Streetwise Professor

March 25, 2015

What Do You Get When You Cross Nero With Ahab?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:02 pm


The world spins into chaos, and Obama is so detached and indifferent, fiddling while it all burns. But maybe the comparison with Nero is unfair. To Nero. After all, Nero allegedly had a purpose in mind when burning Rome: it allowed him to bypass the Senate and rebuild Rome to his grandiose plans. (Bypassing the Senate . . . maybe there are more parallels than I thought!) Obama just appears to not want to be bothered. Or perhaps he is like Major Major Major Major, promoted well above his competence and knowing it, and retreating to the confines of his office and quarters in order to avoid confronting things he is incapable of solving.

Exhibit 1. Yemen is exploding, with Iranian-backed Houthis seizing power and the desperate Saudis striking back with air strikes. This obviously raises the possibility of conflict between the Saudis (and the rest of the GCC) and Iran. But the administration still defends the “Yemen model” as a success. No. Really. Spokesman “Josh Earnest” (that has to be a made up name, right?) says the concept of relying on foreign governments to fight terrorism is right, even though the government we relied on in this case has utterly collapsed.

Exhibit 2. Even though the tension between Russia and Nato is at Cold War levels; even though Russia is making nuclear threats against Nato members; even though the easternmost nations in Nato are increasingly anxious that Putin has them in his sights; even though there are doubts about the credibility of Section V of the Nato treaty; and even though Nato is struggling to find a way to respond to hybrid war, Obama is refusing to find time in his busy schedule to see the new head of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg. No doubt because Nato (through Stoltenberg, his predecessor Rasmussen, and military head Breedlove) have been the most hawkish on the need to confront Putin. This is something Obama has zero appetite for.  Don’t think for a moment that Putin doesn’t notice this obvious signal of Obama’s indifference to what is transpiring on Nato’s eastern flank, and will escalate there soon.

But perhaps I am being harsh in saying that Obama doesn’t care about defeat after defeat. After all, there is a collapse that makes him distraught. . . that of his NCAA bracket.

But while he remains utterly detached from crises that threaten the world order, he persists in his Ahab-like pursuit of a deal with Iran. Empowering the mullahs (as a deal would do) will only further contribute to the already perilous situation in the Middle East, as a combination of national self-interest and religious hatred will force Gulf Sunnis (and arguably Egypt too) to confront a resurgent Iran freed from the shackles of sanctions, and progressing towards nuclear weapons.

And how does Obama rationalize negotiating a nuclear deal with a country that is openly supporting the overthrow of a government that he repeatedly identified as a major ally against Al Qaeda, and upon which the US has lavished billions of dollars in aid (much of which is in the hands of the Houthis, not to mention a major cache of US intelligence documents, which the Houthis obligingly turned over to Iran)? These are the people he trusts?

As I read somewhere: if he wanted to undermine America’s national interests, what would he do differently?

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  1. There’s also ISIS forging ahead on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, while the countries of its northern shore are falling into all sorts of financial, economic and demographic disarray.

    And Turkey morphing into something rather sinister.

    Twenty-two months left in his term. It’s going to be ‘interesting’, to say the least.

    Comment by Ex-Regulator on Lunch Break — March 26, 2015 @ 3:43 am

  2. I really wish the President would have responded to my question about basketball with something about terrorism!

    Comment by 14 year-old at science fair — March 26, 2015 @ 7:00 am

    Captain Obama and the Great White Whale

    President Obama perseveres, convinced that everyone will thank him when the Great White Whale of Middle East policy—a lasting nuclear deal with Iran—is finally harpooned. But as the endgame draws nigh, a unified chorus of naysayers is rising in volume.

    With the House nearly united against him, can Obama still stand? Today, 360 Representatives (including more than half of the House’s Democrats) sent a letter to the President warning that permanent sanctions relief for Iran must entail new legislation from Congress. More from The Hill:

    “In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief,” [the letter] adds.

