Friday, May 29, 2009

The IRAN "policy" debacle is unfolding fast....while US/ISRAELI Covert OPS. continue unabated

The IRAN "policy" debacle is unfolding fast....while US/ISRAELI Covert OPS. continue unabated...throughout the greater Middle East and beyond...

Is Obama's Iran policy doomed to failure? Despite the president's promise to pursue “honest” negotiations with the Islamic Republic, is he actually following the advice of a senior advisor who instead believes that showing a willingness to negotiate is simply a tactic to build support for a war against Iran?

Serious concerns about Obama's approach are already being voiced by prominent pro-engagement Iran experts who are generally sympathetic to Obama's foreign policy ideas. In a NY Times Op-Ed, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett put forth a disturbing thesis: “President Obama's Iran policy, in all likelihood, has already failed.” Meanwhile, Gary Sick writes on his new blog site, “The Leverett article is a timely cautionary note, which reminds us that we need to watch the new administration with a careful and critical eye.” While Sick pleads for greater patience in assessing Obama's Iran performance, the Leveretts and Sick share deep concern over the appointment of veteran diplomat Dennis Ross as a figure shaping Obama's Iran approach.

Flynt Leverett and his wife Hillary, who say they voted for Obama, are former National Security Council staffers who dealt with Iranian affairs and have maintained direct communications with Iranian officials since leaving government service. While applauding Obama's symbolic outreach to Iran since taking office, they argue that he is now “backing away from the bold steps required to achieve strategic Nixon-to-China-type rapprochement with Tehran.”

The Leveretts say Obama “has done nothing to cancel or repudiate” Bush's covert program to destabilize Iran. Moreover, they add, Obama is refusing to pursue a “grand bargain,” i.e., “a comprehensive framework for resolving major bilateral differences and fundamentally realigning relations.” Instead, they say, Obama's “approach to Iran degenerates into an only slightly prettified version of George W. Bush's approach — that is, an effort to contain a perceived Iranian threat without actually trying to resolve underlying political conflicts.” They cite their belief that Obama's team is buying into the “delusion” of creating a grand anti-Iran alliance of Arab states and Israel, and worry that Obama is already putting a “deadline” for successful talks. The problem, they argue, is that getting Iran policy right “would require a president to take positions that some allies and domestic constituencies won't like”—an apparent reference to Israel and its supporters in the U.S. What is needed, they conclude, is “strategic vision, political ruthlessness and personal determination.”

The Leveretts single out their deep concern over the “disturbing” role that Dennis Ross may be playing in developing Obama's Iran policy. Ross, it will be recalled, served as a Middle East envoy in various Republican and Democratic administrations, and was presiding over years of Israeli-Palestinian mediation when the negotiations collapsed with the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.

They complain that Ross has long been an advocate of “engagement with pressure”—a strategy for showing a willingness to negotiate with Tehran mainly in order to win over broader regional and international support for intensifying economic pressure on Iran. The Leveretts damningly quote Ross from a conversation they held with him before Obama's election. Why negotiate with Iran if you believe that such talks will probably fail? “Because, he told us, if Iran continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, at some point in the next couple of years President Bush's successor would need to order military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets,” the Leveretts wrote. “Citing past ‘diplomacy' would be necessary for that president to claim any military action was legitimate. Iranian officials are fully aware of Mr. Ross's views — and are increasingly suspicious that he is determined that the Obama administration make, as one senior Iranian diplomat said to us, ‘an offer we can't accept,' simply to gain international support for coercive action.”

Gary Sick, also a former NSC staffer serving several presidents up to Reagan, questions some of the Leveretts' assumptions. He says Obama was correct not to rush into talks with Iran during the Iranian presidential election season. He also says you shouldn't confuse the desirable outcome of talks with the negotiating strategy to get there; that if a “grand bargain” is the ultimate goal, it doesn't necessarily mean that you commence negotiations by putting the whole package on the table at the start. Sick also questions whether Obama has really set the deadline that the Leveretts fretted about. Referring to Obama's recent comments after meeting Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Sick writes: “Although he appreciated the danger of indefinite talk with no action, he rejected the idea of an ‘artificial deadline.' Obama is very careful with his use of words, and it is important to pay attention to what he actually says, rather than the words that advocates on various sides may try to put in his mouth. That was no deadline.”

Sick, though, shares the Leveretts' concern about Dennis Ross's approach, citing his alleged shortcomings at some length:

Dennis Ross started about three years ago to refashion himself from a Palestinian-Israeli maven into an Iran expert. Over that period he wrote a number of papers and op-eds, and he participated as a signatory in other studies and web sites – all of which fit the pattern identified by the Leveretts as favoring lip service to negotiations while insuring failure.

Until just before he was nominated for his present position, Dennis Ross was, among other things, the chair of the Israeli-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute which is supported by the Jewish Agency and which produces “professional strategic thinking and planning on short and long-term issues of primary concern to the Jewish People, with special attention to critical choices that have a significant impact on the future.” He was for seven years, quite simply, an informal (but well paid) policy planner for the Israeli government, writing policy papers for the president of Israel, among others. That his policy positions parallel those of the Israeli government should surely come as a surprise to no one. That he favors a pro forma attempt at negotiations with Iran, followed by far more severe sanctions or even military action if and when they fail, should also not be a surprise to anyone who reads the Israeli newspapers.

True, that's a pretty worrying background for an Obama advisor if the president is sincere about trying to reach out to Iran's government. But Sick argues that it is not at all clear that Ross has the key role the Leveretts attribute to him.

