Over the past few months, I have been cranking an awful lot of my thought and wordsmithing into the insatiable maw of Mark Zuckerberg. A vigorous discussion—okay, knock-down-drag-out brawl—with my friends whose one-size-fits-all impulsive response to all prospective actions by institutions they don’t like (e.g., military, intelligence, or corporate institutions) is NOOOOOOO simply couldn’t get their minds around why I thought putting some consequences alongside use of chemical weapons on civilians was a good idea.
All of that content went up onto Facebook, instead of here. Which means that’s where whatever eyeballs happened to point at it helped to line Zuckie’s pockets instead of giving me a little bump in Green Dragon visits.
My fault–I decided to do it that way, and as a lot of the conversation involved very long comment threads with much meandering into sinkholes, I’m not going to try to reconstruct it over here. It’s all old news now.
Anyway, the end result is that what could—and should—have been a set of pieces about why enforcing international WMD laws is important, why leverage is a necessary precursor to diplomacy, and why it was therefore completely against the cause of peace or human rights to screech that Obama should stand down and not threaten to strike Syria’s Assad for his actions…are not here.
As it happens, *cough cough*, I was right. Gunboat diplomacy worked for Teddy Roosevelt, and it has now worked for Barack Obama: Vladimir Putin—the world’s poster child for Short Man Syndrome, turned up to 11—has blinked, and his puppy Assad is now going to have his chemical weapons taken away under international UN supervision.
Leaving the option for US use of force if he doesn’t on the table, in case you doubt who won the face-off.
In recent days, the President and the new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, have begun stating to the press that each of them wishes/hopes there is a way for the US and Iran to begin to talk about the issues that divide them—in particular, the Iranian nuclear program. A few days ago, Barack Obama had a conversation with the Iranian President: the first time that has happened since 1979.
I don’t think this is a separate development from Russia’s cave on Syria.
I think there is an absolute connection between POTUS’ having just stared down Vladimir Putin, and Iran’s new interest in diplomatic engagement.
Of course, former Iranian President Ahmoudinejad had to be replaced first. But after 30 years, it would have been the status quo for Iran to maintain radio silence.
Here’s my read:
Obama has pretty consistently been up for reconsidering the nature of US postures v/v problematic states (including Israel, Libya, Egypt, and Syria). He has led the US not to follow the established script on these countries, which has had the effect of toppling Mubarak (previously propped up) and Qaddafi (previously left alone), shaking up Israeli politics (formerly no meaningful pressure on human rights & Palestine), and preventing Russia from coming to Syria’s aid by recognizing the opposition.
If I’m Iran, I think: Well, okay, there’s only one superpower in the neighborhood.
And I also think: opportunity. When is the next time I’m going to get a US President who doesn’t reflexively follow the dictates of AIPAC? Those sanctions hurt–a LOT–and if we didn’t have them, we could have a pretty sweet economy here. So screw the bluster and the usual line: I’m gonna condemn the Holocaust in the strongest possible terms, signal willingness to deal on the nuclear program, and pick up the phone.
Remarkable things are happening in the Middle East right now. Ugly and brutal as the conflict areas may seem, many of the indicators are actually positive. The era of despotism-as-norm has stumbled, certainly, if not ended completely. Yes, it was at the hands of the military, and it’s a mess, but the toppling of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt in the name of trying to have a pluralistic state is a defiance of the radical Islamist idea of establishing theocracies in the wake of military dictators. Sizeable democratic oppositions exist in Iraq, in Egypt, in Libya and in Syria. All are a mess, of course. But the only way they could be unmessed right now would be to have terrifying torture generals like Mubarak and Assad and Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi oppressing them.
The idea of the public franchise has entered the marketplace in the Arab world in a way it had not before. The President deserves some credit for encouraging this. Yes, it faces terrible opposition from the angry, bitter fanatics who want to pull the world back to the 16th century. But it is not going meekly into a hole and accepting its fate. Not even in Iran, which is one reason this unfreezing is now possible.
The sad thing to me is that because the administration has chosen deliberate, mostly undramatic, strategic chess moves instead of either a) doing nothing about use of chemical weapons on civilians to satisfy peaceniks, or b) bombing the shit out of everything in sight to please John McCain and the neocons, he gets no credit for this. Everybody is mad because he threaded the needle instead of trying to drive the thread through the eye with their favorite hammer.
Pundits are bizarrely trying to cobble recent events into some cohesive “Obama Doctrine”, and completely missing the point, which is that a doctrine is a one-size-fits-all policy that may look great in the news, but actually leads you into nothing but trouble in reality. The world is complex. If there is an “Obama Doctrine”, it is: don’t have a doctrine. Understand the context, look at the board, and make the best moves to advance your goals and values. Don’t get caught in the trap of ideology. Instead, solve problems.
(It bears pointing out that exactly the same approach brought us health care reform. If he’d had a “single payer doctrine”, no bill would have passed and nothing at all would have changed for at least a decade.)
Given the tinderbox that is the Middle East, this is not to say everything is going to be ducky. There is no possible approach which would lead to that in the short term.
But this has been played out about as well as I can imagine it being played, not only for US interests, but for the values of peace, democracy and human rights. Well done, Mr. President.
At publication, the Dragon was DIGGIN’ IT