Some pundits love to carry on about the presumed brilliance of the Persians, reminding us that they invented chess, that they’re fabulous negotiators and strategists, and masters of deception. Others love to carry on about the presumed brilliance of President Obama, who plays basketball, not chess, but is still, as the historian Michael Beschloss once said, the smartest president in American history.
I don’t doubt the Persians and our president have high IQs, but I know from personal experience that the rulers of Iran are at least a bit crazy (I met with some of them when I was the “secret back channel” to Iran during the Reagan administration), and they have certainly wrecked their country. Obama’s results haven’t been particularly epic either.
Braininess doesn’t automatically translate into good policy or even to a clear understanding of what’s going on. Several thoughtful analysts have concluded — correctly, as I see it — that recent Middle Eastern deals are, at a minimum, giant steps toward a working alliance between the United States and Iran. It’s pretty clear that Obama believes he is on the verge of fulfilling one of his favorite dreams: a U.S.-Iranian consortium. Of late, that has produced two unexpected agreements, one terminating the Syrian chemical weapons program, and the other temporarily limiting at least some parts of the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
The Iranians, likewise, think they’ve made significant advances: they think they’re in the driver’s seat in Syria, and have won acceptance of their long-claimed “right to enrich uranium.”
Leave aside the question of who’s got it right, just think about the U.S.-Iranian embrace. Let’s call it a romance. At Big Peace, Lee Smith has spelled out the new arrangement:
…when Obama backed off on striking Bashar…the president not only angered U.S. Arab allies, but turned against them and partnered instead with Assad and Putin. When Obama announced at the U.N. General Assembly in September that negotiations with Iran were an administration priority, he not only turned Iranian president Hassan Rouhani into a partner, but also sheltered Iran from any potential Israeli attack. In short, Obama switched sides.
James Glassman and Michael Doran reached the same conclusion. Like many love affairs, this one is based in large part on passion and wish-fulfillment — that is to say on confusion — not on rigorous brilliance. Here’s what I think is going on:
● Obama is saying to himself: “Finally! They are coming to understand that I’m with them and we should work together. We can reshape the whole Middle East.”
● The Iranians, meanwhile, are saying to themselves: “Finally! We have broken the will of the Great Satan, and Obama will do whatever we want. From now on we will dictate terms for the region, and ultimately for the world.”
Obama thinks he’s getting a long-lasting affair, while the Iranians think they’re getting domination. Both are wrong. Obama is wrong because the Iranians are not in love with him, and have not abandoned their basic strategic mission of dominating or destroying America. The Iranians are wrong because Obama is not appeasing them, he’s hugging them. For our supreme leader, it’s love, not fear.
This is a very mercurial romance. It can blow up at any moment. The Iranians are currently testing Obama’s embrace by insisting he accept their claim that the interim agreement recognizes their “right to enrich.” Can he do that? Will he?
Meanwhile, how will Obama react if the Iranians are caught in yet another secret nuclear activity? He’s not reluctant to attack those who thwart him. Remember, this is a man who says he’s really good at killing people. Just like the mullahs.
Finally, there is Syria. The Iranian-American romance grants Tehran parental rights, and if the Iranians are successful they will be seen to be the dominant power in Damascus. But if the opposition rallies, and Assad is once again on the verge of defeat, will Obama give support to the Iranians’ adopted child, the tyrant Bashar al Assad? The last time around, Obama canceled an announced bombing of Assad’s chemical weapons sites. Next time, it will be harder to limit the discussion to such a narrow target; he’ll be forced to help Iran (and Russia) save Assad.
Is his love that strong? Time may tell.