Obama’s Final Retreat: Syria/Iran

In Washington the Republican populist Tea Party wing continues to hold the country hostage to yet another game of chicken with President Obama. In the Middle East Iran’s new game of chicken with president is Syria. Mere coincidence, or is the fact that brinkmanship is the currency of the day, the natural response to an irresolute President Obama?

In all fairness cannot blame the president for either the shambles of the US (and global) economy, or the nuclearizing Iran predecessor bequeathed successor. Among his many failures Bush tipped the economy into near tailspin by fighting the wrong war (Iraq) and paying for it with more than a trillion non-budgeted (borrowed) dollars.

Once America invaded Iraq our “liberating” troops became target to Iraqi insurgents, hostage to Iran Republican Guards. Protection of American forces became part of an unspoken agreement between Bush and the ayatollahs, pawns in quid pro quo leaving Iran free to pursue its nuclear and regional ambitions. And although this subscript of Iraqi Freedom was and still is generally not discussed, it fed a general unease over Bush and likely represents the main reason veteran Republican Senator McCaine  lost to an inexperienced one-term Democrat senator in 2008.

While Obama may have been elected because he represented change, the opposite of Bush impulsiveness is proving no balm to heal the damage. With the sole possible exception of deposing Mubarak, an unquestionably bad impulsive initiative, our president has unfailingly chosen to lead from behind. Libya, in which he insisted France and Britain provide the face of the intervention had been, before present-day Syria the most obvious, but not first indication of Obama non-confrontationalism. Evidence of confrontation-avoidance was clear almost immediately from his 2009 approach to the problem of the Iranian bomb. With growing unease the region looked on at four years and counting successive negotiating retreats from the growing Iranian challenge.

Even before the election of Barak Obama the Iranians had learned the lessons of six Bush years in the region. The US military had no stomach for yet another military confrontation following serial defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aware they had the upper hand also against the new president, Ahmadinejad applied “bait and switch” traps which the president seemingly failed to understand demanded more than abasement and reduced demands. Instead at each rebuff Obama’s response was to take a breather and offer yet another round of negotiations, and providing new concessions to “lure” the resistant bride.

With patience finally wearing thin, the president issued his dire warning: “everything is on the table,” a threat even a less wily negotiator would have recognized as hollow under the circumstances.

With each apparent demonstration of weakness, with each tactical withdrawal American prestige dropped a notch, while his credibility shrank in Arab and Israeli eyes. America’s ability to influence events short of war shrank.

And today, having failed to take a firm stand in Syria from Day One and responding to Syrian threats to Turkey with an inadequate two batteries of Patriot missiles, Iran again trumped the President by providing Assad short-range Fateh missiles and crews described as precision-guided and capable of targeting both insurgents and surrounding countries. Iran once again made it clear that if the president wont lay down a red line then they would, something they have demonstrated repeatedly over the past ten years.

Power abhors a vacuum!”

Iran, a gnat harassing the superpower, yet dictating terms and conditions to the superpower projecting weakness and indecision.

Mr. President, there are times when a red line delivered convincingly may be the only way to prevent war. It is a gamble and it is here you seem caught. But the consequences resulting from failure to act will only further embolden Islamist terrorism the United States has been engaged in fighting since the attacks of 9/11. Are you really willing to provide Iran, close to or already at the point of nuclear “breakout” such a victory? Are you willing to  open the West, the United States to a far more confident, more lethally armed terrorism than that which so effectively struck the American mainland in 2001?

America’s military leadership has for a decade avoided conflict with Iran, repeatedly raised the specter of “unanticipated consequences.” While Gates/Mullen and now Poindexter/Dempsey more likely fear yet another failure of arms on their watch, the real consequences for failure to confront the Iranian threat is loss of America’s control over events in this violent region. If mere threats by Iran to close the Straights of Hormuz lead to higher oil prices, how will Iran controlling oil production on both sides of Gulf impact a global economy still reeling from Bush’s invasion of Iraq a decade ago? Will a nuclear-armed Iran threatening the very existence of the presumed nuclear-armed Israel provide stability to an already  unstable Middle East? And will the potential for a nuclear arms race in the region produce another Cold War detente, Mutually Assured Destruction stabilize a region in the throes of religious revivalism?

If the United States is willing to sacrifice its interests, abandon its allies in the Middle East will Europe be next; the Near East; the Far East?

Will anyone anywhere trust alliance, the assurance of protection if need be from the superpower that failed to demonstrate will to even defend its own immediate strategic interests against a third world nuisance, Mister President?

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.