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The source of Obama’s quest for detente with Iran

It has been my contention that President Obama’s deal with Iran on nuclear weapons had little to do with stopping Iran from obtaining them, and much to do with his desire to achieve detente with the mullah-run Islamist regime.

As I put it here:

Obama isn’t motivated, as Israel and Saudi Arabia are, by a strong desire to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That’s not the purpose of this deal. If it were, Obama would have held out for far more than what the mullahs gave him.

Obama’s primary motivation is his desire to reset relations with Iran which he expressed in his 2008 campaign.

Recent developments — as described by Max Boot and Jonathan Tobin — confirm my assessment. So does this article in the New York Times. Undoubtedly expressing the thinking of the Obama administration, the Times argues that the U.S. and Iran are “being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who. . .are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.”

The signs of this “drawing together” of the mullahs and Obama are unmistakable:

On Monday, Iran offered to join the United States in sending military aid to the Shiite government in Baghdad, which is embroiled in street-to-street fighting with radical Sunni militants in Anbar Province, a Sunni stronghold. On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he could envision an Iranian role in the coming peace conference on Syria, even though the meeting is supposed to plan for a Syria after the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally.

What explains Obama’s tilt in favor of a nation that, during the past 35 years has been at least as implacable an enemy of America as the forces we hope to enlist that nation to combat?

Boot attributes it to a desire for stability. That’s certainly part of the explanation. In addition, it’s easier to reach an accommodation with an established nation state than with a group of rag-tag militias.

To be sure, as Boot emphasizes, Iran is not a force for regional stability; rather it remains a revolutionary, not a status quo power, whose goal is regional hegemony. Thus, accommodation with Iran ultimately means accepting it as a regional hegemon — a status that obtaining nuclear weapons would go a long way to promote.

For most of us, Iran as a regional hegemon is not acceptable. As Boot asks, “Do we truly want the Quds Force dominant in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Kabul, Bahrain, Doha, Abu Dhabi, and other capitals? Do we want to permanently alienate allies in Saudi Arabia and Israel?” Unfortunately, it’s far from clear that Obama would have serious problems with any of these outcomes.

In my view, the deeper source of Obama’s strong tilt towards Iran is the same as the one that caused his “reset” with Russia, his early cozying up to Assad, and his support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. That source is an attraction to anti-American strongmen, a familiar phenomenon among American leftists for the better part of a century.

The appeal stems from both prongs of the description — the anti-Americanism and the strength. The former marks these rulers as “progressive” no matter what their real policies and objectives are. Relatedly, it also makes them seem like winners to those who think that history is trending away from America. The latter — the strength — gives them appeal to statists who find democracy too messy. It may also have deeper psychological underpinnings.

Even on its own terms, however, the tilt towards “strongmen” is misguided because their strength is usually illusory. Such was the case with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and, to a considerable degree, with Assad. It is probably also the case, long-term, with the mullahs in Iran.

But the destruction of the sanctions regime — which is where Obama seems to be taking things — will probably enable the mullahs to maintain their strongman status for longer than they otherwise would.

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