Belmont Club

Who'll go under the bus?

Barack Obama’s excruciating campaign to impose United Nations sanctions on Iran in a last ditch attempt to stop their acquisition of a nuclear weapon has come down to two roadblocks: Brazil and China. China’s reluctance to support sanctions can be put down to its growing economic ties with Iran and a geopolitical desire to hamstring the US. But Brazil’s reluctance, according to the WSJ, stems from its hemispheric ambitions. It is anxious to show that it isn’t the tail to the Yankee kite.

Their recalcitrance comes at an awkward moment. The administration can’t afford more setbacks along its road to engagement. Iran is inching closer and closer to its goal of nuclear weapons and Barack Obama’s “engagment policy” has yet to show results. The enterprise is behind schedule and Lee Smith argues that someone has been tampering with the alarm clock to ensure things started late. He describes an Iranian disinformation campaign coursed through journalists and Washington policy wonks sympathetic to IRG and Hezbollah who successfully duped the establishment into believing that Iran was interested in a Grand Bargain, only to find when they read the fine print that they were not.

Smith describes a fax sent to Washington influentials with close ties to Iran suggesting the possibility of Grand Bargain. It raised hopes in the capital until it finally died under the realization that nothing suggested in the fax had been repeated in meetings elsewhere. Richard Armitage said “Nothing that we were seeing in this fax was in consonance with what we were hearing face to face [from the Iranians],” Armitage told Frontline for a 2007 broadcast. “So we didn’t give it much weight.” But by then it had served its purpose: it had kept the chimera of the Grand Bargain alive for just that much longer and let Teheran get that much closer to the finish line. The “disinformation” game was played through Hezbollah too. There are individuals in Washington who specialize in setting up interviews with the Hez. Through these conduits flock a variety of journalists and left-wing intellectuals, each eager to hear what the Hezbollah are only too willing to tell: the story that despite their sexy fatigues and masculine beards, they only want justice and peace. And how that line plays.

Compared to boring democrats in suits, terrorists are hard men whose power and sex appeal issues from their willingness to use violence. Hence, they are attractive to Western media, and they know how to play the media. A famous terrorist like Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah is well aware that an interview with him is a form of currency, and he enhances the value of his interviews by granting them sparingly—and only to those who can be counted on to deliver a positive spin. It is hardly an accident that while Nasrallah has harsh words for the Jewish state, he likes to use Jews, like Seymour Hersh and Noam Chomsky, to convey his more polite-sounding messages. It’s good PR, and the attachment of Hezbollah’s Jewish messengers to their counter-ethnocentric mission makes it unlikely that they would ever risk making Nasrallah mad.

Now, with time running out and the centrifuges churning, the Grand Bargainers are looking around for the long pass. The chance for the Hail Mary play, or whatever it is called in Arabic, is uppermost in their minds. What can be offered to Iran to bring it to the table? Failing that what can be served up to China to put more pressure on Iran? One morsel is Iraq, which Iran wants Finlandized; especially that when it looks to become an American victory. A high UN official writing in the Washington Post says Iraq may be  on its way to normalcy. Peter Wehner in the National Review cites Newsweek’s amazing cover story

which declared that “something that looks mighty like democracy is emerging in Iraq. And while it may not be a beacon of inspiration to the region, it most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East.”

Do tell. In other circumstances it would be no-brain win for Barack Obama. If Iraq succeeds, as seems increasingly possible, the President can claim it as his victory. On the other hand, as Glenn Reynolds says, “if Obama somehow manages to blow it, retroactively that will turn out to be Bush’s fault.” But its very success makes only a bigger bargaining chip. And that’s exactly what Stratfor’s George Friedman provocatively suggests: instead of trying to convince all these hard headed allies, why not sell out the Arab Sunni world and throw in with Teheran? Friedman’s argument is simple. Since Obama is unlikely to convince China to turn the screws on Iran; since Obama is never going to stop the Teheran by force and since both of them have an interest in beating down Sunni terrorism, then do a Roosevelt and sign articles with the Stalin of today. Friedman writes:

