Obama's Faustian Bargain

The assumption that the Obama administration's diplomatic initiative to our enemies will enhance America's image in the world has yet to be proven. What should concern us more however is the price our enemies will exact from us as part of that rapprochement, and whether it is really and truly worth the cost?

As Barry Rubin of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Israel wrote recently: "In the Middle East, it is not so useful to think yourself popular and show yourself to be friendly. You have to inspire fear in your enemies and confidence in your friends. And if you don't inspire fear in your enemies - if you're too nice to them - then you will indeed foment fear among your friends." That is because the culture of the modern Arab/Persian world has not descended from the Reformation, the Enlightenment, John Locke, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, but from radical jihadi Salafists like Ibn Tamiya in the 15th century and Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (Wahhabism) in the 18th century whose descendants now seek to return Islam and the world back to the Dark Ages.

From Day 1, Obama's stated intention has been to engage diplomatically rather than to confront militarily state sponsors of terror and weapons of mass destruction proliferators like Iran and Syria. However, as he launches his reconciliation effort in the Muslim/Persian world, he had best understand from the outset that non-democratic governments like Syria, and jihadist regimes like Iran as well as non-state Islamic actors like Hezbollah and Hamas move to the beat of a different drum. They do not perceive such overtures as we do. These regimes do not share our Western visions of democratization, globalization, religious tolerance and freedom.

They do, however, have their own vision, and the price they will exact from Obama will be in furtherance of that vision which is to humiliate us, drive us from the Middle East, expunge all Western influence from the region, and "export" Islamic terrorism throughout the world as a precondition to subjugating billions of infidels to Sharia law. That is their vision, and they have proven to be far more effective in "exporting" it over the past three decades than we have been in exporting ours. If we are to "reconcile" with regimes such as these, they will exact a high price for their "cooperation" and it will be based on their vision.

In January, President Obama addressed the Iranian mullahs in terms suggesting a possible reconciliation between the two countries if the Iranians could "unclench their fist." The speech was met with chants of "Death to America" and derision by the Iranian mullahs who demanded an apology for decades of past injustices committed by America against the Iranian people, and ridiculed Obama's slogan of "change" as a retreat forced upon America by Iran's Islamic revolution. They viewed his diplomatic overture as a sign of weakness and indicative of America's declining global power and influence.

It is a fair assumption that any bargain struck with Iran will not only enhance Iran's status and the status of its Middle East proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, but detrimentally affect Israel, Lebanon, post-U.S. Iraq and threaten American hegemony throughout the region. In return for Iranian cooperation in quelling the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan and leasing three military and war materiel supply routes to Afghanistan through Iranian territory, the Obama administration, among other deals, will be required to compel the Israelis to accept a "two-state solution" without demanding (in words as well as deeds) that Fatah and Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist.

He will also begin demanding Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank conveniently ignoring the fact that previous Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza not only empowered Hezbollah and Hamas, but enhanced the power and influence of Iran throughout the region, and led to the creation of terrorist bases on Israel's northern and southern borders. If the US is to have its way with Iran in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran will insist on having its way with Israel, Iraq, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf - for starters. As al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri warned Obama: "It appears that you don't know anything about the Muslim world and its history....You are neither facing individuals nor organizations, but are facing a jihadi awakening and renaissance which is shaking the pillars of the entire Islamic world.....This is the fact which you and your government and country refuse to recognize and pretend not to see."  Not exactly the "unclenched fist" the President seeks. 

The details of Obama's grand bargain have already begun to appear. Even as the UN's nuclear watchdog agency and Israeli intelligence have acknowledged that the Iranian mullahs are on the nuclear threshold and have perfected long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, the Obama administration is convinced that it can talk them out of it if enough is thrown into the bargain. Tehran, however, has learned that a sham interest in diplomacy, however polished, is an excellent way to play for time and reap rewards without actually compromising its fundamental interests and objectives.

Moreover, Obama's outreach to Iran will be taken by moderate Sunni Arab leaders, especially the Saudis, as an American betrayal. They will assume that America is cutting a secret deal with the mullahs and such a bargain will lead them to make their own deals and develop their own nuclear arsenals, particularly if it appears that the US is prepared to accept a nuclear Iran, abandon its military option against Iran's nuclear installations, end all efforts at regime change, and curtail international sanctions in return for Iranian "cooperation" in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Syria, the US administration is already preparing to suspend the enforcement of U.S. sanctions, and has expressed an interest in returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. Even the Golan Heights may be thrown into the bargain if enough pressure can be brought to bear on Israel. But reciprocity is not on the table. The regime in Damascus has offered no indication that it is prepared to accept Israel's right to exist, or respect Lebanon's sovereignty, or abandon its links to terrorism or to Iran. Rather, the Syrian regime seeks a peace "process" to gain international respectability, but has no desire to end its conflict with Israel. It has too much to gain by keeping the pot boiling. The March 29, 2009 issue of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) encapsulated the Syrian reaction to Obama's overtures in these words: "The US has capitulated to Iran and Syria."

