In the inverted worldview of President Barack Obama, the problem with Iran's nuclear program was most of all that Israel threatened to attack it. Such an event would have been a catastrophe for Obama, who has been "outreaching" to Iran for the entirety of his term, and negotiating with the Iranian regime behind the backs of all of America's presumed allies for more than a year. With a complete drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq accomplished, and one in Afghanistan near complete, a new broader conflict in the region that an Israeli attack might precipitate, drawing Americans back into the fighting, had to be prevented.
The deal announced last week in Geneva backtracks on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty agreement that Iran has signed, and a multitude of U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibited Iran from enriching uranium. The agreement will not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and at most will extend the so-called "breakout period" by a few weeks. In the term of the agreement, nothing prevents Iran from continuing to enrich uranium, no enriched uranium will leave the country, none of the near 20,000 centrifuges will be disabled or destroyed, and nothing will prevent Iran from further steps at weaponizing their nuclear program at locations in Iran the P5+1 nations do not know about and hence, will not inspect. Coupled with sanctions relief, and a new rush by foreign companies lining up to be first to invest in the "new no longer toxic Iran," it is a very good deal for Iran. Al Arabiya is reporting that a joint Iranian-United States chamber of commerce is in the works, as well as the possible resumption of airline service between the two countries. What is next? Will President Hassan Rouhani be invited to sit with the first lady for the State of the Union address, and asked to take a bow?
One might think that a deal that is so overwhelmingly favorable for Iran -- ending their international isolation, granting billions of dollars in sanctions relief, protecting their rights and their nuclear program -- would be seen as a bad deal in the United States. But for Obama, it is a good deal as well, because it makes it a near certainty that Israel will not strike at Iran during the six-month period of the initial agreement.
That six-month period, we learned this week, has not even begun, since there are "details" still to be worked out between the parties, or in reality more concessions Iran demands before signing a real agreement . A State Department spokesperson estimated this week that maybe the six-month clock would start running in January, meaning that Iran bought itself two more months with no restrictions whatever on its nuclear activities (and no new sanctions), and at least eight months in total without fear of Israeli action, and almost certainly no new American sanctions as well.
Other parts of the supposed historic agreement were also unraveling, as U.S. officials agreed that the shutdown of activity at the Arak heavy water facility was not so complete. And of course, since lying has become so endemic with this White House, the denials by John Kerry that the P5+1 had granted any enrichment rights to Iran, completely collapsed, as the language of the agreement revealed that those rights were enshrined in the agreement, details to follow.
Just in case Israel had not gotten the message, or if any Israelis were foolish to even entertain the notion that they retained any free will in the matter, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague made it quite clear this week that such independence would be frowned upon.
"We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned," Hague told parliament, as he noted that Britain would be "on guard." Britain, along with the United States, have now become the protectors of Iran's nuclear program. This is not an agreement designed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, nor the beginning of a policy of containment once they do, but a welcome wagon to the nuclear club though a Western security blanket.
All presidents are concerned with their legacy, and how they will be judged by historians. No president, however, seems to have been as fiercely committed to his legacy as Obama, since he was trying to define it at a time before he was even nominated in 2008! That legacy, as laid out to an audience of several hundred thousand breathless and politically intoxicated Berliners in June 2008 included such glorious achievements as the planet (Gaia?) starting to heal, and the oceans no longer rising. It was promises such as these that enabled the solons in Oslo to decide to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama even before he took office, which also seemed to "jump the gun," so to speak.
On a policy level closer to that of mere mortals, Obama has focused most on two policy objectives -- one domestic, one foreign. The domestic objective was to bring America closer to providing universal health insurance. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) passed in early 2010 on a strict party-line vote was the magic elixir designed to achieve the president's domestic goal. Unfortunately, the extraordinary executive branch incompetence on display since the enrollment process began in October and the repeated lies about the impact of the legislation (revealed once millions of Americans started receiving cancellation notices from their insurance companies), have been a severe embarrassment to the White House, such that the president's approval ratings have dropped to 40%, their lowest level since he took office.
It is becoming increasingly clear, that Iran has been an obsessive focus of the administration from the beginning and that the administration's goal was not to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but rather to end its international isolation and create a new American-Iranian rapprochement . Lee Smith summarizes what has occurred this way:
"The interim deal makes official what Obama has long been pursuing -- a strategic realignment integrating Iran into a multipolar Middle East, where once-traditional American allies will no longer enjoy a privileged relationship with Washington. The signs pointing to Obama's new configuration, downgrading Saudi Arabia and Israel and upgrading Iran, have long been apparent, if incredible."
That Iran might obtain nuclear weapons was a secondary issue, if a concern at all. After all, in a fairer world, if Israel had nuclear weapons, why shouldn't Iran, a far larger and more important nation on the world stage (one of the seven world powers, John Kerry supposedly assured his Iranian interlocutors last weekend)?
Obama called Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the deal was reached with Iran last Saturday night, but rather than trying to reassure the Israelis, the president's message seems to have been that Netanyahu should stop whining about it, since Israeli unhappiness with the deal makes life more difficult for Obama with Congress.
American relations with Israel during the Obama years have been on two tracks -- stopping Iran from going nuclear (Israel's desire), and forcing an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians (Obama's desire). With Israel visibly unhappy with the American deal with Iran, what does it signal for the Israeli-Palestinian track? Jonathan Freeland, the resident Israel-basher at The Guardian, thinks now is the time for Obama to ratchet up the pressure on Israel to finally get a deal done with the Palestinians. Freeland, his paper, The New York Times, Obama himself, and the other "great minds" with whom the president discusses grand strategy -- Valerie Jarrett, Tom Friedman, and David Ignatius among them -- are all convinced that nothing has prevented a deal in the past except for Israeli intransigence (which some of them can even spell), and Israeli settlement policy. The time has come for one more attempt to break Israel's back (all for Israel's own good, of course, as the encouragers of backbreaking will argue).
I think the expectation that Obama will give Israel time to salve its wounds is misguided. This is a president who came to office determined to weaken the influence of the pro-Israel community, and "rebalance" Israel's relationship with its neighbors, Iran and the Palestinians. Rebalancing of course, can be defined here as weakening Israel's strategic position, since Israel's relative strength is perceived to be unfair and some of its power (and wealth) needs to be redistributed.
The president, a narcissist to the end, may think he is on a roll in the Middle East. His press clippings are certainly better these days on this front than for his health care reform. So with a bit of momentum, he may well think now is the time for him to slam down the hammer on the so-called "peace process," or rather, slam it down once again on Israel. And if he needs a workman to do the job, he can count on John Kerry, who, once again, will be "reporting for duty."