A predominantly one-topic blog: how is it that the most imminent and lethal implication for humankind - the fact that the doctrine of "Mutually Assured Destruction" will not work with Iran - is not being discussed in our media? Until it is recognized that MAD is dead, the Iranian threat will be treated as a threat only to Israel and not as the global threat which it in fact is.
A blog by Mladen Andrijasevic
Sunday, December 18, 2016
The Guardian: Barack Obama’s presidency will be defined by his failure to face down Assad
The US president’s
indifference to chemical warfare led to the trail of violence that reached as
far as Europe
Friday, near Palmyra, 14 tanks and an anti-aircraft system were destroyed in an
air strike on Isis. Palmyra recently fell to the jihadists after the Syrian
regime and its allies diverted forces toAleppo, leaving the ancient city
This was a repeat of events last year when, on
the advice of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, the regime deployed troops
away from Palmyra to the strategically significant metropolis of Aleppo. The
planes struck Palmyra on the same day Suleimani was photographed treading the
city’s rubble. But the planes weren’t Russian or Syrian: they belonged to the
US-led international coalition. While the US has its own reasons for battling
Isis, in this case it was picking up the slack from the regime.
Palmyra has only symbolic significance for
Assad. Aleppo was the prize, and, with the world watching impotent, the regime
was able to starve and bludgeon its population into surrender. The regime was
aided by Russian bombers and special forces, Iranian Revolutionary Guards,
Hezbollah mercenaries, and a horde of sectarian militias from Iraq, Afghanistan
and Pakistan – but, above all, it was aided by American indifference.
In an interview withJeffrey Goldberg of theAtlanticmagazine earlier this year, President Obama said he was
“very proud” of the moment in 2013 when, against
the “overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom”, he decided not to honour
his own “red line”, allowing Assad to escape accountability for a chemical
attack that had killed more than 1,400 civilians.
Obama may be alone in this judgment. A year
earlier, seemingly on a whim, he had set a red line on the use of chemical
weapons at a time when none were being used. The red line was, in effect, a
green light to conventional killing. But the regime called Obama’s bluff – and,
predictably, he backed down. No longer fearing punishment, the regime escalated
Nearly four times as many people were killed
in the two years after the chemical attack as had died in the two years before.
Obama’s abandonment discredited Syria’s nationalist opposition and empowered
the Islamists. It helped Isis emerge from the shadows to establish itself as a
major force. Together, these developments triggered a mass exodus that would
displace over half the country’s population. And as the overflow from this
deluge started trickling into Europe, it sparked a xenophobic backlash that has
empowered the far right across the west.
These, however, weren’t the only consequences
of Obama’s retreat. The inaction also created a vacuum that was filled by Iran
and Russia. Emboldened by his unopposed advances into Ukraine andSyria, Putin has
been probing weaknesses in the west’s military and political resolve – from
provocative flights by Bear bombers along the Cornwall coast to direct
interference in the US elections.
The post-second-world-war international order
is on the verge of collapse. In January, when Obama leaves office, he will be
leaving the world a lot less stable than even his predecessor.
But in his valedictory press conference, last
Friday, Obama defended his policy on Syria – albeit with logic whose fractures
even his eloquence could not conceal. Inverting cause and consequence, he cited
Russian and Iranian presence in Syria as his reason for not confronting Assad
(neither was there in August 2013); he cited the disunion among rebels as the
reason for not supporting them (they fragmented because they were denied
meaningful support); and he cited the fear of deeper American involvement as
his justification for restraint (even though a year later it would lead to a
far bigger deployment across two states).
The administration’s response to the
neoconservative depredations of the past decade was to revert to old dogmas:
the dogmas of “realism”. Under the influence of doctrinaire realists, Obama concluded
that the Arab world was not ready for democracy; it needed “strongmen”. The
strongmen would protect the west against the twin threats of terror and
migration. This logic led the US to back Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian government
after the controversial 2010 election in Iraq; it also led it to tolerate
Assad. Syria was defined narrowly as a counterterrorism problem.
But there was also another reason for
tolerating Assad. The administration had gambled its reputation on the Iran
deal – a deal whose success would distinguish Obama from his belligerent and
quixotic predecessor. Iranian leaders, however, understood that by investing
his legacy in the deal, Obama had also made himself its hostage. He couldn’t
make too many demands for fear of undoing his own legacy. Conscious of this,
Iranian hardliners saw no cause for constraint. Flush with cash from the deal,
they have embarked on a foreign policy far more intransigent than anything Iran
has pursued in a century. Tehran has little need for nuclear weapons when it
can conquer Aleppo without them. And, as a client of Iran, Assad has enjoyed
Aleppo fell on Obama’s watch. He did not raise
a finger to save the city even though he had mobilised America’s vast military
assets on short notice to defend Kobani and imposed a no-fly zone over Hasakah.
By withholding leverage, Obama also allowed Russia to use the charade of
diplomacy to aid Iran and the regime’s military conquest.
In January, as Obama surrenders the White
House to America’s own strongman, the Iran deal will probably not survive long.
Its benefits were already made doubtful by Obama’s invertebracy. It is Aleppo
that the world will remember him by.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad (@im_pulse) is author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of
a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014)
--- It was obvious already in August 2013 what had