Sick explains that “there is an emerging Washington parlor sport of trying to figure out who is actually driving U.S. policy on Iran… There have been a number of leaks and un-sourced press reports claiming that Ross is functioning as the principal manager of the Iran policy review. A lot of those reports read as if they might have originated with Ross himself, who originally proclaimed himself a kind of Iran policy czar and who clearly aspires to that role. However, when the United States met with the other major powers on the subject of Iran in London recently, Washington was represented by Undersecretary of State Bill Burns and Ross was nowhere in sight… The real question is whether Dennis Ross is actually in charge of U.S. Iran policy.”

Sick is less concerned about the appointment of the more-hawkish-than-Obama Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arguing that it's part of the psychological “game” that Iran plays, too; “The tough words of Secretary Clinton could be regarded as a positive factor, if only to let Iran know that there is opposition inside the administration to any easy deal and they should not expect a pushover.”

Yet, the Leveretts do raise a hugely important question about whether the appointments of Clinton and Ross will leave Obama with an “incoherent” Iran policy. If Obama is sincere when he tells Iran's leaders that he is “committed to diplomacy…that is honest and grounded in mutual respect…and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community,” that is simply not consistent with the appointment of a top advisor who favors “lip service to negotiations while insuring failure.” The danger is that if Obama can't figure out whether he wants to truly engage or fight, he risks the same policy drift that has pushed the U.S. and Iran closer and closer to armed conflict. Policy drift eventually enabled the hawks to trump the doves in America's march to war in Iraq in 2003. Obama says the “buck stops here” in the Oval Office, but will it already be too late once it does?

Sick is sensible to conclude, however, that “before we give up on Obama's negotiating approach, I suggest that we wait until there are actually some negotiations. Let us not start at the end of the process but rather at the beginning, where we (and the Iranians) still find ourselves.”

Let us look at a few facts:

Netanyahu presented in 1996, in a speech to the joint session of the U.S.Congress, the fundamentals of a neocon policy paper called ‘Clean Break' enthusiastically as his policy. This doctrine, tinkered together by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and his wife Meyraw, aimed at redrawing the map in the Middle East by ultimately getting at Iran.
The main milestones along this path were getting rid of Saddam Husein and, subsequently, attacking Iran, after first eliminating potential proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Also, Israel had to make a ‘clean break' with the Oslo accords of 1993 to regain the strategic initiative.
It looks as if Netanyahu, according to Avnery an unimaginative man mainly living on the intellectual capital, such as it is, provided by his pa, is still sticking to this script.
There have been setbacks. Efforts to eliminate Hezbollah and Hamas or, alternatively, to provoke Iran into a first strike by attacking these alleged proxies, have thus far failed.
Plans to bypass these stages and get at Iran directly have stranded on the resistance of Washington. According to a long article by David Sanger in the NYT of 1/10/09,it refused last year a request from Israel for specialized bunker busting bombs and denied it permission to fly over Iraq to reach Iran's major nuclear complex at Natanz.
The Israelis were told that the US was trying to subvert Iran's nuclear affairs by penetrating its nuclear supply chain abroad and undermining its electrical - and computer systems. There are also ongoing efforts to foment unrest within Iran by playing the ‘ethnic card'. According to the latest issue of Asia Time both the US and Israel have been stirring up the Kurds who have been waging daring cross-border attacks.
In the past Iran has accused both the US and Israel to be behind subversive activities by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jundallah. A joint Iranian-Pakistani operation in Pakistan's Balochistan region made this group ineffective.
It doesn't look as if Washington is any more enthusiastic now to support a direct Israeli attack. Secretary Gates said recently that he feared the prospect of pre-emptive action against Iran as much as that of the country acquiring a nuclear weapon.
According to a recent report by William Pfaff there is now talk in European and Arab diplomatic circles of Iran being designated a ‘civil nuclear power' that can exercise its right under the ‘Nonproliferation Treaty' to develop power for civilian uses. Iran, of course, has signed this treaty as Israel has not. The country has persistently claimed that it wants nothing more than what this Treaty should grant it.
If those European-Arabic ideas prevail in the diplomatic campaign, whatever Iran has achieved along the military line is left in place - as ‘facts on the ground' so to speak.
The pathetic efforts of the hasbara spreaders to convince the outside world that Iran rather than Israel is the potential aggressor have been quite ineffective.Israel's only hope is now to set a trap for Iran which might make it nominally the aggressor after which Tel Aviv can claim 'self defense' (and draw the Americans in)....

Two Israeli Prime Ministers were once terrorists, and were never "moderates" ...
In Israel 40+ years ago, Menachem Begin was a former terrorist, head of the Gahal bloc, who would sit by himself at the King David Hotel coffee shop, a few feet from the spot where he and his Irgun cohorts had set off a bomb on July 22, 1946. 91 people were killed, 17 of whom were Jews. On May 17, 1977 Begin was elected Israel's Prime Minister, and in 1978 he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Yitzchak Shamir was a member of the Lehi, the most militant faction of the Irgun," ordering the assassination of UN Middle East Rep. Bernadotte in 1948. He became PM in 1986....

It amazes me how Israeli and pro-Israeli commentators in the United States demand that we stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons or become nervous or fearful if a nuclear arms race starts among the Muslim nations of the Middle East, but nothing is said about Israel's nuclear weapons. When someone does say something about Israel's nuclear weapons it is in the context of "we cannot" allow Israel's supremacy to be challenged in the Middle East. The fact is that Iran will NOT nuke Israel, what Israel fears is a regional nuclear power that will overturn the geopolitical situation in the region.