Friday, December 1, 2023

Obama, Rouhani about to clasp on the trapeze

By Saeed Naqvi

The decision making systems in Washington must be saturated with memos, position papers, backgrounders, by dove-nosed hawks and hawk-nosed doves, both in and outside the administration, on the atmospherics required for the initial moves with Iran after the recent signs of a thaw.

President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, must also be casting a glance on the internal dynamics in Iran. That a casual meeting with President Barack Obama on the margins of the UN General Assembly did “not” take place is, by the admission of Iranian diplomats, a “good outcome” because a “casual” meeting at such a delicate juncture would give out misleading signals.

The ball is in play and in the foreseeable future a dour, defensive game should be expected. There are going to be no electrifying, solo runs through the field.

President George W. Bush got the US into a jam in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama learnt his lesson the hard way: that was the wrong way to go. His 2009 speech in Cairo was the route he had charted for himself but it took him a full term to realize that there is a Presidency, an establishment and the Deep State, circumventing Obama.

Israeli and Saudis, Washington insiders much before Obama was conceived, began to play that system, fast and loose.

It is commonly recognized in Jerusalem, and elsewhere, that the Likud PM nurses an adversarial chemistry with the US President. He went ahead with Jewish settlements in a most insulting reception to US Vice President, Joe Biden a year ago. That was precisely what Biden had come to prevent.

To reverse the Arab Spring, Security Council Resolution 1973 was brazenly misused for NATO strikes over Libya, a misuse Vladimir Putin has not forgotten to this day.

World’s only super power, the US, was pinned down like Gulliver throughout this period. Pinned down by Israel, Saudi Arabia and Europe.

A cartoon in the International Herald Tribune shows fire in the distance. Some European grandees, sipping Campari under a garden umbrella, order Uncle Sam, standing in attendance like a butler: Don’t just stand there; go put out the fire.

That is what the allies had made of the would-be sole superpower. The US was dragged into a pointless war in Libya which, mercifully, did not drag over two and a half years as the Syrian involvement has.

The US occupied Iraq for a decade, destroyed the Baath structure, the multilayered intelligence apparatus, Republican guards, killed Saddam Hussain and his key comrades. Only then was it able to get away leaving Iraq the embarrassing mess it is today. With this experience, who sold the lemon to Washington that cross border terrorism on a massive scale, financed by the Saudis and the Qataris, would bring about regime change in Syria? The Syrian state structure is every bit as solid as Baathist Iraq was.

When everything else failed, the usual suspects fell back on the ultimate trick: use of chemical weapons. So ham handedly was this card played that everybody ranging from Zbigniew Brzezinski in Washington to Putin in the Kremlin has found holes in Washington’s narrative. Putin called it a sly provocation to invite Western military action.

Saddam Hussain once lectured an Indian diplomat on provocation and retaliation. When provoked, never retaliate with your crack weapons because the purpose of the provocation may be to confirm that you possess them.

The West focused on Syria’s chemical weapons for one purpose. Brilliant diplomacy by Russia has transformed the chemical arsenal into a huge bargaining asset. Your allegations that Syria used chemical weapons is false and we can prove it, says Moscow. But now that you have raised the issue, Damascus is willing to surrender its arsenal, sign the chemical weapons convention, and we can jointly proceed towards a Middle East free of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It is in this evolving gameplan that the Washington-Teheran rapprochement must be seen.

Will Riyadh and Tel Aviv fall in line? Riyadh has been allowed an unobstructed run of the Egyptian turf. They hate the Muslim Brotherhood possibly a little more than they do Iranian Shiaism. This because Sunni anti monarchism has a powerful subversive potential.

Ideological Muslim Brothers were anathema to the Israelis too. The Jewish state is comfortable with a brutal military regime which is held on a tight leash by US financial support.

This leaves Qatar and Turkey suspended up there, looking for purpose.

At long last, Obama appears to be his own master in the conduct of foreign policy.

(Saeed Naqvi is a commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. The views expressed are personal. Saeed Naqvi can be reached on [email protected])

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