Obama’s Stupid Blame-Iran Game

President Obama always bows to Official Washington’s conventional wisdom no matter how wrongheaded it is and then either falls in line behind some reckless neocon policy prescription or turns away just before falling off some geopolitical cliff. His continued Iran-bashing is a case in point, says Gareth Porter at Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

If and when the Iran nuclear agreement gets through Congress, many people in Washington hope that President Barack Obama will articulate a more realistic strategy for the Middle East than what we have heard from his administration in the past. But Obama has evidently decided this is not the time to articulate anything about the region’s future that he does not see as helping to sell the agreement on Capitol Hill. The real question is whether there is a clear idea waiting to be made public when the timing is right.

If there was ever an appropriate moment for Obama to articulate an overarching post-agreement policy vision that integrated the Iran nuclear agreement into a broader strategy for dealing with a Middle East at war, it was his speech at American University on Aug. 5. The time and place for the speech were chosen in explicit acknowledgement of President John F. Kennedy’s speech at that same university 52 years earlier.

President Barack Obama stands with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the President's official arrival ceremony in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama stands with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the President’s official arrival ceremony in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In his speech, JFK offered a vision of a transformation of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union and the Cold War from one of confrontation to negotiations. But instead of using that occasion to explain how U.S. diplomacy might play a transformational role in the Middle East, Obama limited the speech to defending the Vienna agreement in the narrowest terms.

Three days later, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN, Obama did deal with broader regional problems, but his only firm argument was a response to the attacks on the Vienna agreement for allegedly enabling Iran to increase its assistance to regional allies. He conceded that Iran would be able to continue those activities and even “fund some additional activities” as the nuclear agreement went into operation. But he argued that, if Iran were able to get a nuclear weapon, it would be “emboldened to engage in more of the activities that have been discussed.”

Thus Obama chose not to point out that Iran’s role in the region since 2013 has not been to support terrorism but to support the primary forces fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Nor did he correct the falsehood that it was Iran rather that has destabilized Yemen rather than Saudi Arabia’s reckless air war and support for sectarian forces there. Instead Obama relied on the argument that the situation of alleged Iranian destabilization would be worse if the agreement were defeated.

Zakaria invited him to correct the false picture being portrayed by critics of the Vienna agreement, asking whether “overlapping interests” between Iran and the United States on ISIS and Afghanistan “might allow for a more productive and constructive relation between the United States and Iran.”

But Obama was clearly reluctant to acknowledge that any real change was in store regarding future relations with Iran. “I think it is conceivable,” he replied, “but the premise of this deal is not that Iran warms toward the United States or that we are engaging in any kind of strategic reassessment of the relationship.”

Then, as if expressing an afterthought, he added a statement that was so indirect that it is difficult to penetrate: “Is there the possibility that having begun conversations around this narrow issue that you start getting some broader discussions about Syria, for example, and the ability of all the parties involved to try to arrive at a political transition that keeps the country intact and does not further fuel the growth of ISIL and other terrorist organizations – I think that’s possible.”

Blaming Iran

In an interview with National Public Radio two days later, Obama suggested that things could improve if Iran changed its ways: “[I]t is possible that as a consequence of this engagement, that as a consequence of Iran being able to recognize that what’s happening in Syria for example is leading to extremism that threatens their own state and not just the United States; that some convergence of interests begins to lead to conversations between, for example, Saudi Arabia and Iran; that Iran starts making different decisions that are less offensive to its neighbors; that it tones down the rhetoric in terms of its virulent opposition to Israel. And, you know, that’s something that we should welcome.”

Then Obama addressed the rest of the region: “There is the possibility that if you look at what’s going on the Middle East right now, more and more states begin to recognize that their enemy is chaos and ISIL and disaffected young people, Shia and Sunni, who are attracted to, you know, ideologies that are in opposition to every regime here. And and that’s something that I think we should be willing to promote if in fact they can get there.”

Both of those interviews were marked by a deliberate avoidance of any explicit admission that the United States might actually want to make any political-diplomatic moves toward cooperation with Iran. As presented by Obama, the most his administration would do is to lecture Iran on what it needed to do to correct its misbehavior. Possible positive developments were cast in terms of actions that others might take, and subsequent U.S. support for such actions.

Resisting AIPAC Pressure

Of course, that characterization of U.S. policy cannot be taken entirely at face value. His answers represent what he and his advisers regard as the most likely to fend off the assault on the Vienna agreement by an unprecedented lobbying campaign run by AIPAC and its allies.