Nevertheless, Obama continues to send high ranking State Department diplomats to Damascus in a futile attempt to pry Syria loose from Iran - this despite the fact that Syria is actively engaged in aiding al Qaeda in Iraq, exercises its designs on Lebanon through assassination of Lebanese political leaders, shelters terrorist leaders in Damascus, and is secretly working on a WMD program with North Korea. An editorial in the al-Watan newspaper summarized Syria's position in terms vastly different from those expressed by Obama: "The Syrians are looking forward to a change in American policy, not to a change in Syrian policy (italics added)." As Bret Stephens noted recently in Commentary, if the United States chooses to engage with Syria, it risks "the diminishment of its status as a serious power and a reliable ally."

In Gaza, the Obama Administration is also pushing hard to provide $900 million in reconstruction aid to rebuild the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip - an enormous sum of money much of which will be siphoned off by Hamas through international relief organizations like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that subvert American laws, aid violent Islamist extremists, propagandize against Israel while favoring Hamas, and work with banks targeted by the United States for money laundering and terrorist financing. Such American and European financing will allow Hamas to restore its missile capabilities and terrorist infrastructures, assume control of the Palestinian Authority, enhance the power and influence of Iran in the region, and allow Hamas to claim credit for improvements in Gaza. By funding UNRWA, the Obama administration not only perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem, but adds credibility, power and legitimacy to a terrorist regime and its state sponsor, both of whom are committed to the annihilation of America's staunchest Middle East ally.

These are the initial costs of the Faustian bargain the Iranian mullahs will extract from the US administration. So Mr. President, here's some advice for whatever it may be worth:

You are dealing with an apocalyptic Islamic regime in Tehran whose sole mission is to humiliate the US wherever and whenever possible, expel it from the Middle East and establish Iranian hegemony over the entire region. As you begin pressuring Israel to cede its security, turn Lebanon over to Hezbollah and the Syrians, and begin turning away from our other allies in the Middle East in furtherance of this grand bargain, remember this:  the price our enemies are exacting for their "cooperation" is costing us our allies, our credibility, our influence, and will eventually cost us our freedom. Is it really worth the price?

Mark Silverberg is a foreign policy analyst for the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), a Contributing Editor for Family Security Matters and the New Media Journal and a member of Hadassah's National Academic Advisory Board. His book "The Quartermasters of Terror: Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Jihad" and his articles have been archived here and here
The assumption that the Obama administration's diplomatic initiative to our enemies will enhance America's image in the world has yet to be proven. What should concern us more however is the price our enemies will exact from us as part of that rapprochement, and whether it is really and truly worth the cost?

As Barry Rubin of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Israel wrote recently: "In the Middle East, it is not so useful to think yourself popular and show yourself to be friendly. You have to inspire fear in your enemies and confidence in your friends. And if you don't inspire fear in your enemies - if you're too nice to them - then you will indeed foment fear among your friends." That is because the culture of the modern Arab/Persian world has not descended from the Reformation, the Enlightenment, John Locke, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, but from radical jihadi Salafists like Ibn Tamiya in the 15th century and Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (Wahhabism) in the 18th century whose descendants now seek to return Islam and the world back to the Dark Ages.

From Day 1, Obama's stated intention has been to engage diplomatically rather than to confront militarily state sponsors of terror and weapons of mass destruction proliferators like Iran and Syria. However, as he launches his reconciliation effort in the Muslim/Persian world, he had best understand from the outset that non-democratic governments like Syria, and jihadist regimes like Iran as well as non-state Islamic actors like Hezbollah and Hamas move to the beat of a different drum. They do not perceive such overtures as we do. These regimes do not share our Western visions of democratization, globalization, religious tolerance and freedom.

They do, however, have their own vision, and the price they will exact from Obama will be in furtherance of that vision which is to humiliate us, drive us from the Middle East, expunge all Western influence from the region, and "export" Islamic terrorism throughout the world as a precondition to subjugating billions of infidels to Sharia law. That is their vision, and they have proven to be far more effective in "exporting" it over the past three decades than we have been in exporting ours. If we are to "reconcile" with regimes such as these, they will exact a high price for their "cooperation" and it will be based on their vision.

In January, President Obama addressed the Iranian mullahs in terms suggesting a possible reconciliation between the two countries if the Iranians could "unclench their fist." The speech was met with chants of "Death to America" and derision by the Iranian mullahs who demanded an apology for decades of past injustices committed by America against the Iranian people, and ridiculed Obama's slogan of "change" as a retreat forced upon America by Iran's Islamic revolution. They viewed his diplomatic overture as a sign of weakness and indicative of America's declining global power and influence.

