Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Obama cannot go to Tehran the way Nixon went to China

The weaknesses of Barack Obama's state of the Union speech on foreign policy are being widely discussed. I'll look at the parts that deal with Iran here.
That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise.
As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.
I do have go far enough off course to say two things, first that while the US supposedly stands with the women marching in Tehran, the women of Saudi Arabia who are not even allowed to drive do not get support in a State of the Union address. Same for the women of Egypt who, unlike the US congress, have no leverage to hold Egypt's leadership accountable to their concerns. Presumably because the dictator of the US colony of Saudi Arabia, like the one of the US colony of Egypt:
He has been a stalwart ally in many respects, to the United States. He has sustained peace with Israel, which is a very difficult thing to do in that region.

But he has never resorted to, you know, unnecessary demagoging of the issue, and has tried to maintain that relationship. So I think he has been a force for stability. And good in the region. Obviously, there have been criticisms of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt.
And second, Obama does not mention Israel or Palestine at all, but when asked about them the next say indicates that he is proud of his stance that Gaza should starve until Hamas accepts a majority status for 5 million Jewish people in Palestine.
Here's my view. Israel is one of our strongest allies. It has -- (applause.) Let me just play this out. It is a vibrant democracy. It shares links with us in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us and I will never waver from ensuring Israel's security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region. (Applause.) So I make no apologies for that.

What is also true is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to, because it is not good for our security and it is not good for Israel's security if you've got millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don't have an opportunity to get an education or get a job or what have you.

[...] As a first step, the Palestinians have to unequivocally renounce violence and recognize Israel. (Applause.) And Israel has to acknowledge legitimate grievances and interests of the Palestinians. We know what a solution could look like in the region, but here's the problem that we're confronting right now, is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they're divided. The Israel government came in based on the support of a lot of folks who don't want to make a lot of concessions. I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is actually making some effort to try to move a little bit further than his coalition wants him to go. On the other hand, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who I think genuinely wants peace, has to deal with Hamas, an organization that has not recognized Israel and has not disavowed violence.
But beyond the speech, there is the question of why it is harder for a US president to reach a mutually acceptable arrangement with Iran than it was for Richard Nixon to do so with China in 1972. The answer is that Israel is far more strategically delicate than any US interest regarding China, especially in the Pacific.

The US interest in Israel is fundamentally different from the US interest in Taiwan for two related reasons. I use the US interest in Taiwan as an example that can stand in for other US interests in China's region. The first is that the community of US analysts who examine and interpret Taiwan's region is not as heavily biased towards people who feel an emotional connection to Taiwan. Second policy regarding Taiwan is not associated either with the Holocaust or a precarious environment where charges of bigotry are loosely made. So Iran faces a skew that China did not face.

The United States has an interest in the region of China's east coast. The ability of the US navy to oversee, if necessary prevent, and ensure other parties cannot prevent the passage of goods from Europe and the Middle East to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan and back gives the US leverage over the countries of East Asia, which is a densely populated region with a huge amount of industrial infrastructure and educated and productive citizens who would be difficult rivals for the US to overcome if they pursue interests contrary to those of the US.

But unlike Israel, the necessity of sea lanes, and the importance of Taiwan and South Korea in ensuring US domination of those sea lanes is not part of the US popular understanding of the world. US interests regarding China are generally understood by people who are able to weigh them in a detached and objective way.

But given the differences in the interests are evaluated, the second major difference is that Taiwan can withstand a stronger China than existed in 1972. Taiwan is viable for at least as long as the US is able to prevent a tremendous Chinese amphibious invasion of the island. A Jewish majority state in Israel is far more delicate, requires far more intervention. Any of Israel's neighbors gaining enough technological sophistication to answer the Israel's latent threat to cause catastrophic damage to any opponent would threaten Israel's strategic viability.

The United States could afford to see China industrialize more rapidly and gain more militarily useful strategic resources because the US Navy has a huge lead that puts any Chinese challenge to US domination of the west Pacific ocean decades away. The United States cannot afford to see Iran industrialize more rapidly or gain more resources because the gains Iran has already made are intolerable by Israel's strategic calculations.

The US is pinned by Israel's small population size and the fact that it is widely seen in its region as the result of an historical injustice that should be corrected (what Obama means when he says Israel is in a hostile region) to, at best, cold wars of attrition against any country in the region that have to capacity to pursue foreign policy objectives in line with the perspectives of their people.

A two state solution would not lessen the strategic liabilities Israel imposes on the United States unless it is generous enough that most of the people in the region consider it fair. There is no indication that Israel would accept such an arrangement, and, indeed, a Palestinian state with enough sovereignty to gain regional acceptance would also have enough sovereignty to render a majority state for Israel's about 5 million Jews non-viable.

Instead, the best the US can hope for until it begins to re-evaluate its commitment to the idea that about 5 million Jewish people must have a majority state in Palestine, is to manage an increasingly costly war with the entire rest of the region. This is both morally and materially vastly more costly than negotiating a single state that ensures individual rights to Jewish people but does the same for Palestinians and does not carve out a specific ethnic majority.


OscarShank said...

It's now near the middle of 2013. The US is talking to Al Quaida, to Muslim Brotherhood, to Sunni suicide bombing factions, but Not to Hamas or Hezbollah. To understand the double standard the USA employs regarding terrorists, see the AIPAC litmus test for any US politician or wannabe.

lidia said...

But USA had been using MB for ages against leftists and progressive nationalists in the ME. Al-Qaida was even made by CIA against the leftist Afghanistan rulers. Nothing new here. And I would not call it "double standard" - USA imperialism always supports their lackeys no matter how murderous and how reactionary, the same with their fellow colonialists - for ex. Zionists (because USA imperialism is murderous and reactionary as well). They could have minor disagreements, but as we say in Russian "sweethearts' fights are for fun only".