Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, President and founder of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
The Foreign Policy Failures of 2014
Despite administration claims to the contrary, 2014 was the year of failure on the foreign policy front. In every area of the globe chaos or instability reigns.
The Middle East is a cauldron of warring factions and theological imperatives. Libya is falling under the sway of radical groups each trying to gain control of Tripoli. In essence, government has ceased to exist. French forces may be the only hope for the restoration of order, but that is not a sustainable solution.
Iraq is struggling to maintain a state that resembles the recent past. With ISIS carving out a segment for itself and the Kurds banging the drums for autonomy, the future is indefinite. A modus vivendi between Shia and Sunni leaders is also unlikely. On Iraq's border, Syria is in a similar state of dismemberment. Assad holds on to power precariously with overt Russian support and tacit U.S. acceptance, but his base is restricted to an area around Damascus as rebels of various stripes carve up the rest of the country.
The largely ignored war in the Sinai continues unabated with Egyptian forces taking significant casualties. Sinai has become a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten Egyptian stability and Israel's southern border.
Iran, a perpetual source of terrorist activity since 1979, has emerged, with U.S. approval, as a stabilizing regional force opposing ISIS ambitions. Yet its own imperial goals remain undiminished. Iranian National Guard members launched a coup against the Yemini government and prevailed. As a consequence, Iran controls the critical sea lanes at the Red Sea and the Gulf of Hormuz.
Negotiations in Geneva and Vienna indicate that Iran will possess sufficient fissile material to build nuclear weapons, a decision that will have profound implications for the future of the region. In addition to altering military strategy, nuclear weapons, or even sufficient fissile material to build weapons, will roil the political waters for the foreseeable future.
Across the globe, on the Pacific front, the Chinese have made it clear they want to assert themselves as the hegemon in the region. Assertion doesn't always mean war, but it does represent a challenge, one that the Obama administration neither understands nor is prepared to openly resist. As a consequence, Japan, South Korea, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia are searching for leadership, a helmsman who can lead nations with disparate interests but the same potential enemy.
In South America, U.S. overtures to Cuba seem to suggest that there may be more to gain from opposition to American policies than embracing them. Venezuela, as a proxy for Cuba on the continent, has harbored terrorists and sympathizers of Iran without penalty. The caudillo principle hasn't died in South America, but the U.S. as a model of democratic government is fading.
On balance 2014 represents the unfolding of the Obama foreign policy failures. It is one thing to renounce the position of global policeman, but another thing to remove oneself from the adjudication of international disputes. As much as President Obama wants the U.S. to be a state like other states, we are different in kind, size, and stature. Notwithstanding denials to the contrary, America is still the light of opportunity that shines across the globe, albeit a somewhat less bright light under Obama's leadership. Restoring that leadership role represents the task ahead. Needless to say, it will not be easy reversing positions and establishing confidence with skeptics, but that is the challenge that lies before us.
A Strategy for the Middle East
In several press conferences and public statements President Obama has theorized a Middle East strategy that is limited, time sensitive, and avoids "boots on the ground." This position is the one he proposed to Congress. Modest but not overwhelming; committed, but only in a partial sense. In no sense, not even one advocated by the president, is this a policy for total victory over ISIL or al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.
Recognizing the limits of resources and what President Obama calls "war fatigue," what can be done? Surely there is more that the U.S. can do than we are doing at the moment. Ultimately, of course, Middle Eastern states will have to fend for themselves. While there isn't one nation that has anywhere near the military capability of the U.S., in combination they can constitute a military force capable of defeating extremism. A union of Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait could pool military assets into a Middle East NATO with the U.S. as a member state offering logistics, Special Forces, and sophisticated hardware.
Although Israel is not a beloved member of the Gulf nations, its military prowess and intelligence apparatus would make it an "unregistered" member of the coalition. After all, since Iran is the enemy of the Sunni states in addition to the other terrorist networks originated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and it is an enemy of Israel, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Well, that is probably going too far. Israel would be a pragmatic ally. Under exceptional conditions and the passage of time, it might be called a friend.