It is a fair assumption that any bargain struck with Iran will not only enhance Iran's status and the status of its Middle East proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, but detrimentally affect Israel, Lebanon, post-U.S. Iraq and threaten American hegemony throughout the region. In return for Iranian cooperation in quelling the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan and leasing three military and war materiel supply routes to Afghanistan through Iranian territory, the Obama administration, among other deals, will be required to compel the Israelis to accept a "two-state solution" without demanding (in words as well as deeds) that Fatah and Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist.

He will also begin demanding Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank conveniently ignoring the fact that previous Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza not only empowered Hezbollah and Hamas, but enhanced the power and influence of Iran throughout the region, and led to the creation of terrorist bases on Israel's northern and southern borders. If the US is to have its way with Iran in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran will insist on having its way with Israel, Iraq, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf - for starters. As al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri warned Obama: "It appears that you don't know anything about the Muslim world and its history....You are neither facing individuals nor organizations, but are facing a jihadi awakening and renaissance which is shaking the pillars of the entire Islamic world.....This is the fact which you and your government and country refuse to recognize and pretend not to see."  Not exactly the "unclenched fist" the President seeks. 

The details of Obama's grand bargain have already begun to appear. Even as the UN's nuclear watchdog agency and Israeli intelligence have acknowledged that the Iranian mullahs are on the nuclear threshold and have perfected long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, the Obama administration is convinced that it can talk them out of it if enough is thrown into the bargain. Tehran, however, has learned that a sham interest in diplomacy, however polished, is an excellent way to play for time and reap rewards without actually compromising its fundamental interests and objectives.

Moreover, Obama's outreach to Iran will be taken by moderate Sunni Arab leaders, especially the Saudis, as an American betrayal. They will assume that America is cutting a secret deal with the mullahs and such a bargain will lead them to make their own deals and develop their own nuclear arsenals, particularly if it appears that the US is prepared to accept a nuclear Iran, abandon its military option against Iran's nuclear installations, end all efforts at regime change, and curtail international sanctions in return for Iranian "cooperation" in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Syria, the US administration is already preparing to suspend the enforcement of U.S. sanctions, and has expressed an interest in returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. Even the Golan Heights may be thrown into the bargain if enough pressure can be brought to bear on Israel. But reciprocity is not on the table. The regime in Damascus has offered no indication that it is prepared to accept Israel's right to exist, or respect Lebanon's sovereignty, or abandon its links to terrorism or to Iran. Rather, the Syrian regime seeks a peace "process" to gain international respectability, but has no desire to end its conflict with Israel. It has too much to gain by keeping the pot boiling. The March 29, 2009 issue of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) encapsulated the Syrian reaction to Obama's overtures in these words: "The US has capitulated to Iran and Syria."

Nevertheless, Obama continues to send high ranking State Department diplomats to Damascus in a futile attempt to pry Syria loose from Iran - this despite the fact that Syria is actively engaged in aiding al Qaeda in Iraq, exercises its designs on Lebanon through assassination of Lebanese political leaders, shelters terrorist leaders in Damascus, and is secretly working on a WMD program with North Korea. An editorial in the al-Watan newspaper summarized Syria's position in terms vastly different from those expressed by Obama: "The Syrians are looking forward to a change in American policy, not to a change in Syrian policy (italics added)." As Bret Stephens noted recently in Commentary, if the United States chooses to engage with Syria, it risks "the diminishment of its status as a serious power and a reliable ally."

In Gaza, the Obama Administration is also pushing hard to provide $900 million in reconstruction aid to rebuild the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip - an enormous sum of money much of which will be siphoned off by Hamas through international relief organizations like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that subvert American laws, aid violent Islamist extremists, propagandize against Israel while favoring Hamas, and work with banks targeted by the United States for money laundering and terrorist financing. Such American and European financing will allow Hamas to restore its missile capabilities and terrorist infrastructures, assume control of the Palestinian Authority, enhance the power and influence of Iran in the region, and allow Hamas to claim credit for improvements in Gaza. By funding UNRWA, the Obama administration not only perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem, but adds credibility, power and legitimacy to a terrorist regime and its state sponsor, both of whom are committed to the annihilation of America's staunchest Middle East ally.

These are the initial costs of the Faustian bargain the Iranian mullahs will extract from the US administration. So Mr. President, here's some advice for whatever it may be worth:

You are dealing with an apocalyptic Islamic regime in Tehran whose sole mission is to humiliate the US wherever and whenever possible, expel it from the Middle East and establish Iranian hegemony over the entire region. As you begin pressuring Israel to cede its security, turn Lebanon over to Hezbollah and the Syrians, and begin turning away from our other allies in the Middle East in furtherance of this grand bargain, remember this:  the price our enemies are exacting for their "cooperation" is costing us our allies, our credibility, our influence, and will eventually cost us our freedom. Is it really worth the price?

Mark Silverberg is a foreign policy analyst for the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), a Contributing Editor for Family Security Matters and the New Media Journal and a member of Hadassah's National Academic Advisory Board. His book "The Quartermasters of Terror: Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Jihad" and his articles have been archived here and here