Nov 9, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 09 • By LEE SMITH
Last week, the Obama White House moved to ensure Hezbollah’s ability to point 100,000 missiles at Israel. That’s not how they would describe it, of course. But it was the Obama administration—as U.S. officials are quietly letting on—and not Russia that invited Iran to participate in talks in Vienna to resolve the Syrian civil war. By doing so, the White House legitimized the Islamic Republic as a “stakeholder” whose interests in Syria must be respected. But of course, Iran has only one interest in Syria, which is to protect its ally, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose regime facilitates the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah.
The administration admits as much. As the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs, Anne Patterson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, “What [Iran is] looking for is a Syria that protects their interests and particularly their access to Hezbollah.”
Why doesn’t this seem to bother the White House? Hezbollah is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. Its primary campaign is against Israel, while it threatens other regional actors traditionally regarded as American allies, like Saudi Arabia. It has plenty of American blood on its hands, as well. From the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut to the Iraq war, Hezbollah has targeted U.S. military and diplomatic personnel for more than three decades.
You might think that the government of the United States has an interest in severing the weapons supply line between Iran and a terrorist organization waging war against an American ally. But that’s old thinking. Obama is building a new Middle East on the foundation of the Iranian nuclear deal, which foresees a balance of powers among all the regional actors that will bring stability to a wildly volatile neighborhood. Everyone needs to be deterred, including American allies. So as the White House sees it, Iran’s supplying Hezbollah with weapons that it points at Israel is a necessary condition of Middle East peace.
The administration sought previously, in January 2014, to include Iran in talks over the Syrian war. Iran refused to accept the condition that Assad would have to leave. Saudi Arabia objected, and the administration walked the plan back, hanging the fiasco on U.N. general secretary Ban Ki-moon. Iran has not changed its position—Assad will stay, says Tehran. The Russians aren’t budging either—they, too, insist that the Syrian president isn’t going anywhere. The White House has long regretted Obama’s August 2011 demand that Assad step aside and has stated its willingness to let the Syrian dictator stay on for at least a “transitional” period.
What’s different now is that the administration has backed traditional allies into a corner with the Iranian nuclear deal. When Saudi Arabia reluctantly gave its support to the deal with Tehran, it conceded any political or diplomatic clout it had in resolving the Syrian conflict in its favor. The White House strong-armed Turkey as well, enlisting Kurdish parties at war with Ankara into its anti-ISIS campaign.
The other big change is Vladimir Putin’s military escalation in Syria. The administration had long argued that there was no military solution to the four-and-a-half-year-old conflict, only a political one. The reality is that Putin’s military solution has paved the way for a political solution, which the White House at least tacitly supports. It has no choice, really, since Putin calls the shots now. Kerry says he wants everyone who has a stake in Syria at the table, but the deck is stacked against those who want Assad gone, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Kerry’s goal in Vienna is to end the war, but to get Russia and Iran to agree, he’ll have to concede their key demand—Assad stays. Therefore, the administration’s role is to line up everyone behind Russia and Iran, to preserve Assad and thus Iran’s supply line to Hezbollah.
It’s worth noting that while Tehran has three seats at the table in Vienna (the governments it controls in Lebanon and Iraq as well as its own), Israel wasn’t invited, even though the Syrian war touches directly on Jerusalem’s national security. A soon-to-be-nuclear state putting missiles on Israel’s borders is a serious matter, but that’s not how the White House sees it—or Russia for that matter.
Israel’s absence from Vienna underscores a key fact that should give pause to those who believe Russia’s presence in Syria isn’t that big a problem, that Israel can do business with Putin, that Russia’s interests are not the same as Iran’s and therefore it’s only a matter of time before the two powers fall out. That’s delusional. Vienna is evidence that Russia and Iran’s interests are in alignment—Assad stays. But it’s not hard to see why American allies are fooling themselves, for the reality is much harder to believe. The Obama administration has legitimized Iran’s supply line to Hezbollah. By bringing Iran to Vienna, the White House has legitimized the Islamic Republic’s war against Israel.
Gleanings and observations.9:36 AM, Sep 21, 2015 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
The opposition British Labour Party, now led by a leftist who favors Hamas, wants Britain to withdraw from NATO because its expansion has antagonized Vladimir Putin, give up its nuclear deterrent, and declare an arms embargo against Israel, has appointed as his shadow chancellor, one John McDonnell.
