecting about the most effective way to implement a policy on a reality which should have been studied profoundly beforehand, we detect a system preference of crude and “mathematical” patterns which are too simplified to fit a region where nothing is simple. And now we see the crisis in the Middle East entering a new phase. There is no place here for the nonsense that history repeats itself, neither as a tragedy nor as a farce. It does not. It always evolves into a higher degree of complexity. And we see before our own eyes the regional crisis stepping into a more dangerous phase.
We can criticize Saudi Arabia and Iran as much as we want. Yet, this is the way things are. How can we get out of the hole?
The Obama administration prolonged the rope to Iran to an unbelievable length lately. The administration swallowed Tehran’s missile tests which were a potential breach of the unclear agreement. Just the last day of 2015 brought a live testimony to the utter failure of Mr. Obama’s policies in the Middle East. While the US carrier Harry S. Truman was entering the Gulf, it was “welcomed” by an Iranian rocket that fell only 1500 meter from the carrier. That was during the very moment when the President was pressuring Congress to freeze any proposed response to Iran’s tests of a new generation of missiles.
It is understood that the President wants to open a new road to relations with Iran. But why should this happen on the expense of Arabs in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon? Why should it happen on the expense of the U.S. regional stand, relations with America’s traditional allies and regional stability?
If the objective is to open a new page with Iran, how could this be worked out? It is not rocket science to lay some rules to organize relations between regional countries. There are many precedents and a wealth of international norms and laws that provide all the necessary tools. It is not rocket science neither to form a global coalition, not to bomb someone, but to pacify a region latent with wars and armed conflicts. It just takes a leader who does not focus only on optics. But President Obama seems to be determined to break the US traditional alliance structure in the Middle East in his attempt to make his shift towards opening a new page with Iran. It is either that the President does not know what to do, or that he has made up his mind and decided already to offer his traditional allies to Iran on the altar of the Ayatollahs.
Here are the facts that led to this conclusion- that the Obama administration offered Arab strategic interests on the altar of the Ayatollahs:
* There was, and there still is, secret talks between the U.S. and Tehran related to Iran’s regional policies. No one of Washington’s traditional allies knows exactly what is going on in these talks.
* In these secret talks (in Oman and some European diplomatic centers), the administration allegedly “restrained” Iranian ambitions in Iraq. Yet, the battle of Ramadi hid a sectarian agenda reflected on the mottos raised on the liberated city. The Wall Street Journal described it best. “The military campaign masks a variety of local agendas and motives by key actors that reflect the problems ahead and the illusion that Iraq can be unified. Iraq’s powerful pro-Iranian Shiite militias are carving out whole areas where they are determined to preserve their dominance and prevent Sunni resurgence”, the newspaper said.
The U.S. administration is seen as enabling pro-Iranian militias to control whole areas which are traditionally Sunni land. This will certainly complicate the fight against ISIL and maintain the reasons why convulsions there express themselves in groups like Al Qaeda or ISIL.
* The U.S. administration dropped the demand of Assad leaving power either “immediately” as President Obama said before, or prior to the transition talks as Secretary Kerry said during the Geneva-1 talks, or even after the transition talks as is emerging now. Dropping this demand was done to please the Iranians. The future of the transitional talks in Syria is indeed questionable at best.
* The U.S. administration exerted extreme pressure to restrain any reaction to Iran’s missile tests. These missiles are not obviously made for fireworks purposes. Neither are they made for defensive reasons. They are offensive by the nature of their range and capabilities. The administration did everything possible to convince Congress not to react because “the secret talks with the Iranians are going through a delicate phase”. Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, had this to say: “I am disappointed that the administration has delayed punitive action in response to Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests. We are always in a sensitive moment in our dealings with Iran, and there is never a perfect time to undertake such actions”. The Arabs will now chart a different course in building their defensive capabilities.
* The U.S. administration was exerting pressure on the Arab countries to accept a compromise in Yemen that does not respect the legal government which was previously toppled by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels. The Arabs ended the symbolic ceasefire in response.
* Commitments offered to GCC members during the US-GCC summit in Camp David last May were quietly withdrawn later by the President.
And the list goes on.
Should that be considered “foreign policy success”? What we have now is that Lebanon’s Presidential crisis, which was showing signs of moving to a solution is back to the previous stagnation. Syria’s talks to find a diplomatic solution is uncertain. Iraq’s timid attempts to restrain sectarian forces would be over. Yemen ceasefire has ended. And the region is inching towards war. Success?
It sounds like an understatement to say that problems in the region are indeed very complicated. When this is coupled with a President who wants to shift the direction of regional realities by forcing a restructuring of U.S. alliances and because he subjectively and ideologically believes, from his personal point of view, that this should be done, the President should be advised to set aside all ego complexes and assume that he may be wrong and this may not be the way to approach this explosive region. He may be advised to seek a more sophisticated and well-studied concept on how to deal with regional problems which are “not amenable or conductive to US military power or political persuasion”.