The nuclear talks with Iran have soared passed yet another deadline. This is now the third time that a deadline has expired without a deal being reached. The reasons, similar to Obama’s entire Middle East strategy, are increasingly baffling.
The chaos is perhaps best highlighted by the twisting alliances of the U.S. On the one hand, we are providing military aid alongside Iran to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, in Yemen, we are providing support to Saudi Arabia in their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi forces. On the one hand, the president overlooks recent comments by Iran’s supreme leader urging “death to America.” But on the other hand he takes a hard line stance against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about Arab voters “coming out in droves to the polls.”
Unfortunately, this White House has too often reaped what it has sowed in the Middle East. In Iraq, President Obama announced a date that we would pull out troops, which allowed the Islamic State the perfect opportunity to destabilize the country. In Libya, the president rushed in to take out Muammar Gadhafi, only to realize that there was no support, no will and no plan to prevent the country from degrading into a dangerous political vacuum. In Syria, the president displayed the exact opposite problem, an eagerness to lay down “red lines” but a disastrous hesitancy to follow them up with the slightest action. In Egypt, the utter mishandling of the Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi, which the Obama administration lauded, despite its violent attempt to consolidate power, damaged one of the few vital relationships we had in the region.
The result has been a mystifying collection of discordant policy decisions that have done nothing but fan the flames of sectarian chaos that has simmered in the region for a thousand years. Unfortunately, that same dissonance that has hampered the Obama Administration’s ability to make progress in the Middle East is also defining the White House’s negotiations with Iran.
NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel said that because of the White House’s tangled alliances “the Saudis, and the larger Sunni Muslim world doesn’t feel the U.S. can really be trusted,” and, as a result, Iran is “spreading its wings and feeling very comfortable.”
“A lot of people in the Middle East see the U.S. as trying to put butter on both sides of the bread, frankly, and [that] has left people quite confused as to what the U.S. strategy is vis-à-vis Iran,” Engel says.
It should come as no surprise then that Iran is using this situation to its advantage in nuclear talks. Over the last week we’ve learned that the Obama Administration has agreed to several stunning giveaways. For instance, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. was considering allowing Iran to maintain 6,000 centrifuges, including “hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker.” The New York Times reported that Iran’s deputy foreign minister ruled out an agreement that involved giving up their stockpile of uranium. And the BBC reported that Iran is demanding rapid relief from economic sanctions the moment a deal is reached, freeing up money that will surely be used to boost its proxy wars in the region.
Nevertheless, President Obama remains steadfast in his belief that Iran could be a stabilizing force in the Middle East.
“They are captivated by the vision of an Iran as a potential source of strategic stability in a region that’s falling apart,” Duke University professor Peter Feaver told the Washington Post. “They would never be so naïve to describe it that way, but you can tell that’s a hope.”
And yet the naïveté shines through anyways. Iran isn’t a force for good, nor are they a steadying counterweight in a region run amok. They shout death to us, they want Israel off the map and they benefit from chaos. In fact, it’s increasingly only members of the White House that fail to notice the fetishistic focus they’ve developed in seeing a deal get done, at any cost. Fifty-four Republicans and more than a dozen Democrats in the Senate have expressed their support for legislation ensuring that Congress has an opportunity to review any agreement with Iran. Even more troubling for the administration, a bill that included strict sanctions on Iran passed the House by a vote of 400-20.
Perhaps the Obama Administration would do well to listen to the honest criticism coming from its own party members rather than the seductive whispers of the Teheran. Then again, this White House has shown an affinity for shutting out its allies and embracing its purported enemies when something it wants is on the line. And it has become clearer by the day that President Obama, more than anything else, wants a deal, with Iran.