The gathering storm

Barry Rubin writes from the GLORIA Center in Herzliya with an unusually despairing column about the fall of Lebanon. The heart of his column is a critique of Barack Obama’s reassuring assessment of the minimal threat presented to the United States by Iran. Rubin finds the following deficiencies of understanding in Obama’s remarks:

•No understanding that Iran follows strategies designed to circumvent that problem of unequal power including terrorism, guerrilla war, deniable attacks, long wars of attrition, the use of surrogates, and so on.

•The only way Obama sees for using the U.S. “position of strength” is to listen to their grievances, as if we are not familiar with them. In short, the only thing you can do when stronger is to get weaker. Presumably the same applies when you are the weaker party.

•Why is he so totally unaware that dialogue has been tried? A decade with the PLO, longer with Hizballah by other Lebanese, four straight years of European engagement with Tehran over the nuclear issue, multiple U.S. delegations to talk with the Syrians, and so on. Was nothing learned from this experience?

•And what happens afterward if Obama’s dialogue doesn’t work? What cards would he have left? What readiness to try another course? Perhaps by then the Iranians will have nuclear weapons and other gains negating that “position of strength” so fecklessly frittered away.

•What possible issues can the United States find to compromise with Iran? Let’s say: give them Lebanon (oh, we already did that); ignore their sponsorship of terrorism; give them Iraq; give them Israel; withdraw U.S. forces from the region, accept their having nuclear arms. What?

•Why should the United States be able to reduce tensions through negotiations when Iran wants tensions? There is an important hint here: if the United States makes concessions it might buy off tensions. Since Iran and the others know about Obama’s all-carrots-no-sticks worldview, they will make him pay a lot to get the illusion of peace and quiet.

•There is no hint, not the slightest, of his understanding the option of using power to intimidate or defeat Iran, or as a way to muster allies. If Obama had the most minimal comprehension of these issues, he would fake it with some blah-blah about how America would combine toughness with flexibility, deterrence with compromise, steadfastness in order to gain more from the other side in negotiations. A critical element in peace-keeping, peace-making, and negotiations is to act tough and be strong in order to have leverage. Even in responding to criticisms, Obama has only talked about whether negotiations are conditional or unconditional and at what level they should be conducted. He is oblivious to the fact that the chief executive does things other than negotiations.

•If this is Obama’s strategy while Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons what would he do in dealing with a Tehran owning them?

Rubin concludes with an obvious point that is habitually left unstated: “[A]t present, even more if Obama wins, the threat is of an Iran that’s aggressive precisely because it knows that it will not have to confront U.S. forces. Tehran knows that it can sponsor terrorism directly against U.S. forces in Iraq, and also against Israel and Lebanon, because that level of assault will not trigger American reaction.”

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