February 28, 2010

The Iranian threat

Barry Rubin

http://www.dailypioneer.com/239214/The-Iranian-threat.html

It’s not only Israel which is worried, but also a dozen Arab countries. Yet Obama is toeing the line of least resistance

Hussain Abdul Hussain gets it. He’s one of the most interesting Arab journalists who also write in English. In his latest article, published in theHuffington Post and entitled “Lonely Obama vs Popular Iran” he points out what the most realistic people and more moderate rulers in the Arabic-speaking world are thinking.

Theme one: Popularity isn’t so important in West Asia.

“A common perception is that under President Barack Obama, America’s image has improved, and perhaps its friends have increased. But such claims are unfounded, as the opposite proves to be true. International relations, however, are about interests, not sweet talk. As Mr Bush went out recruiting allies, and making enemies, Mr Obama lost America’s friends while failing to win over enemies.”

Theme two: What is important is that allies believe you will support and protect them. Mr Obama isn’t doing that:

Example A, Iraq: “After losing more than 4,300 troops in battle and spending (a huge amount of money) since 2003, America today cannot find a single politician or group that would express gratitude to Americans for ridding Iraq of its ruthless tyrant Saddam Hussein, and allowing these politicians to speak out freely.

“On the contrary, shy of making their excellent backdoor ties with Washington known since they fear Mr Obama will depart Iraq and never look back, Iraqi politicians started expressing dissatisfaction with the US in public.”

Example B, Lebanon, before Mr Obama took office, more than one-third of the entire population — most of them Sunni Muslims — demonstrated against Hizbullah and Syrian occupation. And the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on television, “He was proud to be part of America’s plan to spread democracy in West Asia.” But:

“By the time Mr Obama had made it to the White House, support of America’s allies in Lebanon waned since Mr Obama was determined to appease their foes in Syria and Iran. (Said) Hariri (leader of the moderate forces) and Jumblatt (his former close ally] were forced to abandon their fight for Lebanon’s democracy and freedom” and seek to make a deal with Syria and Hizbullah instead.

Example B, Iran: The people revolted against the autocratic regime and staged mass demonstrations, “But Mr Obama’s Washington was busy sending one letter of appeasement after another to Iran’s tyrants, and accordingly failed to take the side of the Green Revolution for democracy and freedom. When Mr Obama did show support for the Green Movement, it was too little and too late.”

Among those worried about a similar lack of US support you can add in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the small Gulf states, the three North African states, most of Lebanon and those Turks who don’t want to live under an Islamist regime. You might as well add in India, too.

Theme three: Iran helps its allies. Hence, Iran has more allies while the US has fewer. Iran is going up; the US is going down:

“Now compare America’s friends around the Middle East to Iran’s cronies, and you can immediately understand why Washington is in trouble, both diplomatically and on a popular level, while Iran is confident as it marches toward producing a nuclear weapon and expanding its influence across West Asia.”

Iranian ally A, Hizbullah: “Since 1981, Iran has been funding its Lebanese ally Hizbullah, never defaulting on any of its pledged payments. Hizbullah went from an embryonic group into a state within a state, boasting a membership of several thousands and maintaining a private army, schools, hospitals, orphanages, satellite TV and a number of other facilities that have won it the hearts of Lebanon’s Shiites, and have given Hizbullah an absolute command over them.

Iranian ally B, Syria: “Iran has maintained a flow of cash and political support toward Syria for a similar amount of time. Mr Obama has been begging Syria to switch sides and abandon Iran. Judging by the mishaps that always seem to befall America’s friends with time, Syria does not seem likely to change, but is rather playing an Obama Administration desperate for whatever it can claim as success in its foreign policy.”

As if to prove the point, immediately after a big American delegation visited Damascus to restore full relations and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that US policy is seeking to detach Syria from its alliance with Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria and the two leaders made strong anti-American statements while pledging eternal partnership. Here’s the headline in the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat: “Syria and Iran defy Clinton in show of unity”. And in the Syrian Government’s newspaper Tishrin a column explained that if the US wanted a deal with Iran and Syria to achieve peace in the region that would have to include Israel’s elimination.

Iranian ally C, Iraqi insurgents: “In Iraq, Iran does not only fund and train militias and violent groups, but they also fund electoral campaigns of Iraqi politicians, loyal media groups and political parties, thus expanding their influence over Iraq exponentially. Spending billions more than Iran in Iraq, America has seen its money spent to no or little effect.”

And here’s the bottom line:

“The comparison between Iran and Mr Obama’s America is simple.

“While Tehran never let down an ally, offering them consistent financial and political support, Washington’s support of its allies around the world has always been intermittent, due to changes with administrations and an ever swinging mood among American voters, pundits and analysts.

“So while Iran has created a mini-Islamic republic in Lebanon, and is on its way to doing the same in Iraq, America has failed in keeping friends or maintaining influence both in Lebanon and in Iraq.

“And while Tehran brutally suppressed a growing peaceful revolution for change inside Iran, Washington’s pacifism did not win any favours with the Iranian regime, or with its opponents in the Green Revolution.”

“While Iran knows how to make friends, Mr Obama’s America has become an expert in losing them.”

Yes! That’s what it’s all about. You know, it’s an interesting point. Mr Obama and company says we should listen to Muslim and Arab voices.

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