I want to discuss three positions taken by the Obama Administration which are opposed to American interests and make war, not peace, more likely. There are many other issues that I could discuss, both about the Mideast and elsewhere, but these are emblematic of the general problem.
Position 1. Sanctions and negotiations can cause Iran to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The possession of nuclear weapons will give Iran the power to dominate the Muslim Middle East, economically and politically. This is the primary goal of the revolutionary regime. The Iranian leadership is not averse to any hardship that may be felt by the general populace, because 1) as a totalitarian regime they are not politically accountable to their people, and 2) any form of economic sanctions will always be ‘leaky’ enough to permit favored elements to receive the resources they need, especially since Russia and China will not be cooperative with the West.
The result of negotiations will, at best, be that the Iranian strategy will change from a straight-line effort to get deliverable weapons to a “just in time” strategy in which all the pieces except the final assembly of a weapon are put in place.
The only thing short of military intervention that could make them stop would be a credible threat thereof, combined with a thorough and effective inspection program. This isn’t going to happen in time. Meanwhile, the enrichment of uranium and other development continues.
Position 2. The threat against the West from radical Islam comes primarily from al-Qaeda, and not radical Islam in general.
The Muslim Brotherhood is not any less radical, from an ideological point of view, than al-Qaeda. Where it differs is that it thinks, quite rationally, that for it, today, violent jihad against the West is likely to be counterproductive. Once it cements its control over the most populous country in the Middle East, it may think differently.
The Obama Administration supports — or at least does not not oppose — the Brotherhood in Egypt, has allowed Hizballah to take almost total control of Lebanon, restricts Israel from acting against Hamas in Gaza, and applauds the Islamist Erdoğan regime in Turkey — with which it collaborates in working to replace the imploding Assad government in Syria with an Islamist regime (and I might add that before Assad’s difficulties, it called for ‘engagement’ with him).
On the home front, the administration does not consider radical Islam a threat, unless it is related to al-Qaeda. So it is supposed to be reassuring when someone is arrested for trying to explode a car bomb in Times Square and we are told that “he wasn’t a member of a recognized terrorist organization.”
The obsession with al-Qaeda, which, as Barry Rubin points out, doesn’t control countries with populations in the millions like Iran, Lebanon and Egypt, is worse than irrational — it causes us to ignore trends whose results will be disastrous in the near future.
Position 3. The Israeli-Arab conflict can be ended by withdrawal from the territories.
Although there is abundant evidence that the PLO is not prepared to end the conflict with Israel regardless of the amount of land it is given, and that anyway an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would likely lead to a Hamas takeover and missile attacks on the center of the country, the Obama Administration continues to insist that a “two-state solution” would bring peace.
The “land for peace” formula has been a failure, both in Gaza and increasingly with Egypt, thanks to the Islamist ideology that characterizes Hamas and is sweeping Egypt. While the PLO has a secular ideology, they are no less dedicated to reversing the nakba and recovering their ‘honor’ by eliminating the Jewish state.
Forcing Israel to make concessions encourages the Arabs to make more demands and to express their ‘frustration’ when no concession is enough by intifadas and terrorism, to which Israel is forced to respond. This is a path to war, not peace.
So why does the administration cleave to such irrational positions?
Unsurprisingly, the answer to this is also ideology. Barack Obama and many of his appointees share a New Left sensibility, which includes the ideas that colonialism and imperialism — particularly ‘US imperialism’ is the root of all evil, that it is meaningless to suggest that one culture could be morally superior to another, and that national interests should be subordinated to multilateral cooperation. Many of them accept “postcolonial” theory, in which the ‘colonized’ party — Iran, Muslims, the Palestinians — is considered morally superior to the ‘colonizers’ and is permitted to express itself violently if necessary to ‘resist’ colonization.
The challenge from Iran is a challenge to Western control of the region: for lack of a better phrase, to Western imperialism. While in principle this is less than ideal, the world in practice would be a far worse place if the Middle East were dominated by radical Iranian imperialists. The administration is incapable of seeing this and loathe to employ traditional gunboat diplomacy to fix it.