The administration of President Barack Obama seldom missed an opportunity to insist that the alternative to the Iran nuclear deal was a war with Iran, a prospect that has now presumably been kicked further down the road. Middle Easterners are not so lucky: They get to fight their wars with Iran right now.
Where America stands on the question of the wars that Iran is fueling across the Middle East has been obscured to some extent by outdated expectations, diplomatic niceties, and deliberate smoke-screens. But it would be wrong to take pro forma statements about America’s alliances with old friends like Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, or Israel at anything like face value. The first thing the Obama Administration did following the recent burning of the Saudi embassy and consulate in Iran by a state-sponsored mob was not to condemn this assault on a longtime U.S. ally. Rather, the White House immediately launched a media campaign pushing the message that the problem was actually Saudi Arabia, and, as anonymous U.S. officials suggested on background, maybe it was time to reconsider America’s regional alliances.
Yet the president has actually been explicit about his dislike for the old American order in the Middle East. The “old order that had been in place for 50 years, 60 years … was unsustainable, and was going to break up at some point.” Obama proclaimed at a DNC event in 2014. The new order, he added, was not born yet. Earlier that same year, Obama was more explicit still about his intention to realign the United States away from its old alliances: “I think change is always scary. I think there was a comfort with a United States that was comfortable with an existing order and the existing alignments, and was an implacable foe of Iran.” Washington’s traditional “partners in the region,” the president made clear almost two years ago, were going to have to “adapt to change.”
Since Tony Blair resigned as prime minister he has devoted a great deal of his time to making money. His accounts are obscure, but it has been estimated he earns some £20 million a year. It’s clear the former British prime minister is a very rich man.
To his credit, Mr Blair has also thrown himself heavily into charitable and pro bono work. The most notable of these duties concerns his role as envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the Quartet (the UN, the US, the EU and Russia), charged with advancing reconciliation there. This position, which he started on the day he stepped down as prime minister, is of incalculable gravity. There are few conflicts across the world that possess a greater potential to create a new war.
Senior figures in the Government’s National Security Council told the BBC that they are looking at what military role Britain would play. One option is apparently deployment of the Royal Navy in the Middle East.
World powers are laying out a new package of proposals in crunch talks over Iran’s contested nuclear programme which will be “of interest” to Tehran, a spokesman for the EU’s foreign policy chief said.
“I am not going to go into the details of what we are proposing but of course we are putting proposals on the table that are of interest to Iran,” Michael Mann, spokesman for Baroness Ashton, said at the talks in Baghdad.
The one overriding issue is Iran’s nuclear programme, which the Islamic republic insists is peaceful but which much of the international community suspects masks an attempt to join the elite club of nations with the bomb.
The fear is that a nuclear-armed Iran would destabilise the already volatile Middle East and sound the death knell for 60 years of international efforts to prevent the spread of atomic weapons, sparking a regional arms race.
It was the deadliest attack in Iraq since January 27, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car outside a hospital in the Iraqi capital, killing 31 people.
Violence in Iraq is down from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common, killing 151 people in January.
Police said the suicide bomber was waiting on the street outside the fortified academy near the Interior Ministry headquarters in the east of the Iraqi capital. As the crowd of recruits exited the compound’s security barriers in the early afternoon and walked into the road, police said the bomber drove toward them and blew up his car.
All of the dead were either police officers or recruits. Another 27 recruits and policemen were wounded.
Dealing with the Iranian nuclear programme is a “crisis coming down the tracks” which could lead to military conflict in the Middle East, the Foreign Secretary warns.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the Foreign Secretary says that Iran is threatening to spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East which could be more dangerous than the original East-West Cold War as there are not the same “safety mechanisms” in place.
“It is a crisis coming down the tracks,” he said. “Because they are clearly continuing their nuclear weapons programme … If they obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons.
“And so, the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun with all the destabilising effects in the Middle East. And the threat of a new cold war in the Middle East without necessarily all the safety mechanisms … That would be a disaster in world affairs.”
The acute dilemmas facing Western governments over Syria illustrate how foreign policy can often be the art of the impossible. The essential problem is that Britain and her allies have two incompatible objectives: they want to hasten the downfall of President Assad, while also bringing the country’s bloodshed to an end. You can’t do both at the same time.
Accelerating the end of a regime as ruthless as Syria’s will inevitably entail more violence. If you choose this option, you are effectively placing Assad’s political demise ahead of the need for peace.
The case for the defence will be that removing the regime is the crucial precondition for restoring stability in Syria. Assad’s presence in office is the chief cause of the violence, so if you care about peace, he has to go. But there are two problems with this argument: 1) getting rid of Assad will probably involve a protracted and bloody struggle and 2) there is no guarantee that harmony will break out when he finally departs.
Developments in the Iran “situation” seem to be moving quickly.
“How does an American President campaigning for reelection handle the snowballing Iranian threat?” is a question that all of the players are assessing, and that includes the Iranians, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the campaigning President himself.
Until recently, I had never been to Hebron. In the past three months, however, I have twice boarded an armoured bus to make the journey.
The first time was with a private, non-political group to visit Hebron’s Jewish area and the Cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and the patriarchs and matriarchs are said to be buried.
It was a shock. If ever there was a illustration of the attempt by Islam to supersede Judaism, this was surely it.
This holy Jewish shrine was to all intents a mosque. Islamic prayer mats were piled high, and there seemed to be not one Jewish artefact in the place. Even the catafalques sporting labels claiming them as the tombs of the founders of Judaism were topped by Islamic crescents.
Those labels are hung only on the handful of days per year the Jews are allowed to visit. Hebron has become a synonym in the west for oppression of the Palestinians by ‘crazed settlers’, but it is in fact those Jewish residents who are hanging on by their fingernails to a minimal right of access to one of Judaism’s holiest sites.
In its editorial (£) this morning, the Times still clings to the delusion that the ‘Arab Spring’ was the harbinger of democracy in the region. Although it coyly concedes that ‘the path of change is strewn with uncertainties’ such as the fact that ‘Sunni extremist parties have gained electoral support in Egypt, while Coptic Christians have suffered murderous attacks’, such, ah, ‘uncertainties’ do not deter the Times from concluding nevertheless that ‘The Arab Spring is nonetheless a movement as inspiring as the fall of communism.’
If the Times was hoping to win this week’s Pangloss Award for the most asinine display of intellectual blindness and wishful thinking, it has surely been pipped at the post by the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague who has also written in the Times. After entering at the start his own coy caveat:
‘Violence and votes for Islamism are a setback but this was never a quick fix’ he nevertheless passes smoothly on from this setback to reason to the quick fix of fantasy:
‘…being realistic does not mean losing faith. Far from it: greater freedom and democracy in the Middle East is an idea whose time has come. It holds the greatest prospect for the enlargement of human freedom and dignity since the end of the Cold War
By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent12:29PM GMT 10 Jan 2012
In his first address since June, Mr Assad engaged only marginally with accusations leveled against his regime of human rights abuses and massacres of activists.
He denied that he had ordered soldiers to fire on civilians, though he admitted they had been authorised to use force in certain circumstances.
He promised, as he has done since the uprising against his rule began in March, that there would be reforms to a more “inclusive” politics, promising a referendum on constitutional change in March.
But other than that he struck an uncompromising line, saying he would not give in to the “mongrels” who were trying to bring down the state.
“Our priority now is to regain security which we basked in for decades, and this can only be achieved by hitting the terrorists with an iron fist,” he said. “We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders against the country.”