Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

The End of the Beginning

Robert E. Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, was director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council Staff in the Carter Administration and in 2011-12 was Director of Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University.

Inter Press Service

The talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries bring to mind Winston Churchill’s 1942 description of World War II: “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

This characterisation is even more profound than it first appears. Today we are witnessing a roll of the dice throughout the Middle East.

The “negotiations” over Iran’s nuclear programme betoken a major shift in psychology and perceptions, notably about power, influence, and national interests. They involve the United States and almost all other countries in the region, which for so long have assumed the immutability of the Iranian-Western confrontation.

Of course, that confrontation could now begin to crumble, with wide-ranging geopolitical implications in the region and beyond.

Most immediately, the talks appear to be getting down to brass tacks regarding what Iran is doing with its nuclear programme; what it will do to reassure the world that it will not acquire a nuclear weapon or even move toward what is called a “breakout capability;” and what the United States and others will do in exchange.

“In exchange” involves the sanctions that have been progressively imposed on Iran since the Islamic Republic’s birth in 1979. But it could also include other steps, some tangible, some intangible, whereby Iran would be readmitted as a legitimate state in international society, free from the shackles on its potential as a highly educated and creative nation with the most U.S.-friendly population in the region.

So much of what will happen now involves the technical details of Iran’s nuclear programme, which only a handful of people, both in Iran and the West, really understand.

More important, however, is the politics. Will the Iranian government move far enough to embrace a deal acceptable to the U.S. and the other P5+1 members (the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany)?

Will the P5+1 accept that Iran does have the right to a peaceful nuclear programme and some level of uranium enrichment?

And, if there is a meeting of the minds, can a potential deal be sold to Iran’s Supreme Leader and the multiple constituencies in the West that claim the right to be heard?

The answer to the first part of this last question may depend on the will of a single individual (and his own complex politics). The answer to the second part will depend not just on President Barack Obama and the other P5+1 leaders, but also on the U.S. Congress and especially Israel. U.S. allies and partners lining the Gulf and outliers like Turkey must also be satisfied.

If a potential deal does take shape, a titanic struggle will take place in this country, pitting President Obama against those who would oppose virtually any deal, however reasonable by objective standards, measured in terms of U.S. national interests.

Those parts of Congress responsive to Israel’s perspective will be joined in opposition by the “Friends of Saudi Arabia” and other regional oil countries. Silently in the corner will be the Western companies that pour advanced weaponry into the Arab States of the Gulf — although, if the U.S. does take pressure off Iran, arms sales to still-anxious countries could even increase.

But far more is at stake in the Middle East than Iran’s nuclear programme and creating barriers against its ability to build a bomb. We are seeing the first break in the solid containment wall that was erected at the end of the 1970s due to fears that an Islamic revolution would spread its contagion.

Except in a few places, that did not happen. Indeed, the greater threat both to Western interests and to regional countries now comes from Al-Qaeda and its ilk (which, unlike Shia Iran, are Sunni).

In recent years, concerns have focused on Tehran’s nuclear programme. But even before that, there was a policy of containing Iran, in many ways reflecting a general regional contest for power and influence. This contest reflected worries that Tehran and Washington might one day be reconciled.

It is perhaps the best explanation for the (opaque) reasoning behind Saudi Arabia’s first campaigning for a seat on the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) and then, when successful, abruptly declining it. Indeed, with a break in the diplomatic barrier to Iran, Saudi Arabia is less sure that it will continue to stand higher in U.S. regard than an Iran that is “behaving itself” — thus its recent antics.

Ironically, the Saudis’ initial pursuit of the UNSC seat had always seemed strange: Security Council members are expected to set and follow standards that are alien to Riyadh.

For its part, Israel is competing for regional influence and to preserve, unchallenged, all the primacy it has in the U.S. It has effectively used the legitimate fears of an Iranian bomb to oppose any reconciliation between Washington and Tehran while positioning itself as Washington’s only friend there.

This gambit was always risky; should the U.S. and Iran come to terms on the nuclear issue and unfreeze other aspects of their relations, Iran could again become a “player” for influence, at least in the Middle East, with Israel and the oil-producing Arab states.

What happened in Geneva last week, therefore, is only “Act Two” of a lengthy play with elements of a psychological drama (“Act One” was the Obama-Rouhani phone call).

But if Iran plays its part (by no means certain); and if — assuming that a reasonable nuclear deal can be struck — President Obama shows the mettle with domestic naysayers that he showed on debt and default, then major, positive developments may become possible in the Middle East for the first time in years.

Robert E. Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, was director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council Staff in the Carter Administration and in 2011-12 was Director of Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Update was slow, but still no lag in the editor window, and footnotes are intact.     This has been updated – Bernard Lewis, who passed away in May 2018, was a renowned British-American historian of Islam and the Middle East. A former British intelligence officer, Foreign Office staffer, and Princeton University professor, Lewis was…


Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s bellicosity, his militarism, his hectoring cant about American exceptionalism and national greatness, his bullying of allies—all of it makes him not an opponent of neoconservatism but its apotheosis. Trump is a logical culmination of the Bush era as consolidated by Obama.


For the past few decades the vast majority of private security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp operating internationally have come from a relatively small number of countries: the United States, Great Britain and other European countries, and Russia. But that seeming monopoly is opening up to new players, like DeWe Group, China Security and Protection Group, and Huaxin Zhongan Group. What they all have in common is that they are from China.


The Trump administration’s massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment.


Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


RightWeb
share