Belmont Club

Roundup December 14, 2011

Acting like they didn’t care about Iraq: “The current agreement, which was negotiated by the Bush administration in November 2008, requires the United States to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country before 2012 in the absence of a follow-on accord. For much of this year, however, the Obama administration did not appear to be earnestly pursuing talks for a new security agreement with Iraq.”

“The initial U.S. position to hold off on negotiations until Iraq formally requested a continued U.S. presence was a gross misreading of the realities of Iraqi politics and how decisions are ultimately made in Iraq. Many Iraqis voiced criticism of the defensive posture the U.S. had initially taken regarding a new security agreement. They believed such a negotiating style had ignored the experiences of government formation and arranging the 2008 Security Agreement. Waiting for others never prompts action in Iraq. The political sensitivities and the disputes between rival Iraqi political factions made it highly unlikely that the Iraqis themselves would publicly request a troop extension prior to any extensive private negotiations. As a result, months of negotiating time have been lost.”

Indeed, McClatchy Newspapers reported that President Obama and Vice President Biden had little direct contact with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this year prior to the October 2011 withdrawal announcement, and remained disengaged from the diplomatic process of negotiating a new security agreement. There are potentially grave consequences to the Obama administration’s failure to forge a post-2011 security agreement.

It might have the practical effect of allowing the country to drift into the orbit of Iran.

Anbar abandoned to its fate: “In the hometown of the late Saddam Hussein, arrests have become so commonplace that whenever a police car shows up, young men flee from the street. It’s a striking illustration of fortunes reversed by the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that overthrew the Sunni ascendancy and put the Shiite majority on top. Now, with the last American forces to leave Iraq by the end of the month, Sunnis like 57-year-old Jassim Mohammed are worried.”

Maybe part of the reason the Iraqi civil war stopped — at least for a while — was a belief in the protection of the hegemon. Now that the hegemon has quit hegemoning the bets may be off and the music may start again.

Giving Away the Store: Kori Schake in Foreign Policy writes, “If no troops in Iraq is the metric for success, then President Obama has led us to success in the Iraq war. But if capitalizing on the gains won by our military to nurture an Iraq that is more than a Shi-ia autocracy leaning toward Iran, President Obama has merely conceded our political aims in order to get our troops out.”

Assad expels Christian monks working for reconciliation: The policy may reflect a desire to increase sectarian conflict in Syria because that now serves Assad’s purposes better.

Without [Assad’s} protection, the argument goes, the region’s minorities will dwindle into nothingness. But Father Paolo’s expulsion unveils the truth: if these minorities stay silent and submissive, they will be left in peace; but any inconvenience caused by any of them to the regime, will be treated with ruthless suppression. Their protection comes at a price and that price is silence.

Perhaps Assad has no permanent friends. Only permanent interests, like his own.

Iran-in-Lebanon Attacks Israel: Lee Smith notes that low-intensity rocket attacks by Hezbollah units in Lebanon against Israel have begun. “The preservation of Bashar al-Assad’s regime is a vital Iranian interest. And now, after holding off the opposition for nine months by killing 5,000 people, Assad may finally be facing an existential crisis.”

Two weeks ago, writes Tony Badran, the “former commander of the Revolutionary Guards and military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei, declared that in case of an Israeli attack on Iran, the Iranian retaliation will come from Lebanon.” “All the Zionist cities,” said Yahya Rahim Safavi, “are within the range of our ally Hezbollah’s Katyushas.”

Interestingly, Hezbollah tried to frame a Sunni group in the rocket attack as if to say ‘they could cause trouble too.’ And why not? If Damascus expels Christians, or kills Sunnis or kills Shia on thing is constant: it’s always Israel’s fault. Therefore the key to peace in the Middle East is to force Israel to cede more land. Logical isn’t it?

Iran rejects a US demand for the return of a surveillance drone: “Iran has rejected a request by President Obama to return an American surveillance drone that the Iranians say they captured on Dec. 4., state media in Tehran reported Tuesday.” In related developments Iran says America will have to apologize before requesting the return of the drone which demand they rejected anyway. “Iranian officials on Tuesday demanded an apology from the Obama administration before they would even consider any U.S. request to return a surveillance drone that Iran captured this month.”