An optimistic reading of his remarks might interpret them as veiled allusions to diplomatic aims that Obama intends to pursue: cooperation with Iran as well as Russia on a Syrian settlement, efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together and to get them to reach an accommodation. But such an interpretation would exaggerate the readiness of the Obama administration to break with the political consensus in Washington about Iran and the region.

There are obviously some differences between the administration and its pro-Israel and Saudi critics regarding Iran’s regional role. Otherwise Obama would not even acknowledge the possibility of discussions with Iran in the future. But it would be a mistake to ignore the degree to which Obama’s weakness in the face of the lobby’s arguments about the regional dimension of the agreement reflects its acceptance of the basic premises of those arguments just as it has accepted the lobby’s premise that Iran has been trying obtain nuclear weapons.

Obama and senior administration officials have repeated many times in the past two years the mantra that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and that its regional role is destabilizing. Key U.S. national security institutions also continue to reinforce that hoary political line on Iran as well.

The well-worn habits of mind of senior officials and institutional interest will certainly continue to impose severe limits on the administration’s diplomatic flexibility with regard to both Iran and Saudi Arabia through the end of the Obama administration.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article first appeared at Middle East Eye.]

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18 comments for “Obama’s Stupid Blame-Iran Game

  1. elmerfudzie
    August 16, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    What irks me about the whole Iran-nuclear power dilemma is this; China has an up and running Thorium 232 commercial nuclear power plant, India has all the Thorium 232 Iran could ever need, whilst, both China and India need Iranian oil. Why didn’t the Iranian leadership take steps to retrofit Bushehr from a Uranium/Plutonium cycle plant into the far more innocuous Thorium one? Again I say, I’ve said it often enough, Thorium 232 has no bomb making potential, is far easier to shield the core from it’s surroundings and less vulnerable to a terror threat. The waste is less expensive to process and safer to bury. All the technical know how to build a Thorium plant could have been negotiated between the Chinese and the Iranians. Certainly a modus vivendi could have been arranged (and a long time ago) between Israel, the House of Saud and Iran to permit this exchange-without any talk of threats or regional War. Are the GCC and Occident powers really interested in unbiased diplomacy or not?

  2. F. G. Sanford
    August 15, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    Carolyn, just curious. Did you have to give Carlo the “full Monty”, or did you mean Monte Carlo? And, can an ugly old guy without a web cam make that much money too?

  3. Abe
    August 14, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Not only do Obama and the others not question Israel’s “right” to be a nuclear state; they don’t even broach the obvious point that, as long as it is, the world might actually be safer if there were an Iranian deterrent restraining Israeli aggression towards neighboring states and occupied Palestine.

    This is why, even if AIPAC loses this battle, as it probably will, it will by no means have lost the war – at least not right away.

    Still, whatever happens as the Iran deal is reviewed, Israel will not emerge unscathed. The Israel lobby will be further on its way to becoming damaged goods.

    For partisans of the Zionist cause, this is bad news. But, to the extent that they are not blinded by Zionist fervor, even they should realize that this is not why the lobby’s shenanigans are bad for the Jews.

    The reason for that is that the lobbies of the self-declared “nation state of the Jewish people,” especially the one in the United States, are working hard to reintroduce classical anti-Semitism.

    This may not be their express intention. Indeed, it is likely that they are more stupid and reckless than diabolical. Nevertheless, objectively (as Marxists would say), reviving anti-Semitism is what they are trying to do.

    Many, probably most, American Jews give Israel little thought; but, except for the Israel-firsters, those who do, along with their counterparts around the world, generally understand what a dangerous game this is.

    Some Israeli Jews do too. […]

    There are familiar anti-Semitic stereotypes. The government of Israel – on its own and through its lobbies — has lately been fleshing them out.

    Chief among them is the socially unproductive money man who feeds off the honest labor of others, and who, through guile and cunning, causes the mighty of the earth to do his bidding and advance his aims.

    Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is as plain an example as anyone could imagine; a character straight out of central casting. Were Hollywood to make a movie based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he would be a shoe-in for the lead part. He has every leading Republican wrapped around his little finger.

    Then there are the underlings — Schumer and others like him – who do Israel’s bidding because their first loyalty is to the Zionist cause.