    The letter stops short of supporting legislation pursued by the Senate that would allow Congress 60 days to weigh in on any final deal before its implementation.

    However, it adds, “We are prepared to evaluate any agreement to determine its long-term impact on the United States and our allies.”

    Taken on its face, this letter would apparently doom the Iran deal in the form it is being presented through leaks from the negotiators. Iran is insisting on a time limit for the deal; the House appears to be saying that no such time limit will be acceptable to the U.S. Congress. If House Democrats stick to this message, the President’s Iran policy looks doomed to veto-proof rebukes from both branches of Congress.

    This is probably not what President Obama meant when he promised to fight the partisanship in American politics, but he seems to be creating a strong bipartisan consensus on the Middle East. (He’s also been something of a uniter in the Middle East as well; Israel and the Sunni Arab countries have never been closer than they are now.)

    The Dem-supported House letter isn’t the only high-profile rebuke to emerge today from the President’s camp. President Obama’s old CIA director is saying that the Iran-backed Shia militias are worse news than ISIS. In an interview with the Washington Post, General Petraeus was blunt:

    The current Iranian regime is not our ally in the Middle East. It is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution. The more the Iranians are seen to be dominating the region, the more it is going to inflame Sunni radicalism and fuel the rise of groups like the Islamic State. While the U.S. and Iran may have convergent interests in the defeat of Daesh, our interests generally diverge. The Iranian response to the open hand offered by the U.S. has not been encouraging.

    Iranian power in the Middle East is thus a double problem. It is foremost problematic because it is deeply hostile to us and our friends. But it is also dangerous because, the more it is felt, the more it sets off reactions that are also harmful to our interests — Sunni radicalism and, if we aren’t careful, the prospect of nuclear proliferation as well.

    The Petraeus interview and the mass defections of House Dems highlight the degree to which Obama is going out on a limb on Iran policy. But this isn’t just a matter of Beltway elites jumping ship. John Kraushaar analyzed the Iran poll numbers in the National Journal and made a convincing argument that the public, while it supports negotiating with Iran as a general proposition, doesn’t think President Obama has gotten it right. A recent NBC/WSJ poll finds that 71% of respondents think the deal won’t do what it’s supposed to and keep Tehran from getting the bomb. This is why so many members of the President’s own party are jumping ship. Nobody wants to be on this boat, but Ahab is still at the wheel, pursuing the Great White Whale at all costs.

    One has to think back almost 100 years to Wilson chasing his Treaty of Versailles in the face of growing public skepticism and Congressional dissent to see this many omens of a car crash. The more the opposition mounts, the more grimly determined the President becomes to hold his course. The more determined the President looks, the more disquieting the doubts that circulate among Democrats—and the more Republicans smell the opportunity to land a crippling blow against a policy they despise.

    There seem to be four leading scenarios on the horizon. One is that the President gets his deal, somehow steers it past (or around) Congress, and the deal works: Iran becomes our friend and the Middle East gets better. At that point he looks like a genius and the doubts are forgotten. The critics look bad as the United States sails into a bright new day, and President Obama goes down in history as a courageous and visionary peacemaker who stuck to his guns when the going got tough. This seems unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out.

    The second is uglier, but more probable. In this scenario, Iran signs a deal, and after an ugly fight, Congress gives it a grudging and perhaps partial OK. Then pundits and policymakers argue for years about whether it was a success or not, the public mostly dislikes it, and the Iran deal, like Obamacare, becomes a pyrrhic victory. The President notches up a win but his party stumbles under the weight of the baggage.

    The third possibility is uglier and, based on today’s news from Congress, more probable still. In this scenario, Iran and the President strike a deal, but Congress succeeds in crippling it. Perhaps it passes a bill and then overrides his veto; perhaps it refuses to pass enabling legislation that the Iranians say is necessary. At that point, the deal breaks down, some of the P-5 begin to circumvent the sanctions, and the President will have a big mess on his hands as Iran, perhaps, accelerates its march toward a bomb.

