By Irina Tsukerman
By Irina Tsukerman
New York – The Obama doctrine of balancing interests in the Middle East, presumably Arab and Persian, Sunni and Shi’a, is not only failing on its face, but was never about achieving a balance to begin with.
As indicated elsewhere, Obama has talked about normalizing relations with Iran since running for office. As we further know now, Iran has made overtures with regards to what has become known as the “nuclear deal” in 2009. At no point has Iran indicated its willingness or interest in giving up its geopolitical ambitions of achieving regional dominance.
The secret, and later open, negotiations that took place did not take into account Iran’s meddling in and instigation of conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, as well as an attempted coup in Bahrain. Allowing the deal to proceed without taking the interests and concerns of any of the Arab allies of the US into consideration indicates that the administration was never concerned about balancing the interests of all parties against one another, but rather, in empowering Iran at the cost of weakening all the rest.
Months preceding and following the announcement of the negotiations showed the cooling in the relations between the administration and Saudi Arabia. Some tensions have been evident in the last few years; furthermore, the attempted coup in Bahrain, narrowly prevented did not meet much resistance or condemnation from the State Department. More recently, President Obama, visiting Riyadh, met with a very cool reception.
The courts have allowed the exposure of the Saudis to the 9/11 restitution claim, and just now, US blocked the delivery of cluster bombs to the royal family. Elsewhere in the Arab world, tensions continued, in part over the U.S. taking sides with Iran and Russia in Syria, and heavily critiquing Saudi Arabia, but not Iran, for involvement in the Yemen proxy war. In part on a more diplomatic level over a harder and selective line the US has started to pursue against some of its closest Arab allies, such as Morocco, in contrast to a toned down approach towards Iran.
During the past several years of the Obama Administration, there have been several attempts to the pass resolutions critical of Morocco’s alleged human rights violations in Western Sahara. Most recently, the U.S. proposed a punitive resolution that would penalize Morocco for the reduction in MINURSO staffing. The resolution was renegotiated in Morocco’s favor, but the country, the first to officially recognize the U.S. at its independence, and a staunch ally on many fronts ever since, was stunned with the unexpected and unbefitting acrimony in public.
Though some believe that the current U.S. hard line on Morocco’s position vis-à-vis resolution of the conflict in Western Sahara is in the hands of the National Security adviser Susan Rice, heavily influenced by corrupt and fraudulent human rights activists, such as Kerry Kennedy, if we look at the broader scope of the Administration’s activities with respect to its Arab allies, a presidential decree makes more sense. Rather than being a result of rogue activities by overeager human rights-obsessed clique within the Cabinet, the resolution, and general failure to stand up for Morocco with respect to its territorial integrity and resolution of the conflict indicates a part of a wider strategy.
The National Security Adviser has more of a focus on defensive and security related issues than human rights, which generally fall under the guise of the State Department. Secretary of State John Kerry may or may not have associated with Ms. Kennedy, but he was at the center of the nuclear deal, and thus, was one of the most interested parties in keeping Iran happy and making sure the deal would not fall through.
To wit, the Administration recently admitted that it stopped sanctioning Iranian human rights violators after the deal. The Administration has made it clear that human rights are of no concern except when they can be used to support its political moves. President Obama, visiting King Salman at the height of the Raif Badawi campaign, failed to mention the activist by name, much less press the monarch over the wider issue of human rights abuses inside the country. Thus, the U.S. distancing itself from the Saudis has been based on considerations of pivoting towards Iran, which given the upper hand Iran has held throughout the negotiation process, could have only gone one way – U.S. was forced to choose between the old allies and the new, and was not allowed to play nice with both equally.
Further evidence of similar sacrifice of human rights considerations at convenience, has been the faux red lines drawn over Syria. Once again, the administration has admitted that its policy of untruthful promises of humanitarian intervention were never intended to be carried out. Rather, the administration stalled to see what Iran’s position would be, and saw no reason to aggravate Tehran’s man in Damascus, nor had any intention of working with its Sunni Arab allies to resolve the conflict. In the meantime, it pursued secret contacts with Assad. One does not plan invasions or military strikes if one is engaged in secreted outreach efforts. Obama was perfectly willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives in Syria, so long as the negotiations with Iran proceeded smoothly.
The fear of aggravating the Khamenei regime, the real hand behind the nuclear deal, despite the apparent usage of the “moderate” Rouhani, was evident even in the State Department’s failure to release the mandatory human rights report on Iran which is normally issued on a regular basis. Senator Ted Cruz, in staunch opposition to the administration, battled until the report was finally released. Nevertheless, the issue of human rights was never addressed as part of the deal, and the observers were led to assume that this administration simply does not believe that human rights is a central issue in politics.
After all, it was Secretary Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, who, criticized China for promoting women’s rights. Yet, the administration’s position shifted with respect to Morocco. Without delay, it issued a highly damaging and disingenuous human rights report on Morocco, in addition to proposing the aforementioned resolution. After Ambassador Bush was summoned to Rabat for rebuke over the error-ridden document, the State Department admitted to “making mistakes”.
Separately, the ill-timed and unnecessary public resolution and the incredible report would seem like the produce of overzealous, amateurish junior diplomats unfamiliar with the strong relationship between the two countries, and wishing to make a breakthrough in the early stages of their career, based more in ideology than in common sense. However, when viewed alongside the parallel treatment of a well known human rights offender such as Iran, as well as the actions of the administration towards other Arab states, these actions emerge as mere pieces of a bigger jigsaw.
But there is nothing puzzling about the result of the way pieces hold together. The administration is ready to do anything to please its new counterpart and insure the certainty of lucrative deals, alongside its European partners. Morocco is not oil rich, and offers fewer such opportunities at the current juncture. Moreover, Iran is aggressively expansionist in its global ambitions and the Sunni Arab states are not. The Administration chooses to appease the more aggressive, apparently stronger country which is using a stick and carrot approach to lure its new friends into doing its bidding.
Whatever the next Administration ends up deciding vis-à-vis Iran and the Arab world, Obama’s foreign policy will ensure a long process of withdrawing from some of the most damaging aspects of this unhealthy co-dependent relationship and towards restoring trust and ties with the old U.S. allies – if only for the sake of achieving a more balanced policy for the U.S. A foreign policy when one party openly manipulates the other cannot be called a balanced policy nor a balanced relationship. The U.S., in its eagerness to achieve normalization with the Islamic Republic, has negotiated itself into a corner where it has not yet achieved equal partnership with Iran and has already damaged its relationships with others. Let us hope that the next President will be wise enough to figure out a way out of this conundrum.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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