For the past eight years, American foreign policy trumpeted the idea that Iran can be a key player in the region instead of the Gulf countries. The nuclear negotiations with Iran went from what was known as “the containment of Iran” to making concessions.
Although Obama repeatedly said he will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons, he took negotiations too far to the extent of making concessions as the Republicans and some of his Democrat comrades said.
Let’s look at the developments during the negotiations through the eyes of Vali Nasr, the advisor of Richard Holbrooke, who was the former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In his book The Dispensable Nation, Nasr wrote: “As one veteran diplomat told me, ‘all this chest-beating on Iran’ feels like Vietnam. There is only one line of argument; anyone suggesting something different is dismissed as a ‘wimp’. But Obama was not looking for war. In fact, he assumed that the Iran problem could be managed without resort to military action. When war talk rose in Washington in the spring of 2012, Obama pushed back challenging his Republican critics and making the case to the American people that the nation did not need war at this time.”
Nasr also said that this was a “bold and deft maneuver” the consequences of which were not calculated. He added that no one calculated its consequences because Obama’s personal assumptions, which favored solutions without having to resort to war, were perceived by others in a way that does not serve American interests.
The new political phase in the US may witness a revival in US-Saudi relations which are based on partnership in political vision and on bilateral interestsTurki Aldakhil
Nasr means that the US conveyed signs of weakness to the Iranians who took this as an opportunity as they knew force will not be used during Obama’s term. The Iranians thus hurried to seal the nuclear agreement since the military option was no longer on the table.
This raised question marks on the American military power even as the Iranians felt reassured. Since resorting to power was no longer an option, the Iranians went far in setting their conditions and detailing the agreement.
Saudi Arabia rightly felt worried when all this was happening. Quoting Holbrooke, Nasr said that when Obama visited Saudi Arabia in 2009, he expected him to hold talks with King Abdullah about the Palestinian cause. But an entire hour of their meeting was about Iranian threats and the late king advised Obama to do what he has to in order to deter Iran’s threats.
Of course, Obama’s intentions were clear and they were to approach Iran and not the Gulf countries. Obama saw Iran as the future while the Gulf as part of history.
The recent American elections is a reflection of the American anger over the perceived decline of its power, lethargy and leniency. Obama administration twice claimed to carry out military attacks – once against Iran and once against the Syrian regime – yet did not do anything. This was seen as the retreat of the American policy.
The first to sense the American retreat was Vladimir Putin who began to wander in the region without anyone monitoring him or competing against him. Nasr and his chief Holbrooke witnessed Obama’s weakness. He adds in his book: “Part of the problem feeding this regional wavering toward Iran is that its political ambition lacks economic legs.”
The new political phase in the US may witness a revival in US-Saudi relations which are based on partnership in political vision and on bilateral interests. Saudi Arabia looks at the world from a civilization perspective and believes in institutions and the legitimacy of state. On the other hand, Iran does not have anything in common with the US in terms of ideas, policies and values.
A friend told me that there is a deep secret that explains Obama’s surge toward Iran but it’s difficult to understand what it is. Prominent politicians, including Democrats, rubbed their eyes in disbelief when they saw how Obama rushed toward Iran. It was a mad surge toward a country that killed American people, attacked Washington’s embassies and supported Hezbollah.
Obama’s lean years are over and we are now witnessing a new chapter which we hope will be an alternative to the mistakes of the abysmal past.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 15, 2016.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.