Like NATO, this would be a military alliance designed to thwart terrorism and the imperial ambitions of Iran. It could also be a cultural institution that extirpates the interpretation of religious texts that inspires violence. King Abdullah of Jordan and President al Sisi have made this clear. The coalition would provide this viewpoint with a megaphone.
It is instructive that President Obama has conspicuously avoided reaching out to traditional allies, Egypt and Jordan. His policy emphasis is on reaching an accord with Iran, the nation on whom Obama is attempting to build his legacy. For the president, this rapprochement is equivalent to Nixon's overtures to China - a world-changing event for which Nixon will always be remembered. The problem is that Iran is not China and with four capitals under its control - Beirut, Damascus, Bagdad and Sana'a - Iranian leaders have constructed a Middle East Empire.
In fact, it is late in the day to conceptualize a countervailing influence, but there isn't any choice. History has impinged on decision-making. The Gulf States may be facing existential choices if Iran is permitted to have nuclear weapons or the fissile material to build them. Should that be the result of the June negotiations in Geneva, the Sunni defense condominium will be obliged to develop a nuclear umbrella of its own as a regional deterrent.
In an unstable area with many state and non-state actors, nuclear proliferation is the pathway to a doomsday scenario. Surely that isn't the legacy Obama planned. Hence a regional alliance, like NATO, may serve as the most reasonable alternative for the future. President Obama won't embrace it now, but it is looming in the recesses of his imagination. Should he need some guidance, he could cite the Middle East Strategic Vision, written by Eli Gold, Pete O'Brien and Tony Shaffer on the London Center for Policy Research website. This isn't a plug, merely a suggestion.
Netanyahu Should Be Honored, Not Boycotted
Editor's Note: this essay is a response to the address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Joint Session of Congress.
A state leader with the distinction of Bibi Netanyahu should be honored, not boycotted, particularly when he is here to explain the nexus between our Iranian rapprochement and the very survival of the state of Israel.
With Elie Wiesel as witness to today's historic speech to the U.S. Congress and a living testament to the mantra "Never Again," Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu reminded us that something bigger is at stake than a "bad deal" with Iran. By clearly articulating the dangers of a nuclear Iran in a combustible Middle East, he elevated the current debate by explaining in a way that even the Arabists and foreign policy elites in our own State Department should understand - that Iranian rapprochement poses a threat not only to the survival of the state of Israel, but to the entire world as well. This is why the speech which was so compelling to security-minded strategists, yet so threatening to others who would prefer to view Netanyahu's remarks through the lens of pure politics. It crystallized what is at stake but clearly expresses that strategic interests will not be held hostage to this Obama initiative.
In addition to threatening the survival of Israel, this "bad deal" giving Iran leverage for the realization of its ambitions, has alarmed the Sunni nations in the area. It is a catalyst for regional nuclear proliferation, with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt poised to act should Iran acquire nuclear weapons or the fissile material to produce nuclear weapons.
We, at the London Center for Policy Research, embrace a bipartisan foreign policy that endorses a free, peaceful, independent Israel. Our fate, and that of all freedom-loving nations, is tied to Israel and its future. We will not forget.
Post-structuralism As National Fantasy
If one relies on recent accounts in the news, we are all post-structuralists now. Post-structuralism was a response to the structural intellectual movement that human culture can be understood in logic and language. Post-structuralists are skeptical of human science accepting relativism and obscure phenomenology as its method. As post-structuralists see it, objective conditions only reveal the superficial dimensions of human behavior.
Several years ago it was revealed that the conditions described in Rigoberta Menchu's work, which resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize, were fraudulent. The conditions she described didn't exist. One might assume an embarrassed Ms. Manchu would apologize. However, in the post structuralist world, she said that even if the report was inaccurate, these are events that might have occurred.
At Duke University members of the lacrosse team were accused of raping a woman of dubious repute at a team gathering. Although the claims of rape were unproven, a significant number of faculty members rushed to judgment with accusations against the students. After DNA testing demonstrated beyond a doubt that sexual encounters had not occurred with players, the faculty members in question maintained - based on their assessment of class, gender, and race - that it is an act that could have occurred.