A quarter-century after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, we still haven’t learned the right lessons from that warAug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By VANCE SERCHUK
Just after midnight on August 2, 1990, an invasion force of approximately 100,000 Iraqi troops crossed into Kuwait. As mechanized and armored Republican Guard divisions breached the border and sped southward across the desert, Iraqi Special Forces commandos launched airborne and amphibious assaults into Kuwait City. The Kuwaiti military, outnumbered and taken by surprise by the well-coordinated offensive, was swiftly routed.
Discrimination is a terrible thing, but only when the wrong people do it.3:33 PM, May 26, 2015 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
The Guardian had a story last week about the soon-to-be completed Abraj Kudai, a new hotel in Mecca which will have 10,000 guest rooms, 70 restaurants, four helipads, and five floors reserved for the sole use of the Saudi royal family.
The Saudis push back against the Obama foreign policy. May 25, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 35 • By HUSSAIN ABDUL-HUSSAIN
The Obama administration put a happy face on its Camp David summit last week, even as four of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s six leaders turned down Obama’s invitation to attend. The most significant absence, of course, was that of Saudi Arabia’s king, Salman. In his place, Riyadh sent Salman’s 55-year-old nephew, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and Salman’s 28-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, deputy crown prince and defense minister.
8:01 AM, May 14, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Barack Obama greeted Crown Prince Bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office yesterday by getting some names wrong. Here's how the president began the remarks:
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND CROWN PRINCE BIN NAYEF OF SAUDI ARABIA BEFORE BILATERAL MEETING
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s wonderful to welcome back the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, as well as Deputy Crown Prince Salman. We are very pleased to have them both here today, as well as the delegation from Saudi Arabia.
9:02 AM, May 13, 2015 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
The early Cold War period might be called the Age of the Treaty Organization. The United States, scrambling furiously to respond to the fact that it had become the guarantor of the “Free World,” had discovered a surprising interest in entangling alliances of all sorts and in all parts of the world. NATO, of course, was the biggest pact of them all, but in 1954 the “Manilla Pact” created the Southeast Asian Treaty Organiz
3:30 PM, May 11, 2015 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
It was a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away: In July 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama made big, bold news by travelling to Berlin to – as The New York Times triumphantly recorded – “restore the world’s faith in strong American leadership and idealism.” With 200,000 Berliners waving
8:12 AM, Apr 16, 2015 • By MICHAEL WARREN
A prominent Pakistani-born women's rights activist is asking presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, to pledge not to accept donations from foreign nations that oppress women. Raheel Raza, the Canadian journalist behind the documentary film Honor Diaries, is requesting all the presidential candidates, from both parties and both "men and women," to sign her pledge.
Unlike President Obama.12:08 PM, Mar 5, 2015 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Following the death of Saudi King Abdullah at the end of January, and the succession of his half-brother, now King Salman, 79, many observers of the desert monarchy have speculated on its future.
The politics of oil Feb 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 22 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
"We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.” As recently as two years ago, that’s what the president was saying—with his usual self-assurance—about the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and on oil in general. And he wasn’t the only one. The line was widely echoed on the political left, where the instinctive feeling is that petroleum is poison. It helped that the opposition, led by archvillainess Sarah Palin, was meanwhile chanting, “Drill, baby, drill.”
What more proof was needed?
Time to counter the Saudis with a tariff? Feb 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 22 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
We are in a war with Saudi Arabia—and losing. The Saudis aim to regain substantial control of our oil supply by driving from the industry many of our shale-oil-producing frackers who have reduced the power conveyed to the kingdom’s rulers by the underground ocean of oil on which their palaces sit. And we seem prepared to let them do just that, by failing to do what is necessary to prevent a reversal of the major strides we have made to get out from under the boot of an avaricious oil cartel.
2:22 PM, Feb 3, 2015 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI AND STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Following the death of King Abdullah Bin Abd Al-Aziz, at 90 or 91, on the night of January 22-23, Saudi Arabia is very likely to continue its policies of opposition to Iran and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and its participation in the coalition effort against the Islamic State. These alignments are not an expression of mere rivalry between Sunni Saudis and Shia Iranians, or between Saudi fundamentalists and ISIS radicals.