Friday, October 02, 2009

Iran looms large (I)


And the Iran showdown begins at last. It has been months that the interested parties, which is many, have been looking forward for this episode to set in.

Just a decade ago, America most definitely would have been the absolute dominator in such an impasse. At that time, America's ratings were shooting high off the chart, its economy was in its golden years, its military power was relentless, and its president, Bill Clinton, though troubled with the Lewinsky scandal at home, nevertheless was mostly adored by the rest of the world.

Around that time, America's moral credibility was also pretty high even within the Muslim world, thanks to bombing the Serbs, a non-Muslim nation, in Kosovo. America was able to influence regions and countries to solve small and big brawls as it wished. Iran, on the other hand, was just another rogue regime, nothing much less or more. After only less then a decade, today America has positioned itself badly in just about every conflict around the world. Various discords only work further toward eroding America's hard and soft power and moral credibility. In that respect, the result of America's general election last November, which brought to the helm a young and different leader, was the best result in retrospect, since it brought a fresh, likeable star presence to the top of the U.S. government and an attractive face to the world.

All the same, in these days, the weather of Washington is very bleak in many fronts at the same time. For example, the policy makers are debating endlessly what to do in Afghanistan. President Obama suddenly began to have second thoughts over his 'good war', the war for which only a few months ago he sent tens of thousands of troops to implement a new strategy. Instead he is now seriously thinking to reduce dramatically the US forces in the same theater. He did not even wish to see his commander's report on the war for a while, for he was contemplating a new strategy. Only when the military leaked the whole report to Bob Woodward, the favorite son of the American military, was he convinced to gather his top policy advisors to discuss it. Otherwise, according to the one good source in Washington, Obama was leaning to postpone the decision until the debates over the health care reform were over.

On the Arab-Israeli peace process front, Obama was supposed to not agree over anything short of a complete freeze of the Jewish settlements. Meaning all illegal settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, which, according to The Economist, are likely to become parts of Israel under a peace treaty, in return for land swaps as compensation. He went further to prove himself and adduced the settlements as preconditions for the peace process, which even the Palestinians were not much in the mood for in the past. Therefore, as The Economist argues, Obama tried to impose conditions that were practically impossible. The question is whether the advice he is receiving is terrible or whether he has a bit too much confidence in himself. At any rate, Obama's Palestine-Arab peace process drama's first curtain closes with great despair and loss. And he misses the chance of utilizing the gigantic support from the Muslim world, while it lasts.

And Iran. The mother of all conflicts. The Obama administration has not even had a chance to make a mistake on this front because Iranian diplomacy is just too perfect to give him such an opportunity. The only case that the Iranian regime seems not to have calculated was the elections and the tragic events that ensued thereafter. The Islamic regime was so sure that the elections were going to go smoothly that they even invited the foreign press to show off. Fortunately, the Iranian people surprised them.

The latest news shows that China will not go along with the severe sanctions on Iran if the ongoing talks fail, as America would have hoped. It becomes clearer that the Communist regime of Beijing has to quench the oil thirst that arises from of its growth, as many argue. As the second largest oil supplier of China, Iran also gives away billions of energy contracts on a golden tray to Chinese state energy companies. And the Chinese regime is just happy to get the whole Iranian pie for themselves and thanks Westerners for kindly staying away.

On the other hand, America, in reality, does not have the option for a military operation in Iran, and neither can it allow an Israeli attack. The U.S., as an occupier of two Muslim countries at the same time, does not have the stomach to attack yet another one. Obama, as a Democratic president who is in the White House to clean up his predecessor's mess, cannot start another war. Obama is in the White House to finish those two other inherited wars in the first place. Even if he wants to, the tarnished American military force and the gigantic budget deficit will not allow him, period.

Obama has had a dreadful first chapter of his presidency within and outside his country. The worst part is that he has not even shown his decision-making ability much. The first nine months of his presidency were supposed to be a honeymoon period to make a couple of good breakthroughs amid boundless support from the world.

To break this vicious circle of nine months, Obama has to get the Iranian conundrum right this time. That is the reason the talks in Geneva with Iran, since military operations impossible and sanctions are meaningless, seem to be the only options. America, having no other alternative but pray and support Iranian protesters to make further damage, will be the big loser if nothing comes out of these talks. So far, the news came out of the Geneva talks sounds too good to be true. I wonder what kind of surprise the Iranians have in store for the rest around this time.

Let's be realistic: We are in 2009, and America is not what it was just a decade ago. It lost much power, hence it has no other option but to go forward grudgingly with the talks. It seems the only hope we have that the Iranians will go along with the talks and comply with the Westerners' demands. But why, I must ask, should Iran give up on its decades-long nuclear ambition this time, especially when it seems the possibility is just within reach, and the adversary is in despair?

Next: Iran looms larger on Turkey

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