Given the repeated rebuffs, the President might consider the possibility that his attempts at “engagement” and sweet talking Iran are failing. They seem singularly unreceptive to his courtship displays. His efforts so far recall the classic dialog between Lloyd and Mary in Dumb and Dumber.

Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.
[pause]
Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*

Yes, there’s a chance. A chance of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Related search, see “Global Zero”.

The Drone crashed by accident: “‘I am satisfied in this particular case that no outside force brought this drone down,’ said Rogers, R-Mich., speaking at a conference sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative. ‘I will say without hesitation that this came down due to a technical problem.'” Now the more interesting question is whether the failure to destroy the drone was also the result of a technical problem.

No Environmentalists Will Object: “In a new effort to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program, the Obama administration and its European allies are asking Saudi Arabia to help them squeeze Iran’s vital oil sector without driving up world energy prices and damaging the global economy. Officials in the United States, France, Britain and other countries have been lobbying the Saudis in recent weeks to produce billions more barrels of oil to provide an alternative source for buyers of Iranian oil.”

In a related story, the EPA is being accused of looking for gas — to discredit it. The EPA says tests it conducted in Pavillion, Wyoming “indicate that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.”

However, it turns out that the EPA drilled two monitoring wells to some 900 feet – much deeper than water wells which are usually at about 300 feet – and indeed found hydrocarbons. In short, they drilled into the natural gas reservoir that has long attracted industry producers. It may the single most productive moment in EPA history.

They were looking for a regulatory gusher, the story suggests, and found it. The lesson is probably that making more Greenhouse Gases is ok, as long as you do it Saudi Arabia.

The Administration sends a signal to Iran: “The Obama administration hit two senior Iranian military officials with travel and financial sanctions Tuesday and moved closer to a compromise with Congress over tough new sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank that Washington worries could have unintended consequences.”

Congress pressed ahead Monday evening with a massive $662 billion defense bill that includes an amendment directing the administration to target foreign financial institutions that do business with the Iranian Central Bank in Tehran. The pressure comes amid heightened concern over Iran’s nuclear program and links to alleged terrorist plots.

Administration officials had expressed concern that Congress’ approach could drive up oil prices and cause havoc to world markets. Higher prices might also boost the value of Iranian oil sales, which amount to more than half of the Iranian government’s revenue. That would defeat the point of the sanctions by allowing the Iranian government to increase its investments in uranium enrichment or other destabilizing activity, they had argued.

The administration argued such sanctions would make it harder for Russia, China, India and other nations maintain larger-scale trade with Iran, not to mention Japan and South Korea, Greece, Spain and Italy in Europe. “To purchase the petroleum, those countries must deal with Iran’s central bank.” That would of course be the point of any effective regime of sanctions: to make Iran’s trade with the outside world harder. Having embarked on the pathway of sanctions, the administration has the obligation to make them work, unless they are merely intended to be symbolic — as the travel bans on two Iranian individuals would be.

The problem with the “smart power” model is that is sometimes a smokescreen behind which the intention to do nothing hides. The matador flourishes a cape not to conceal the sword, but to hide the fact of an empty hand from the audience. It is almost as if the administration were merely going through the motions of opposing Iran, Syria and renegade forces in Pakistan, while in actuality leaving the road clear for them.

Of course that can’t be true, though appearances are often deceiving. But it is in the administration’s probable best interests to make it look like they’re really putting up a good fight. Otherwise its international enemies might get the impression they are taking a dive and act aggressively, thereby forcing the administration to respond in a manner they would rather not. In other words President Obama may embolden the enemy and and be forced fight in spite of his preference for “smart power” or back down yet again.

But if the President is a latter-day JFK, he may not back down forever. Sooner or later he may make his stand and face his “Fissile Crisis” in the same way Kennedy faced his Missile Crisis. Only this time, who knows how it will turn out?


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