Obama: Iran’s opportunity of a lifetime

Friday 01/01/2016
US President Barack Obama listens during his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during the Group of Seven (G7) Summit in the Bavarian town of Kruen, Germany, last June.

US President Barack Obama has just 13 months left in the White House. In January 2017, the United States will have a new president. If the situation within the Republican Party doesn’t change, Hillary Clinton will likely win the election and become the coun­try’s first woman to be president.

But whoever replaces Obama, that person will have a hard time replicating his incoherent foreign policy towards the Middle East, which has been characterised by distancing Washington from the region on one hand, while, at the same time, deferring to Iran. Tehran worked to exploit Obama’s policy from his first day in office and the Iranians will continue to seek to exploit it until he leaves.

This is a unique opportunity for Iran, particularly in terms of its ambitions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and even Yemen.

So how can we explain Obama’s curious hands-off foreign policy towards the Middle East?

Several factors can explain his failure to take decisive action to deal with the unprecedented crises that have beset the Middle East, including Iraq and Syria facing the threat of disintegration.

The Obama administration’s biggest concern over the past seven years has been reaching a nuclear deal with Iran. Obama was ultimately able to reach this deal, which without a doubt represents a success for Washington.

However, despite reaching this deal, Tehran has not taken a single step to soften its intransigent regional stances. On the contrary, Iran’s policies have only become more aggressive, particularly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain. Tehran has not taken a single step or initiative to reassure its Arab neighbours.

Tehran’s latest achievement, which took place while the Obama administration stood idly by, was the transformation of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi into a new Nuri al-Maliki. Nothing has changed in Iraq. Abadi has become the second Maliki, acquiescing to Iranian pressure after Tehran offered to take the issue of Turkish soldiers in Iraq to the UN Security Council.

He seems to have forgotten that Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolution­ary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, has been operating freely in the coun­try. Why are Iranian occupiers ac­ceptable but Turkish ones not? Or is the sectarian dimension superior to everything else in Iraq?

How can the United States, after all the sacrifices it made in Iraq and for the Iraqis, accept this? How can the Americans bear false witness to the crimes that are being commit­ted against the Arab Sunnis in a country that was supposed to be a model of democracy for the region, according to the former Bush ad­ministration?

The Obama administration has played the role of the spectator in 2015. It has passively observed the destruction and disintegration of Iraq, which has contributed to the fragmentation of neighbour­ing Syria. The United States is complicit with Russia and Iran in this regional crisis. Washington has shown no inclination whatso­ever to object to Iran’s activities in Syria, which is based on sectarian policies, no more, no less.

While Washington also showed little real objection to the Russian military intervention in the coun­try, which ultimately is Moscow as­sisting Assad in his war on his own people. The only real objection came from Turkey, which downed a Russian fighter jet that allegedly encroached on its airspace.

America’s foreign policy choices are bizarre, even if some analysts are trying to justify the actions of the world’s only superpower. There are claims that other regions of the world are of concern to Washing­ton, particularly the United States’ declining need for Middle East oil. Iraq’s oil is no longer the big draw it used to be.

The bottom line is that Middle East states must coexist, at least temporarily, with this US adminis­tration and its inability to deal with Iran and Russia’s actions in the region. Throughout what remains of the Obama era, the US admin­istration will remain a passive observer, albeit with the president coming out now and then to issue a flowery statement that changes nothing.