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Obama Switches Sides

In yesterday’s U.N. speech, Obama kissed goodbye to U.S. allies and signed on with Iran, Russia, and Syria.

6:05 PM, Sep 25, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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Iranian president Hassan Rouhani didn’t have to snub Obama yesterday by choosing not to meet with him on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting. But, as with Vladimir Putin’s victory lap op-ed in the New York Times, Rouhani chose to rub Obama’s face in the dirt because he could. Obama hung a “kick me” sign on his back and Rouhani simply took him up on it.

Obama hands sitting

As for Rouhani, his speech yesterday revealed rather less about the man than the regime he represents. Forget about the Islamic Republic’s theological foundations, ignore the conviction, held by various regime figures, that the Mahdi is destined to return. Rouhani, like every Iranian president before him and like thousands of other Iranian clerics and regime figures, is one part Polonius, one part Wizard of Oz, a mid-level manager thrilled by the prospect of his own muddled thought becoming reality.

“Violence,” the Iranian president said yesterday, “has gone beyond the physical realm, and has penetrated the psychological and spiritual realm of human existence." The fact that a world leader stood before his peers to utter this mystical nonsense would be funny—except for the fact that standing behind the great and powerful Rouhani is the very serious head of the regime’s external operations unit, Qassem Suleimani (profiled by Dexter Filkins in this week’s New Yorker) whose violence in the physical realm against Americans and our allies is quite real and may already have convinced the White House that any military action against Iran’s nuclear program will be met with terror operations against Americans around the world, and even here at home.

As head of the Qods Force, Suleimani stands apart from the rest of this regime, a gang of philosopher-magicians dancing on the head of a pin and looking to push the others off. Indeed, that’s all Iran’s presidential elections are—a version of “Survivor,” where the last man that the Supreme Leader leaves standing becomes president. If the Arabs are too often content with a strongman, the Persians love their court intrigue, with one courtier smiling to another while yet another stabs him ever so gently, ever so cleverly in the back. If the Americans are easily gulled by the charade, hoping that maybe this president will prove to be the pragmatist, the moderate, the savior come to sign a deal, then that’s just a bonus—the game is played primarily in order to entertain an Iranian audience.

This is who Obama is chasing after, a mystical mannequin in long black robes, and, as Fouad Ajami writes, the American is “decisively outclassed. There is cunning aplenty in Persia, an eye for that exact moment when one’s rival has been trapped.” And indeed Obama has caught himself in his own pincers move. By announcing that his administration’s diplomatic efforts will focus on “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons,” as well as the peace process, Obama has made Rouhani a partner, with the ability to make an American president dependent on his cooperation look like a fool anytime he wishes, as he did yesterday. Obama effectively told America’s regional allies that he’s got new friends now, no matter how badly they treat him.

In making the peace process the White House’s other key diplomatic initiative, Obama signaled to Israel, as well as the Arabs, that in the end, the Iran issue isn’t that big a deal—or no more important than a peace process that everyone in the world except for John Kerry thinks is at the present moment absurd. Obama is sick and tired of the Middle East but he won’t take responsibility for his own wounded pride, so he hangs it on the American public. The fact that the Arabs always blame the United States, said Obama, has “a practical impact on the American peoples’ support for our involvement in the region, and allows leaders in the region—and the international community—to avoid addressing difficult problems.”

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