If the timing was accidental it was most inopportune. David Petraeus chose now, of all times, just when the president was reaching the peroration of his pitch to sell a nuclear agreement with Iran to assert 5 things in the Washington Post. “In his most expansive comments yet on the latest crisis in Iraq and Syria, he answered written questions from The Post’s Liz Sly, offering insights into the mistakes, the prosecution and the prospects of the war against the Islamic State, which he refers to by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.”
The bullet points are as written by the Washington Post.
1. Shiite militias and Iran now pose a bigger regional threat than the Islamic State.
2. You can’t find a solution to the Islamic State without empowering capable local Sunni forces
3. Syria is a ‘geopolitical Chernobyl’ and needs to be addressed immediately
4. America’s influence is waning in the Middle East
5. Petraeus told Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani to “pound sand”
Taken collectively Petraeus points seem to be at variance with the president’s strategy, if not in total contradiction. For if the general’s assertions are true, why is president Obama making a deal with a “bigger regional threat than the Islamic state”? Why is the administration providing support for the man Petraeus told to “pound sand”? Why has US airpower been put at the potential disposal of Iran as it stirs up the “geopolitical Chernobyl”? And who are we talking to?
If Iran is the devil, why is president Obama sitting down to dinner with it? The answer to this puzzle is provided by a lawyerly word which enables us to believe two contradictory things at once. These objections are admitted and then dismissed by the application of the word “decoupled”. President Obama has decoupled, disconnected or severed Petraeus’ considerations from his nuclear deal.
It’s not that the general is a liar. Petraeus’ Iran actually exists in one universe while Obama’s Iran exists in another. It’s just that they can be treated severally by this strategy. Stephen Hayes at the Weekly Standard explains how it works:
A rational Iran policy would require that Iran stop its aggression and bring an end to its terrorism before the United States even considers engaging in negotiations on nuclear weapons. This is no rational Iran policy.
So from the beginning of these negotiations, the administration has sought to “decouple” the nuclear talks from the hostile behavior of the Iranian regime. Discussion of Iran’s increased regional aggression and its unceasing support for terrorists, including al Qaeda, has seemed to be out of bounds for U.S. negotiators. …
Last week, The Weekly Standard sought answers from the White House to four questions about Iran’s support for al Qaeda.
Our questions were straightforward:
(1) Is there still an agreement between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda?
(2) Is the Iranian regime currently harboring al Qaeda operatives?
(3) Have U.S. negotiators raised this relationship in the context of ongoing nuclear negotiations?
(4) Have U.S. government officials raised this issue at all, in any context, with Iranian regime officials?
Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, sent us to the intelligence community for answers to the first two questions. A senior U.S. intelligence official tells TWS: “There has been no significant or substantive change in our assessment of the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda.” Meaning, it continues.
Meehan offered this as an answer to the final two questions. “You are no doubt aware that we have made very clear that the nuclear negotiations are focused exclusively on the nuclear issue, and do not include discussions of regional issues.”
“You are no doubt aware that we have made very clear that the nuclear negotiations are focused exclusively on the nuclear issue, and do not include discussions of regional issues.” This means, if it means anything, that the president Obama is trying to restrain the brutal Mr. Hyde by concluding an agreement with the urbane Dr. Jekyll. Now why didn’t anybody think of this before?
Decoupling would be a neat trick in abstract mental game or employed as a literary device in some science fiction story. The problem is, can such a thing really work in the ordinary world? We’re about to find out. MSNBC reports that the Senate has temporarily backed off on a demand for the president to explain himself and tell the senators just what he is up to.
Senate Democrats and Republicans have agreed to delay the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s vote on legislation that would force President Barack Obama to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran for Congress’ approval. Their decision will give international negotiators time to meet an upcoming late-March deadline to settle on a plan.
Despite Republicans warning the leaders of Iran that a future administration could reverse any potential deal reached between the United States and the Middle Eastern nation, Obama seems optimistic about exploring a different relationship with the country.
But the delay of a few months may not be enough of a reprieve. Earlier the president’s men asked legislators to simply not look into things for years until his magic took effect. Deb Reichmann of the Associated Press writes:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Obama administration officials told a House committee on Thursday that if a nuclear deal is struck with Iran, lawmakers should leave congressionally imposed sanctions in place for years.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said that sounded like part of a White House strategy to keep Congress out of the process for years. Lawmakers wary of Iran are pushing to weigh in on any prospective deal and impose new penalties on Tehran.
The administration argues that congressional action now would scuttle delicate international negotiations underway in Switzerland to reach an agreement that would prevent Iran from being able to develop nuclear weapons.
It sounds like the president is asking for a blank check from the taxpayer to pay for something without telling anyone exactly what it is. And the seller of the goods is Dr. Jekyll — remember the “decoupling”? Don’t worry we are told. The administration knows what it’s doing, it’s just that telling you what it is up to would ruin everything.
The problem with that argument, one might point out, is why Jekyll should be any more trustworthy than Hyde, since as the former wants nukes which are potentially worse than the old-fashioned terror interests of the other. Would it not be simpler to suppose that this entire monstrosity was at least in part the result of a misguided administration strategy that has fed the one into bloated grossness and left the other to rampage unchecked?
But that would be too simple. There is an air of unreality about the administrations goals that reflects itself in tortured language; that escapes in the weird, almost lunatic formulas in which actions are justified; in the obsessively parsed answers to simple questions. Let’s put it this way: who’s on first and what game are they playing on the field? Is there any possibility of a straight answer?
Let’s try again. Are you sure there’s a Dr. Jekyll and he’s decoupled from Mr. Hyde?
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