To recap, the United States either can accept a nuclear Iran or risk an attack that might fail outright, impose only a minor delay on Iran’s nuclear program or trigger extremely painful responses even if it succeeds. When neither choice is acceptable, it is necessary to find a third choice. …

Iraq, not nuclear weapons, is the fundamental issue between Iran and the United States. Iran wants to see a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq so Iran can assume its place as the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. The United States wants to withdraw from Iraq because it faces challenges in Afghanistan — where it will also need Iranian cooperation — and elsewhere. Committing forces to Iraq for an extended period of time while fighting in Afghanistan leaves the United States exposed globally. Events involving China or Russia — such as the 2008 war in Georgia — would see the United States without a counter. The alternative would be a withdrawal from Afghanistan or a massive increase in U.S. armed forces. The former is not going to happen any time soon, and the latter is an economic impossibility….

Roosevelt and Nixon both faced impossible strategic situations unless they were prepared to redefine the strategic equation dramatically and accept the need for alliance with countries that had previously been regarded as strategic and moral threats. American history is filled with opportunistic alliances designed to solve impossible strategic dilemmas. The Stalin and Mao cases represent stunning alliances with prior enemies designed to block a third power seen as more dangerous.

It’s breathtakingly simple: throw everyone under the bus and drive off with Ahmedinajad. Friedman’s audacious prescription might even appeal to those with a sentimental attachment to the Chicago Way, where no problem is so great it can’t be solved by persuading someone to drink five hundred tablets of aspirin or shoot themselves in the back while jumping to commit suicide in a river. But there’s only one problem with the Judas option: Israel. To throw in with Iran will make Israel very nervous, especially when it surrounding  Israel with a ring of proxy enemies, directed mostly from Teheran. Aviation Week describes the heap of combustible material piled all around Israel’s borders. “Thousands of Hezbollah rockets are poised to strike Israel again.”

Other developments are raising tensions as well. In the year since the Gaza incursion called Operation Cast Lead ended, Hamas has made a major effort to restore its internal security forces. The military/terrorist wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has been rebuilt to its previous strength with its military capabilities substantially expanded. The smuggling of weapons into Gaza has accelerated beyond expectations, in spite of Israel and Egypt sealing their respective borders with the area and Israeli interception of arms shipments at sea and in Africa. Much of this weaponry originates in Iran, whose rulers are eager to extend their regional influence to the Mediterranean. Restoring Hamas’s arsenal with advanced ordnance is a major part of Iran’s strategy of targeting Israel from Lebanon and Gaza.

The Hamas weapons inventory has grown enormously in the past year. Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, told the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee last month that Hamas’s current capabilities are “better than they were on the eve of Operation Cast Lead.” Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups “will continue to grow stronger in 2010,” he added. Diskin said Hamas will continue efforts to smuggle rockets into Gaza that have a range exceeding 50 km. (31 mi.), along with “antiaircraft missiles, antitank missiles and . . . other . . . weapons.” Last November, the head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, told the committee that Hamas had conducted a successful trial launch of a rocket with a 60-km. range, which could endanger the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

The one reason why George Friedman’s suggestion won’t work is that in order to embrace Iran, America will have to figure out how to square things with Israel. Unless Iran has given up on exterminating the Jewish State it might prove the one thing that will be a little too hard to throw under the bus. Why, was someone thinking on it? It’s interesting to speculate on what the Hit Team which took out Hamas’ arms buyer in Dubai might have been after. Maybe they were looking for answers to questions, whoever they were; men said to be from the Mossad yet rumored to have escaped through Iran. But that’s the world of the Middle East. It’s awash with faxes which may never have been sent; hit teams going every which way; full of cordial meetings between enemies and Grand Bargain forms with the names of the parties left blank. It’s a hotbed of intrigue. About the only thing one can hope for is that the American maestros of Smart Power don’t get outsmarted or finish up being too clever by half.

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Too easy


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