    The final possibility is that the Iranians walk away from the deal. That is not a worst case scenario for the President; if there isn’t any deal he doesn’t have to consume the next several months of his presidency in an all-out effort to protect it from Congress. The biggest downside: He will then have to start from close to zero on Middle East policy, and presumably head back to some angry, jilted allies for help even as relations with Iran grow worse.

    The President himself gives 50-50 odds for a deal at this point; if he’s right, and if we assume that the other scenarios are equally probable, he has about a 17 percent chance of emerging from this process with a clear win, a 17 percent chance of a pyrrhic victory, and a 67 percent chance of an outcome that will be considered a defeat.

    The President’s biggest remaining advantage is that a significant part of the pro-Obama wing of the Democratic press and pundit establishment are still looking at the Middle East in a compartmentalized way. They don’t get the causal connection between the quest for an Iran deal and regional disorder. So caught up are they in the “Negotiations always good, confrontation always bad” worldview that they haven’t come to grips with the reality that in the Middle East, Obama’s regional strategy of withdrawal and accommodation to Iran undermines rather than supports the goal of a nuclear deal.

    Thus, instead of criticizing Obama’s policy incoherence and the way in which his chosen strategies undercut his stated goals, such observers frame the whole issue as whether it’s better to try to reach a nuclear deal with Iran than to just let hostility fester while the Islamic Republic comes closer to its nuclear goals. Stated this way, it’s easy to make a case for the White House approach even as the shadows deepen and the region burns — and this is the line that the remaining loyalists take.

    But more and more people in the center are beginning to see beyond the pretty packaging and to ask questions the White House doesn’t seem to be able to answer about its overall plan. Thomas Friedman looked askance at the President this week, asking “Why are we, for the third time since 9/11, fighting a war on behalf of Iran?” Henry Kissinger’s most recent book contains a long warning against the course we are on. Jeffrey Goldberg, anything but a knee-jerk opponent of the President, has been voicing his growing worries over the cost of the deal—most recently declaring that there’s “no solution” when it comes to Iran, very much including a nuclear deal. Former Administration officials are aghast; like Martin Indyk before him, what David Petraeus is really saying is that President’s strategy doesn’t cohere.

    Yet Ahab sails on, convinced that the crew will thank him when the Great White Whale is finally harpooned. The crew hopes he is right, but faith is ebbing as the endgame draws nigh.


    Professor Mead mentions some of America’s most well known pundits (he mischaracterizes them as “centrists”) who have expressed reservations about Obama’s Iran policy. Specifically he alludes to remarks by Tom Friedman, Jeffrey Goldberg, Martin Indyk and David Petraeus (who I guess has now achieved pundit status).

    What a group; if Obama is Ahab, the card carrying members of the commentariat in question are the keystone cops.

    Friedman traffics in anti Semitic tropes with alarming regularity; go back and re-read his old columns. He turns out to be wrong about almost everything he says. For a particularly entertaining interlude, google his columns on the “Arab Spring” and the downfall of Mubarak. In retrospect they’re hysterical. If you want an extremely funny rendition of what a fool Friedman is go to this column of his from February 9, 2011,

    Goldberg is little more than a mouth piece for Obama. So anxious is he to maintain his status as Obama’s go to reporter when the President wants to slander Netanyahu, that little Goldberg has to say is worth considering. It’s simply impossible to know most of the time whether Goldberg is pontificating for himself or channeling America’s narcissist-in-chief.

    Petraeus is an interesting case. Despite being one of America’s most senior commanders and a former CIA Chief, it never occurred to him that he shouldn’t leak classified material to his girlfriend. Apparently the opportunity to enjoy carnal pleasures took precedence over his oaths of office. Moreover, it was the Patraeus “surge” and the “Anbar Awakening” that helped birth ISIS. The guns and money Patraeus distributed to disaffected Sunni tribes became the seed corn for Iraq’s current problems when these tribes allied with ISIS to drive out the hated Shia.

