Streetwise Professor

January 16, 2014

Doing Marx One Better: Tragedy and Farce All At Once

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:40 pm

Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.  The Obama administration is attempting to one-up Marx and compress the process, with its simultaneously farcical and tragic policies on Iran and Syria.

Obama is clearly so dead set on achieving some legacy building agreement with Iran that he is willing to swallow any insult.  Such as the announcement of a Russian-Iranian agreement whereby Iran will provide oil to Russia, in exchange for Russian goods–but more likely, Russian money as well.

Zarif also met with President Vladimir Putin to reportedly discuss an unprecedented deal to barter Iranian oil for Russian goods. Informed sources in the Russian government have confirmed that Moscow is in the process of finalizing an agreement to buy half a million barrels of Iranian crude a day, while Iran will buy Russian goods in exchange. At present, Iran exports only a million barrels a day as a result of United States and European Union sanctions aimed to curtail its nuclear program. Western-imposed banking restrictions have also severely hampered Iran’s ability to freely use its oil revenue. China is currently Iran’s biggest oil buyer, taking in some 420,000 barrels of crude a day in exchange for other goods. If the oil deal with Russia goes ahead, Iran may extend its shrunken oil exports by 50 percent and collect some $1.5 billion in extra revenue a month. This may undermine Western sanctions, which may have forced Iran to consider permanently constraining its nuclear program in the first place; while Russia may become Iran’s main oil buyer

Russia says that there are no internationally agreed upon sanctions, so it is perfectly free to deal with Iran.

That’s probably true in legal terms, but note that was true yesterday, and last month, and last year.  But Putin didn’t do this.  Until now.  Because he sees that Obama is so desperate for a deal that he knows that he can get away with pretty much anything, and that Obama won’t do or say a damned thing. (And no, State Department expressions of “concern” don’t count.)  So Putin and the Iranians are basically doing donuts on the White House lawn, with their windows down and their middle fingers up.  And Obama just draws the drapes in the Oval Office.

Indeed, note that in some respects, this deal is against Russia’s interests: the more Iranian oil on the market, the lower the price Russia gets for its exports.  But either the geopolitical benefits make this worth it to Putin, or he and his cronies take a sufficient cut of the Iranian sales that he can accept the costs to Russia and the government’s budget, or both.

Meanwhile, Iran says that even if it does enter a deal to suspend enrichment of uranium, it can reverse that decision “in a day.”  Asymmetries in commitment are always an impediment to a deal.  Or they should be.  Iran has made it clear that it can walk out on its commitments in a day.  But what if the US and the Europeans suspend their sanctions?  There is no way those can be re-instituted in months, or ever, let alone a day.  So a deal doesn’t lock in Iran to any commitments, but does lock in the US and Europe.

Only suckers enter into deals like that.  Or those who are so intent on creating a legacy achievement that getting a deal is all that matters, even if it is a sham that will collapse in due course.  (And looking back, at the way Obama gave the back of his hand to Iranian protesters in 2009, it is evident that he had his mind on this from day one: or perhaps more accurately, Valerie had her mind set on this.)

The fact that Russia is so willing to provide Iran with an escape from any sanctions also indicates that they have calculated that Obama has already capitulated.  He will swallow anything–any insult, any concession–in order to get an ayatollah’s signature on a piece of paper that the Iranian regime will disregard the instant it is in its interest to do so.  Most smugglers try to hide their activities.  Putin realizes he needn’t bother.  There are no consequences for flagrantly carrying on right in front of Obama’s eyes.

And then there is Syria.  Today Kerry gave a droning statement (but I repeat myself) begging the opposition to attend Geneva II.  He reiterated that Geneva II is intended to implement Geneva I.  Which, if you even remember it, was adopted in June, 2012.  18+ months ago.  During which time 100+ Syrians have died every day.  Say 60,000 in round numbers. And they will continue to die, for an indeterminate time, because as Kerry is at pains to emphasize, Geneva II is just the beginning of a process.  And the process requires agreement between Assad and the opposition.  Which means never.

Recall that in September, Kerry compared Assad to Hitler.  Now, he does not condemn him at all, except for “playing games” with relief convoys.  Barrel bombs, torture, mass killings (as long as they aren’t with chemical weapons!) are totally fine.  Just no game playing!

Like I said: a tragical farce.  Or is it a farcical tragedy?

But of course the Iran-Russia story and the Syria story are connected.  By making the deal on chemical weapons with Assad, we essentially became his partner.  What’s more, since Iran, Russia, and Syria are tightly allied, Obama knows that doing anything that increases the odds of Assad’s downfall will scupper his overriding objective: a deal with Iran (no matter how fleeting and ineffectual that deal will be).

Translated: Sorry, Syrians. You have to die in your thousands, while the “process” of reconciling the irreconcilable drags on, and Obama sacrifices you–and the interests of the United States and its allies–to his narcissistic ambitions.

Syrians are paying a dreadful price for Obama’s narcissism every day.  The entire region is paying a price, because the festering sore in Syria is the host to myriad jihadists who range from the bad (the Islamic Front) to the terrible (the Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front) to the utterly bestial (ISIS/ISIL).  The US and its allies (notably Israel) haven’t paid the price yet, but Obama has sowed the wind, and we will reap the whirlwind in due course.  An empowered, messianic Iran, with Russia providing money and cover, and convinced that the US is a paper tiger, is likely to take actions that will unleash a devastating sequence of events.  It’s a matter of when, not if.

But Obama will have secured peace in our time: or his time, more precisely. His legacy will be secured, and any malign consequences that occur in 2017 and beyond, well, those will obviously not be his fault.  He gave us peace, after all, and if war comes, it will be because some lesser being screwed up.

Farcical tragedy.  Tragical farce.

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5 Comments »

  1. The Iranians will be getting Russian goods? Oh lucky, lucky them!

    Comment by Tim Newman — January 18, 2014 @ 2:46 am

  2. […] Craig Pirrong at Streetwise Professor posts on Putin’s latest kiss to Iran. Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.  The Obama administration is attempting to one-up Marx and compress the process, with its simultaneously farcical and tragic policies on Iran and Syria. […]

    Pingback by January 19, 2014 « Pickerhead — January 19, 2014 @ 4:40 am

  3. Re dying Syrians: Libyans are dying every day, where the Russian government lifted not a finger to oppose the will of the US. The victory of the forces you back in Syria will cause much death.

    What upsets you is being deprived of victory, no matter the consequences for those who live with them.

    Comment by PailiP — January 19, 2014 @ 7:17 am

  4. @PailiP-I don’t back anyone in Syria. There was a window, in 2011 and into 2012, where something could have been done that would have resulted in a bad outcome, but one that would be a helluva lot better than the alternatives now. There are never good outcomes in the ME. Just bad (Egypt), worse (Libya, Iraq), and apocalyptic (which is what Syria will likely become).

    Where you got the “deprived of victory” idea is beyond me.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 19, 2014 @ 10:52 am

  5. Libya was cooperating with us against AQ. Then we decided to overthrow Q, andthe Russians let us. Now AQ has influence across all North Africa. There was no AQ in Iraq before we invaded. Now there is. And even if we’d had our way in Syria in 2011, AQ would be all over the place. Face facts, your sort are the best allies AQ ever had.

    Comment by PailiP — January 19, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

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