Belmont Club

Simply Behind

The Washington Post in an Editorial Board Opinion decries “More half-measures from Obama administration on Iran”. It saying in effect, “faster, please”.

On Monday the administration unveiled another series of half-steps. … The result is that President Obama is not even leading from behind on Iran; he is simply behind. …

The administration’s slowness to embrace crippling sanctions is one of several persistent flaws in its Iran policy. Another is its continued insistence on the possibility of “engagement” with a regime that has repeatedly rejected it while plotting murder in Washington. …

By now it should be obvious that only regime change will stop the Iranian nuclear program. … By holding back on such measures, the Obama administration merely makes it more likely that drastic action, such as a military attack, eventually will be taken by Israel, or forced on the United States.

Because policy carries behind it the immense weight of interest and advocacy groups it possesses a momentum that makes it insusceptible to course changes. No one wants to eat crow. Moreover, there is the investment in the current Rolodex and the understandable dismay at having to make friends with a new set of leaders.

One possible reason for the administration’s reluctance to act in Iran is the fear of what will come afterwards,. It is a fear that is haunting its policy in Syria, which is part of Iran’s axis. But as Lee Smith argues in Tablet Magazine, it may be already too late for that. Afterwards is right around the corner, so “choose your horse and ride it.”

In the past three months, the White House has failed to realize its stated goal of removing Assad from power. A key reason it has failed isn’t for lack of ability to project power, but rather because it has become distracted by the fractured nature of the opposition—over what comes after Assad—rather than focusing on the far more manageable pursuit of bringing down a long-time U.S. adversary….

The Obama Administration is reluctant to throw its support behind any Syrian opposition group when those factions are already at one another’s throats. But the White House should learn from the Iranians: Choose your horse and ride it. Moreover, it was Washington itself that gave an opening to the National Coordinating Committee—and Tehran—by over-emphasizing the importance of the opposition.

Regime change, a word taboo scant months after President Obama took office, overtook his administration so quickly that there was no time for him to do anything more than take credit for it. But now, as John Bradley writes, The ‘Arab Spring’ is rapidly turning into the ‘Winter of Islamic Jihad’. All fruits of ‘leading from behind’ are turning to ashes in the administration’s mouth.

Even the New York Times is sounding the alarm. Andrew Reynolds writes in an op-ed that “Egypt, the largest and most important country to overthrow its government during the Arab Spring, is careening toward a disastrous parliamentary election that begins on Nov. 28 and could bring the country to the brink of civil war.”

The great opportunistic achievement of the Obama administration is turning out to be a less than stellar triumph. Spengler, writing at Pajamas Media says the media is finally beginning to realize what he has been emphasizing all along. Egypt is “is nearly out of money”.  The Middle East, like the rest of the world, is going broke. And to make ends meet the Army, which controls the economy, is selling everything that isn’t nailed down. The result, as the NYT would put it, is that the election in Egypt may be doomed.

The economic crisis overwhelming the Middle East stretches from Libya all the way through to Turkey. The problems are of a different order, to be sure. As I reported earlier, Egypt’s spendable foreign exchange reserves are down to just $13 billion and falling daily as the central bank buys its own unwanted currency from the market in order to postpone the inevitable collapse in the change rate. Why not just devalue? The probable answer is that the generals and their civilian front men are moving as much money as they can out of the country before Egypt goes bankrupt. Last month the generals fired all the private-sector board members of the central bank, as I reported at Asia Times Online. Everything that can be sold abroad for cash is being sold. Al-Ahram reported Nov. 19 that there is no enforcement of the ban on rice exports, because controls have simply broken down. Egypt subsidizes rice at a fraction of the world market price, so traders have an incentive to sell it overseas. Not only the country’s capacity to buy food in the future, but its existing stocks of food are disappearing. And Egypt imports half its caloric consumption.

No wonder the country is blowing up.

Everywhere one looks the red lights are flashing. George Friedman at STRATFOR for example, believes there’s some kick in Teheran yet. “U.S. troops are in the process of completing their withdrawal from Iraq by the end-of-2011 deadline. We are now moving toward a reckoning with the consequences. The reckoning concerns the potential for a massive shift in the balance of power in the region, with Iran moving from a fairly marginal power to potentially a dominant power. As the process unfolds, the United States and Israel are making countermoves.”

In Friedman’s view all that Syria and Iran have to do to win is not to lose. If they can stay together while everything falls apart then they will gain in strength with respect to their regional rivals by comparison. “If al Assad survives … Iran will be the big winner. If Iraq falls under substantial Iranian influence … then Iran could emerge with a sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean (the latter via Hezbollah). Achieving this would not require deploying Iranian conventional forces — al Assad’s survival alone would suffice. However, the prospect of a Syrian regime beholden to Iran would open up the possibility of the westward deployment of Iranian forces, and that possibility alone would have significant repercussions.”

With the entire Mediterranean basin in a state of upheaval the only thing that is certain is that President Obama’s engagement-and-containment policy, with which he began his administration, is deader than a doornail. The fate of the region is contingent: contingent on US strength but above all contingent on a rational policy that recognizes that the old order is gone and a new one must be crafted or come to terms with.

All that is important now is to be gain the position and wherewithal to influence the world that is emerging. Now is not the time to be mired in the past, but President Obama’s ideas are often nothing more than the fossilized socialist notions of the last century. If an example were needed, the “we are the 99 percent” crowd are preparing to hold a convention on July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia to demand an agenda straight from the 1960s:

Ending of Perpetual War for Profit. Recalling all military personnel at all non-essential bases and refocusing national defense goals to address threats posed by the geopolitics of the 21st century, including terrorism and limiting the large scale deployment of military forces to instances where Congressional approval has been granted. New laws must be enacted to counter the Military Industrial Complex’s mission of perpetual war for profit. The annual savings created by updating our military posture and ending perpetual war will be applied to the social programs outlined herein to improve the quality of life for human beings rather than facilitating and assisting corporations engaged in murder to make ever-increasing profits distributed to the top 1% of wealth owners.

This is what some of the President’s Base want to work for. But it is at odds with reality. At the very least a serious discussion about what comes next in the Middle East should now take their place besides the ideas of “Responsibility to Protect” and “Ending Perpetual War for Profit”. The world has gone in a direction different from that expected by the Administration and it is time to bring them back together again.

But Washington is cemented into policy positions that simply have no give.  For example the Christian Science Monitor notes that the failure of the budget supercommittee means “we default to the automatic cuts—the sequester. The fact that these are split evenly between defense and non-defense” It’s a Mexican standoff on the Potomac, with every dug into positions that have long since been outflanked by events, but which will be defended to the death nonetheless. Rational calculation has no room to run in either the Middle East, Western Europe or Washington. The pasture is too full of sacred cows for anyone to move.

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $3.99, print $9.99
Tip Jar or Subscribe for $5