    AIPAC: Headed for Defeat (But That’s Not Why It’s Bad for the Jews)
    By Andrew Levine
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/14/aipac-headed-for-defeat-but-thats-not-why-its-bad-for-the-jews/

  4. Abe
    August 14, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    58 members of Congress will be in Israel in the coming days on a tour sponsored by the America Israel Education Foundation, an arm of the pro-Israel lobbying organization, AIPAC. Though AIPAC claims the trip is an annual ritual with no connection to the increasingly rancorous debate over the Iran nuclear deal, the trip offers Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a key opportunity for face-to-face fear mongering with some of the lawmakers who control the deal’s fate.

    After the Republican delegation visits Israel, 22 Democrats — including several who represent key swing votes on the deal — will be shepherded through the AIPAC tour by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, an Israel lobby favorite. The freshmen legislators will visit all the requisite destinations, from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has featured exhibits accusing Palestinians of a central role in the Jewish genocide in Europe, to the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who likes to present influential visitors with a special ring he purchased in a local pawn shop that supposedly legitimizes Israeli control over Jerusalem.

    […] allow congressional newcomers to the situation to expand their understanding of Israel beyond the strict limitations imposed by their AIPAC-endorsed guides. They should engage with the reality of Israel, not only within the illusory realm of “Israel proper,” but in the Jews-only settlements and Palestinian ghettoes that make up the Occupied Territories. And they should meet the people who elected Netanyahu and the most right-wing governing coalition in Israel’s history.

    So here is a list of a few places every member of Congress — and every American — should consider visiting on a trip to the Holy Land.

    1. Dimona

    Israel is the only country in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons. Yet according to its policy of nuclear ambiguity, which the US government has faithfully honored, the self-proclaimed Jewish state refuses to acknowledge its arsenal and will not allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials to inspect it. Unlike Iran, Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Profileration Agreement. Away from the scrutiny of international inspectors, Israel has produced scores of nuclear warheads along with a Jericho missile delivery system that puts much of Europe within striking range. According to journalist Seymour Hersh, Israel received an emergency package of military aid from the US during the 1973 war through “nuclear blackmail,” or threatening to blanket the Middle East in a hail of nuclear destruction if Washington failed to accede to its demands.

    For those lawmakers who aren’t too hung over from the drunken skinny dipping outings that AIPAC has sponsored at the Sea of Galilee, a detour to Dimona is a must. In this economically depressed southern Israeli city, members of Congress will find the location of the nuclear weapons plant that the Israeli government officially refers to as a “textile factory.”

    But a word of caution: When former Israeli member of Knesset Issam Makhoul publicly condemned his country’s nuclear program, he was targeted with a sophisticated car bomb. Mordechai Vanunu has not yet escaped the nightmare that began when he blew the whistle on Dimona. After being kidnapped by Mossad agents in the UK, Vanunu spent 12 years in tortuous solitary confinement in an Israeli prison. He is still prevented from traveling outside the country and barred from speaking to the press.

    10 Places AIPAC Would Never Show Members of Congress on Their Upcoming Propaganda Trip
    By Max Blumenthal
    http://www.alternet.org/world/10-places-aipac-would-never-show-members-congress-their-upcoming-propaganda-trip

  5. Bruce
    August 14, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    We Eternal Flamers (aka “baby” ‘boomers’, if you insist) KNEW Jack Kennedy. Zer0bama is NO black Kennedy!

    • dahoit
      August 20, 2015 at 11:57 am

      He’s a black Gumby.

  6. S. Keeling
    August 14, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    The real “elephant in the room” is the CIA’s toppling of the Mossadegh regime and the installation of the Shah, gullibly at the behest of the British who were insensed that Iran wanted fair payment for the oil it was pumping out of Iran’s oilfields. Iran was always the victim in the subsequent mess, yet Iran gets the blame.

    I imagine we’ll (they’ll) hear the truth come out in a few centuries which should be very interesting, opening up a real dialogue regarding the CIA’s “regime change” antics all over the world since WWII. I think about this every time I hear the media chastise yet another Japanese politician for not owning up to causing the war in the Pacific.

    I take heart in the fact that one of these days, all of these a**holes will be dead!

    • Bruce
      August 14, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      They’re training replacement A$$ $OUL$ and their DingleBarrys ALL The time! :
      http://www.politico.com/politico44/2012/01/obama-hosts-george-hw-and-jeb-bush-at-white-house-112638.html

    • Mark
      August 14, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      Actually no! It was Zionist terrorism in 1947-48 that was “legitimized” when the West recognized Israel’s 1948 self-declared statehood after massacring and expelling 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from lands they lived on for well over a millennium.

