Obama Realigns American Foreign Policy

Foreign policy pundits are not quite sure about the Obama administration’s Middle East strategy. It appears that the administration is either playing a balance-of-power game in the Middle East, or realigning its foreign policy in the region.

Max Boot, one of America’s leading military historians and foreign-policy analysts, believes that the Obama administration has decided on realignment. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on March 26, 2015, Boot argues that the Obama administration “keeps largely silent about Iran’s power grab in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, even going so far now as to assist Iranian forces in Tikrit (Iraq) while attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal with Tehran that would allow it to maintain thousands of centrifuges. Obama berates Benjamin Netanyahu for allegedly ‘racist’ campaign rhetoric, refuses to accept his apologies, and says the U.S. may now ‘re-assess options,’ code words for allowing the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state over Israel’s objections. Taken together, these facts suggest that Obama is attempting to pull off the most fundamental realignment of U.S. foreign policy in a generation.”  In Boot’s view, Obama’s new doctrine is to “downgrade ties with Israel and the Saudis while letting Iran fill the vacuum left by the U.S. retreat.”

An alternative assessment of the Obama administration’s new regional strategy is to contrast it to the George W. Bush era policy, when the U.S. played a decisive military role in the region. The Obama administration shifted the primary burden of fighting to regional powers, while having the U.S. play a secondary role, as evidenced by actions taken during the recent conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and now in Yemen. 

In an unprecedented move, combined Sunni-Arab powers attacked Iran’s proxies, the Shiite Yemeni Houthis, who have captured Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, placed under house arrest its legitimate president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (he has since escaped to Saudi Arabia), and moved south to take over the port city of Aden. This has the potential of turning into a wider conflict between Sunni-Arab powers including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf States, Jordan, Sudan, possibly Turkey, and Pakistan on one side, and on the other, non-Arab Shiite Iran with its allies among the Iraqi Shiite militias, the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hizb’allah, and the Alawi-led Assad regime in Syria.

All of this is happening in the shadow of the impending nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran, a deal that is likely to lead to a nuclear arms race in the region. The Saudis will buy a bomb from Pakistan and finance one for Egypt. Turkey’s megalomaniacal leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan will seek to build his own bomb. This might bring about a balance of fear and insecurity rather than a balance of power, which the U.S. would be unable to manage.

The Obama administration is currently furnishing the Saudis with intelligence needed to effectively attack the Houthis. At the same time the U.S. is cooperating with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Tikrit, providing the Iranian and the Iraqi Shiite militias with air power in the battle against the Sunni Islamic State (IS). Arguably, the Saudis would have welcomed the same aerial support the U.S. is giving the Iranians in Tikrit. 

One has to wonder why the Obama administration, under the guise of trying to achieve balance-of-power in the region, has failed to curb the Islamic Republic of Iran’s unimpeded control over four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and now Sanaa. The Saudi royals can certainly make the claim of being far more pro-U.S. than the Iranian regime, and yet there has been no reaction from the U.S. regarding Iran and its proxy’s presence on Saudi Arabia’s northern border with Iraq, and now on its southern border in Yemen. Moreover, the Tehran mullahs have instigated revolts among their Shiite co-religionists in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, where the oilfields of Dhahran are located. Alain Gresh in Le Monde Diplomatique posited that “Iran has always interfered in the affairs of Saudi Arabia. In 2003, it was Tehran that gave the green light to Al-Qaida attacks on the kingdom.” 

Iran’s mullahs have fomented trouble throughout the region. In Bahrain, the Islamic Republic incited the Shiite masses against its Sunni leaders. It resulted in the March, 2011 Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states intervening to save the Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Amir Hossein Motaghi, an Iranian journalist who defected this weekend and sought asylum in Switzerland, served during the 2013 Iranian elections as Hassan Rouhani’s presidential campaign communications director. Motaghi revealed that “The U.S. negotiating team is mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with the other members of the P5+1 countries, and convince them of a deal.”

Ariel Kahana, a political analyst for the Israeli newspapers Makor Rishon and Maariv explained that since President Obama is no longer running for office and his attention is focused on his legacy, his hidden agenda is surfacing. Kahana pointed out that some opinion-makers in Washington believe Obama prefers the Shiites over Sunni Islam, and that Obama is convinced the U.S. and Iran have shared interests, hence his unstoppable drive to sign an agreement with Iran.

Kahana added that when Netanyahu sought to attack Iran, leading Israelis opposed him. Now however, it turns out that Obama is ‘throwing Israel under the bus’ and those who trusted him must open their eyes. As proof that Obama has tilted towards the Islamic Republic of Iran from the very get-go, Kahana cited the 2009 Iranian students demonstrations against the “stolen presidential elections” that re-elected Ahmadinejad, while Obama looked the other way. Kahana mentioned the warm letters Obama sent to the Iranian Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the immediate call Obama made to Hassan Rouhani upon his election as president in 2013.

Kahana asserted that the Obama administration opened a secret channel of communication with Iran that was hidden from America’s allies including information critical to Israel. Obama, according to Kahana, ignored warnings from the UN’s IAEA about Iran’s violations of its NPT commitments, and took Iran and Hizb’allah off the terror threat watch-list. He also resisted tougher sanctions on Iran. Kahana concludes that all of these steps indicate Obama’s consistent pro-Iranian tilt.

With Sunni Arabs set to forge a NATO-like military force, perhaps with help from non-Arab Turkey and a nuclear-armed Pakistan aimed primarily at halting Iran’s hegemonic drive, what will the U.S. do? Perhaps more worrisome is the question, what will the U.S. do when the Saudis, Egyptians, and Turks view the nuclear deal with Iran as detrimental to their security interests? The region as a whole will undoubtedly become nuclear. A nuclear arms race in the most unstable part of the world will have dire consequences on the entire world.

The prospects of a hegemonic, revolutionary, and soon to be nuclear Iran would alter any balance-of-power game conceived in Washington. One must conclude, therefore, that the administration must be looking beyond establishing a balance-of-power in the region. That it is seeking a new foreign policy in the region, which realigns the U.S. historical positions.