    But the dumbest of the dumb is Martin Indyk. Go back and read his two part article at Brookings. In part 2 he suggests that if only the United States would place Israel and the Sunni Arab nations under our nuclear umbrella all would be fine. What rubbish.

    For a nuclear umbrella to work, the parties in question, especially the nuclear armed party, needs to be convinced that the threat to destroy them is real, not illusory. America doesn’t have a single ally in the Middle East who trusts anything the United States has to say. We destroyed our credibility about standing up to proliferators and rewarding those who step back from developing a nuclear arsenal by our behavior in Libya and Ukraine.

    Are the Saudis or Egyptians really going to trust that Obama or a future American President is going to destroy Iran with nuclear weapons if Iran were to use the bomb against Cairo or Riyadh?

    Americans wouldn’t support it, the Iranians won’t believe it, and, most importantly, our allies who will supposedly shelter under that umbrella won’t either. That’s why they are all sure to try to develop their own nuclear arsenals.

    The idea that the Sunni Arab nations will be deterred from their own weapons programs by any promises Obama makes about a nuclear umbrella is absurd. Obama has not only destroyed any trust these nations had in him, they’ve destroyed the trust these nations might have had in future American Presidents. The fact that the clueless Martin Indyk doesn’t realize this tells us a lot about his intellectual acuity.

    It’s hard not to notice that three of the four pusillanimous pundits cited by Professor Mead are Jewish. It kind of kills the “Jews are smart” cliche; don’t you think?

    Americans have been failed by our political class, by our foreign policy glitterati and by the pundits who serve as their faithful paparazzi.

    We need better elites; the ones we suffer under now are killing us.

    One of the only upsides to Obama’s presidency is the total discrediting of the liberal elites, particularly those in the media and academia. Uniformly, they promised that an Obama presidency would not only reduce social divisions, but would usher in an era of smart politics, because Obama himself was such a genius. Go back and read the rubbish that was put out by all the talking heads on the left 6 years ago. They would blush today if they were forced to read their own words.

    Obama’s manifest failures in almost everything he has done but especially his signature policies – healthcare reform and the Middle East peace (Iran and the 2-state solution) now leave a permanent stain on the liberal elite class which they cannot undo for a long time. That is why more and more Democrats are steadily creeping away from Obama and his sinking ship. The repudiation of the Iran nuclear deal will be the final blow.

    The real Moby Dick, for Obama’s Captain Ahab, is Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama has spent incredible energy trying to destroy Bibi’s political career and legacy, and now instead will destroy his own legacy, as Bibi laughs his way to a historic 4th term. There is a saying in Arabic, “Revenge takes 40 years.” In this case, it takes 6.

    When you say that the liberal elites would blush if confronted with their earlier statements implies they would recognize that they were wrong but I don’t believe they do. Liberals today live in an echo chamber with almost all the media, the academic world and Hollywood all telling them, all the time, that they are right about everything. Furthermore, those that disagree are painted as homophobic, misogynistic, racist, science-denying, warmongering idiots.

    Reality does matter. Liberals will never learn. The elite liberal thought has hardened into unexamined dogma, that liberals are just “painting” their adversaries as racist, homophobic, etc etc. No, I think they really believe it. They “just know” that every non-bigot in the world agrees with them. Either they’ve never even heard contrary arguments, or they don’t know how to process arguments if they do happen to hear them.

    Look how the liberal chorus shrieked that Bibi “played the race card” for saying “Arab voters are going in droves to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses” — which was absolutely true. Liberals have defined racism as a thing which white people (for so they count Israelis) cannot help doing, and non-white people cannot do, no matter how bigoted their words and deeds. It’s a very convenient definition for them.

    “Liberals claim to be open and tolerant to other points of view but then are shocked and offended when they discover there ARE other points of view.” — William F. Buckley, Jr.

    “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Comment by Peter M Todebush — March 26, 2015 @ 9:50 am

  4. @14 yo-I mean Catherine. Whatever.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 26, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

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