In an event startlingly similar, a Rolling Stone article that attributed a case of rape at University of Virginia, led to a variety of campus decisions, including the closing of fraternities. It was argued that the woman, about whom the article was written, was gang raped at a fraternity party. Days after the article was published and the administration responded, the contentions fell apart. The story turned out to be a fabrication. Did the president of the university recant? Did the faculty members who rushed to judgment apologize? Of course, neither occurred.
Arguably the most recent example of post-structuralist thinking resides with President Obama. In his State of the Union address the president said:
Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.
By any standard, this statement is false, yet the president and his spokesman badly needed them to be true. So they pretended they were true.
In order to keep negotiations alive, President Obama accepted the Joint Plan of Action that allowed Iran to continue making sustained progress along its uranium and plutonium tracks with no restriction on ballistic missile development. Rouhani - Iran's president and negotiator - greeted this news as the "right to enrich." In fact, he boasted that Iran would continue to bolster its nuclear program "forever."
Post-structuralist Obama's denial is reminiscent of a comment Nikita Khrushchev made to Richard Nixon:
If people believe there's an imaginary river out there, you don't tell them there's no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river.
Despite a world President Obama would like to see, reality intrudes. The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stated the position of his terrorist nation clearly, a position the president has chosen to ignore. He said:
There are only two things that would end enmity between us and the U.S. Either the U.S. president and E.U. leaders should convert to Islam and imitate the Supreme Leader, or Iran should abandon Islam and the Islamic revolution. . . . I do not know why some people believe that some day we will make peace with the U.S. and start relations with them.
The post-structuralist view is predicated on what you want to believe. Curiously, rather than face reality, many would prefer the fantasy, even detesting the truth tellers. As George Orwell noted:
The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.
Hezbollah and Its Quandary
Operating out of Lebanon, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that pulls the strings in this nation north of Israel. It has influence in the army, in the parliament, and even on the streets of major cities. It has this influence because President Assad of Syria offers financial and military support and Iran is the ultimate broker controlling Assad's fragile government and exporting the missiles Hezbollah has stockpiled.
But now Hezbollah is in a tangle. It wants to avoid an all-out war with Israel, a war it cannot win. Yet its Iranian sponsor has sent a delegation of senior Revolutionary Guard commanders to the Golan Heights and has taken steps to surround Israel with missile deployment in the West Bank, the Syrian border, and Gaza.
Needless to say, Israel doesn't want another war on the heels of its confrontation with Hamas, nor can it tolerate dire threats. As a consequence, Israel's recent strike in Syria is an attempt to forestall Iranian and, by proxy Hezbollah, interests in a region fraught with chaos. Israel cannot create order out of the Syrian maelstrom, but it can strike against those who would exploit the situation for a potential attack.
A preemptive strike by Israel signals that deterrence has risks. This was the case on the northern border when Hezbollah retaliated by killing two Israeli soldiers and wounding others. Hezbollah did so to save face - according to some analysts. Its targeting choice on the eastern end of the border devoid of civilians and against a military convoy, suggests it was inclined to be cautious.
Hezbollah is obliged to adopt a wait and see attitude. The war in Syria that includes rebels and Iranian forces, as well as the dismemberment of the country through ISIS invasions, has existential importance for Hezbollah. Without Assad and Syria at its back, Hezbollah would be hard pressed to sustain itself in Lebanon. Syria is Hezbollah's link to Iran and Iran provides military assistance to Hezbollah through the Syrian conduit. Should this linkage fall apart Hezbollah would be placed in a precarious state.
Both Hezbollah and Assad do not want to drag the Lebanese people into a war precipitated by Iranian plans. After all, Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, has a vivid memory of the 2006 cross-border attack that led to the Second Lebanon War and the destruction of large sectors of the country. From his standpoint, it is far better to assemble a massive missile force poised to attack and available as a threat than to engage in an all-out war against Israel he cannot possibly win. However, since Hezbollah is a vassal in this scenario, its fate is largely in the hands of Iran: Hence the tangle.
In the Middle East regional events vary from day to day. Because they are unpredictable, and as a consequence, volatile, Israel must decide when and where to attack and be prepared to give an enemy a clear ultimatum and, on occasion, the benefit of the doubt. Hezbollah is an enemy, and a dangerous enemy, but it is not prepared to fight. That may be a positive. *