The Obama-Kerry Parallel Universe

There were superpower fireworks at an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Wednesday as US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that Russia is living in a “parallel universe.” But like string theory and other fantasies of modern physics and cosmology, current geopolitics is also composed of various alternative universes simultaneously. For the professional diplomatic class (heads of government and foreign ministers), parallel universes abound. This is certainly true with respect to the United States.

For President Obama and his hyper-kinetic secretary of state, the universe that they inhabit is composed of Cold War, post-Cold War and now neo-Cold War strata. In addition, this strange constellation also holds a global perpetual economic growth paradigm in conjunction with both environmental stewardship and a desire for less capital-labor inequality. In other words, American leadership and power is conceived as an antidote to the chaos of international relations, economic and class insecurity, and a living natural world in crisis.

Is it any wonder that it feels as if the world is completely falling apart? As Obama muses and scolds his Democratic Party constituency over the successes of Donald Trump with working-class white voters, more and more workers of all races and ethnicities have fallen deeper and deeper into economic insecurity. The level of alienation by crucial Democratic Party voting-blocs could mean a low turnout. For the Obama legacy-successor, Hillary Clinton, alienation by youth, brown and black voters, along with traditional working-class labor support could spell electoral disaster. Meanwhile, the neo-Cold War rhetoric against better relations between Russia and the US has reached a fever pitch within NATO and its army of neo-con intellectuals.

Herein lies the essential contradiction of traditional US foreign policy — the expansion of US military alliances has meant the opening of these partnership countries to capital and investment for purposes of export into the American home market. Cheap labor abroad has replaced more expensive labor at home. This economic and geopolitical trade-off helped the US win the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but it eventually decimated American industrial communities across vast swaths of the population. Now many in these old working-class communities no longer recognize US global military reach or capitalist globalization as positive forces in their lives.

Globalization has accentuated the income and wealth gap between US workers and a rootless investment class, whose primary objective is greed over community. In the Obama-Kerry parallel universe, it is still possible to believe that this vast chasm can be papered over. This belief system is possible because no one in the administration fears the expansive monetary legerdemain instituted by the US Federal Reserve. Even worse, the extent that Chinese Central Bank and Communist Party indebtedness holds sway over global capitalism has meant the mortgaging of the capitalist system to a nation marginally linked to the US military alliance in the first place. That linkage ended with the demise of the Soviet Union.

In fact, Obama wanted to pivot to Asia in order to block the real and potential Chinese growth in military assertiveness. But in order for this to happen, the US needed to replace its Middle East policy of direct engagement with some sort of substitute. Within the Obama-Kerry parallel universe, Asia and the Middle East are somehow disconnected. So at the point of near US victory in an anti-authoritarian policy — which began with the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and culminated with the successful Iraqi election result of 2010 — Obama gave up on America’s Middle East project and thought that by tilting toward Iran, the US could then pivot to Asia.

This tilt toward Iran was a colossal mistake for a multitude of reasons. First, it completely misunderstands the isolation and desperation underlying Iranian regional policy. This fact has been an essential component of Iranian strategy from the extremely dark days of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s onward. Second, the same policy mistake also postulates the erroneous thesis that a successful nuclear deal with the Iranians would somehow alter their behavior throughout the entire Levant, from Iraq to Lebanon. Third, this mistake presupposes that a successful nuclear deal with Iran means that the proliferation of nuclear weapons within the Middle East would become dormant, if not completely dead. Fourth, it assumes that US hegemony within the Middle East could be maintained in the Gulf using a variation of the “dual pillar” policy that encompassed partnership with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, as in the days of the Shah. Fifth, it theorizes that all this could be accomplished, while at the same time Israeli and Palestinian peace could be pursued. Sixth, it imagines that NATO expansion in Europe would not trigger a Russian challenge in the Middle East using Iran as a proxy. And finally, the Obama-Kerry parallel universe did not understand that the Bush policy of anti-authoritarianism was perceived by the vast Arab population of the Middle East as an American signal that other dictators needed to fall.

Enter the Arab Spring, the Syrian Civil War and the Ukraine Crisis. In the Obama-Kerry parallel universe, none of these events are related. But within the universe of Russian history, the Ukraine is a vital geo-strategic territory akin to what the West Bank means for Israel, and what Mexico, Central America and Cuba meant for the United States during the Cold War. The US almost succumbed to nuclear war over Soviet missiles in Cuba. And the US challenged the Soviets and Cuba in Central America throughout the 1980s. Certainly, Russia is not exempt to challenging NATO expansion into the Ukraine (as it did), and Russia continues to challenge the US anywhere else on the map. The Middle East has now become a proxy war between the two major European powers, the US through the NATO alliance system and Russia.

Israel and the Sunni Arab states are at a complete loss in understanding the very nature of the Obama-Kerry parallel universe. Where is the essential realistic vision in the last eight years of US Middle East foreign policy? Like America’s lost working-class productive economy, the contradictions within US Middle East policy are also mind-boggling. Will Iran be deterred from a nuclear sneak-out seven years from now? Not without a comprehensive plan for both the Middle East and Europe that the US and Russia can agree upon. The same is true for Syria. A US-Russia agreement must have real teeth and real vision as to a structure for a far-reaching peace. To stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will require the full cooperation and strength of the entire UN Security Council. Israel will need to trade its nuclear security for real conventional strategic depth.

However, such a strategy would mean the international death knell to the idea of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank. Again in the Obama-Kerry parallel universe, the so-called two-state solution is tantamount to gospel. But no country would trade vital strategic territory for the mere promise of peace. But that is exactly what is expected of Israel. Some land for security (UN Security Council Resolution 242) morphed into all “land for peace” (Jimmy Carter’s description) and is now flagrantly described as “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands” (Obama’s Tuesday speech at the UN). But where is the actual regional structure for peace? Is Israel expected to protect Jordan as an absolute monarchy far into the future? And how is such a policy even possible in the aftermath of the anti-authoritarian Arab Spring?

Ironically, the last country to trade land for the promise of peace was Russia. The US administration of Ronald Reagan promised Moscow that NATO would never expand eastward into the lands of the Warsaw Pact. That promise became a lie. Russian security was sacrificed for the sake of German reunification and the expansion of European markets eastward. This new Europe has now become dominated economically by the export power of Germany. It now almost appears as if Germany had been victorious in WWII.

Israel must not follow this Russian example. Israel must never trade vital strategic land for the mere promise of peace. Jerusalem must not expect peace with the Muslim world without a complete reconciliation between Islam and the Jewish people. True peace will become a theological project, integrated into a global and a regional peace structure that is fair and just for everyone. This structure must be free of any kind of hegemony. For this to be accomplished, all the powers in the world must be convinced that these structures for world peace are both achievable and in the interest of regional world harmony.

The peace between Israel and its neighbors will and must become the peace of the world. Our planet is at the cusp of an environmental disaster unlike anything ever seen on earth. Only in an historic universal conception of redemptive international peace can the global cooperation necessary to achieve the reduction in earth’s temperature be achieved. This can only happen with dramatic changes to global capitalist consumption patterns and warlike geopolitical structures. Basic necessity must trump greed and desire. This is the true message of Judaism and Islam. Unfortunately, humanity remains divided in separate and parallel universes, unable to make the necessary transitions.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).