Opinion

Why Obama's Middle East policy will fail in 2014

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Iran,Israel,Middle East,Foreign Policy,Charles Hoskinson

President Obama faced a serious predicament on Sept. 24, as he prepared to address the U.N. General Assembly: how to reverse the mess he'd made in the Middle East.

The escalating conflict in Syria had crossed a red line he'd drawn — use of chemical weapons against rebels opposed to dictator Bashar al Assad — and his administration had made just a feeble attempt to get congressional approval for military action that was quickly brushed off amid concerns that any U.S. action would empower Islamist extremists.

Obama is not negotiating with the parties who have the power to deliver what the U.S. is seeking.

The Egyptian army had ousted elected President Mohammed Morsi after millions rose up to denounce both the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and the United States.

Iraq was as violent as ever, but without U.S. troops to arbitrate sectarian concerns. Israeli-Palestinian talks were stalled.

The Saudis were backing away from a U.S. administration they saw as increasingly unreliable. Al Qaeda, far from being "decimated," was coming back with a vengeance.

And the Sept. 11, 2012, killing of four Americans in Benghazi was one of many signs Libya was spiraling into anarchy after a U.S.-backed effort to unseat strong man Muammar al-Gadhafi.

In his speech, Obama boiled down his ambitious agenda to two goals: Signing a deal with Iran to limit the country's nuclear program and getting the Israelis and the Palestinians to agree on a peace treaty.

Both those goals will fail in 2014, and it will be Obama's fault. Why? Obama is not negotiating with the parties who have the power to deliver what the U.S. is seeking.

And Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other top officials know this, but press on anyway, insisting that talks are essential to avoid conflict. But their actions are making conflict more likely.

Missing from the praise for the "historic" nature of Obama's opening with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which led to the "historic" Nov. 24, interim agreement on Iran's nuclear program, is one basic fact: Rouhani, even if he is as "moderate" as many in the mainstream media portray him, isn't the guy who calls the shots in Iran.

As president, Obama is commander-in-chief of all U.S. armed forces and has constitutional responsibility over foreign policy.

If he promises to not attack Iranian interests, or to unfreeze Iranian assets as part of a deal, he has the power to make it so, as long as he occupies the Oval Office.

In Iran, that power is vested in the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rouhani can promise what he wants, but Khamenei is the decider.

And Khamenei has made clear that Iran's "nuclear rights," including enrichment, are red lines that cannot be crossed in the talks.

The same problem exists in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority has long since ceased to be the major threat to Israel's existence in the 20 years its leaders have sat across the negotiating table from Israelis.

That title now belongs to Iran, which orchestrates a three-front proxy war against Israel through Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and terrorist attacks around the world.

And it's a threat over which Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has no control. And Iran has an interest in sabotaging any deal that doesn't result in an Islamic solution to the Palestinian issue — another red line Iranian leaders have frequently drawn.

It doesn't matter how hard Obama and Kerry squeeze Israel into signing a piece of paper and calling it a "peace agreement."

It doesn't matter what promises Abbas makes, even in writing. It doesn't even matter if the Israelis withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank.

As long as Hezbollah can fire missiles into Tel Aviv anytime it wants, or Hamas can grab an Israeli soldier and hold him hostage, there's no peace.

Chuck Hoskinson is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner.
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