Less than a day after the Republican midterm election landslide, President Barack Obama lashed out against the Republican Party as if it were America’s primary adversary in the world. On the very next day, we learned the president was secretly negotiating with one of America’s most implacable enemies, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
After six years of trying to placate America’s enemies, you would think that Obama would have learned that, in the Middle East, weakness is seen as weakness. The response to weakness will be – as it always is – increased demands, greater intransigence, disrespect and violence.
If repeating the same mistakes is astute American diplomacy, then President Obama and his foreign policy advisers are masters.
Somehow, the president has concluded that Islamic State (IS) is a much more dangerous threat to America than Iran.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Iran is a powerful nation-state that is developing nuclear weapons, while it remains the leading state sponsor of worldwide terrorism. As Shahram Akbarzadeh opined in Al Jazeera, “From Iran’s point of view, history is on its side... Iran maintains the most battle-ready military force...
buttressed with strong political ties with Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.
The Iranian leadership remains confident... to reclaim its role as regional leader.”
As dangerous as IS potentially is, Iran is infinitely more dangerous to long-term American security interests.
If the president thinks Iran is a bulwark against Sunni jihadist terrorism, then he really doesn’t understand the nature of jihadist Shi’ite Iranian hegemonic ambitions.
The president apparently thinks there are gradations within radical Sunni and Shi’ite Islamism, some of which can become partners for shared US interests. This misguided policy was most evident with the president’s assessment that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could be a moderating democratic Islamist movement. He still does not realize that Iran, Islamic State, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram and al-Shabab are different sides of the same coin.
It is a risky bet for the US to align with Shi’ites, who represent 15 percent of the Islamic world, while abandoning our Sunni “friends,” who share with us a common security interest and who represent 85% of the worldwide Muslim population. If we advocate a value-based foreign policy, then we should align with smaller groups (like Israel or the Kurds) that share our principles. However, Iranian radical Shi’ite Islam and Sunni radical Islam of all stripes are two enemies that should be weakened, not embraced.
There is no reason for America to partner with unsavory “friends” in the Middle East.
Nor is it an option for America to follow the misguided foreign policy of my fellow ophthalmologist Senator Rand Paul and completely withdraw from the region. That is a prescription for disaster.
With time and increased American energy independence, we should strategically distance ourselves from repressive Gulf States, without abandoning them to populist Islamist movements. We also need to support Egypt as a friend, despite its military-led government. This balancing act will require experienced diplomatic leadership, something in short supply in the Obama administration.
Yet, Obama is still sending secret messages to the ayatollah in the hope that he will sign a nuclear agreement.
It would leave the odious, repressive Iranian government even more empowered to torture its people and spread Shi’ite radicalism throughout the world. This is the very definition of diplomatic negligence.
It is ironic that the Iranian people are our most natural allies, and are most likely to become democratic if only given the chance. President Obama’s abandonment of the people of Iran to the ayatollah during the 2009 Green Revolution for the possibility of détente was both morally wrong and a disaster for American national security interests.
What should be done? Firstly, the nuclear negotiation deadline must not be extended. Current sanctions must be enforced, and new sanctions considered. In addition, Congress should write new, veto-proof legislation in anticipation of European nations trying to circumvent sanctions. In tandem with these measures, lines of communication with Iran should be left open.
The most likely way to limit Iranian nuclear ambitions is by asserting diplomatic and economic strength. That is the only way to get their attention.
My friends on Capitol Hill really do get it. They have watched the president dilute sanctions and, in the process, allow Iran to move away from the brink of economic collapse.
With his misguided and naïve outreach, the president has spawned a new Iranian assertiveness, bolstered by an economic resurgence directly related to our unilateral concessions on sanctions.
It is time for Congress to assert its constitutional rights and become the president’s foreign policy partner. This is a bipartisan issue and should not be politicized by the fringes of either party. Let’s hope the president, in his final two years in office, can learn from the past, become more humble in his assessments, show less hubris and display as much conciliation in dealing with his fellow Americans, the Republican majority, as he has displayed in dealing with Iran.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.