      That, and the West’s — mostly US — continuing support for Israel’s war crimes over the ensuing decades was the main reason the US was attacked on 9/11.

      With 9/11as the excuse, Israel then launched it’s 1990’s PNAC plan to have its US proxy attack 2003 Iraq with the intention to take out Al-Assad from Syria and cause the disintegration of Iran as well — with the latter two not yet completed.

      Search ((( PNAC, New Strategy for Securing the Realm ))) and ((( Yinon Plan )))

      If not familiar, search ((( The.New Pentagon Papers ))) to see (in part) how deeply Israel had penetrated our national defense and security agencies to provide false information and propagandize the American public, manipulating them into backing Israel’s pre-planned war crimes.

    • dahoit
      August 20, 2015 at 11:57 am

      The elephant in the room is Zion.Has any nation in the history of the world,ancient and modern,ever been at the mercy of foreign influence as we are now,with representatives of American voters dissing America for Israel?
      The blowback is forming,and it will not be pretty.

  7. Mike K.
    August 14, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Folks, the elephant in the room continues to be the wildly disproportionate power of American {and British, and French…} Jews.

    Somewhere along the line, someone convinced journalists that it is “hate” to discuss the disproportionate power of a highly ethnocentric group so, in truth, loyal to a foreign state more American Jews join the IDF than US Army.

    Not talking about it over and over isn’t helping.

    We need to talk about Jewish power and privilege ‘qua’ the power of Jews as a group comprising only 2.5% of the population – but look at the Fed, Treasury, Commerce, State, etc etc.

    To pretend this has nothing to do with American groveling before all things Israel is absurd!!!

    It is not *hate* to discuss disproportionate power of a group loyal, in no small part, to a tiny foreign state.

  8. Mike K
    August 14, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    ….

    The elephant in the room continues to be the wildly disproportionate power of American {and British, and French…} Jews.

    Somewhere along the line, someone convinced journalists that it is “hate” to discuss the disproportionate power of a highly ethnocentric group so, in truth, loyal to a foreign state more American Jews join the IDF than US Army.

    Not talking about it over and over isn’t helping.

    We need to talk about Jewish power and privilege ‘qua’ the power of Jews as a group comprising only 2.5% of the population – but look at the Fed, Treasury, Commerce, State, etc etc.

    To pretend this has nothing to do with American groveling before all things Israel is absurd.

  9. Abe
    August 14, 2015 at 11:49 am

    People would have to be living under a rock not to be aware Netanyahu and American rightwing Likud backers don’t like this deal. After years and years of the worst kind of incendiary fear mongering over Iran, a total repetition of what we endured, as a country, over Iraq, Netanyahu and the Israel lobby are now ferociously rejecting what I and by the way President Obama too see as the only alternative to another war. Well, they placed themselves in the crosshairs of an argument. We didn’t drag them there. Lots of American people don’t like and resent the access Israel has to influence our foreign policy; I do. And heaven forbid we get a long-needed rapprochement with Iran after decades– which could reduce Israel’s power in the region. Many Americans want that, the lobby doesn’t.

    None of this is a secret, nor should it be. So don’t expect to shut up anyone telling the truth about it. Calling it Jew-baiting […] is a form of blackmail.

    […]

    Accusing Senator Schumer of loyalty to Israel is beyond the pale? This is a senator who has bragged again and again that his name in Hebrew, shomer, means that he is the guardian of the Jewish state. This is the senator who has shouted “Am Yisrael Chai” — the people of Israel live! — at gatherings of the leading Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. So he can talk about his motivation on Middle East policy, but we’re not allowed to? Sorry, this has nothing to do with bigotry, it’s a case of censorship by playing the victim card as a means to intimidate and silence us.

    We can all decide on our own what constitutes racism and bigotry, we don’t need overseers from Tablet magazine isolating words we’re not allowed to use because of ‘ancient tropes.’ If you don’t want people accusing politicians of selling their votes to lobbies, well then stop the lobbies from giving our politicians money, stop them from flooding the network airwaves with scary ads about Iran. Stop a foreign minister from making “marionettes” out of our politicians

    It’s not bigoted to call out the Israel lobby over Iran Deal
    By Annie Robbins
    http://mondoweiss.net/2015/08/semitic-israel-lobby

  10. Abe
    August 14, 2015 at 11:42 am

    In the first half of 2015, AIPAC spent approximately $1.7 million lobbying Congress to oppose the deal. Yet this is mere chump change compared to what it has since funneled into advertisements and lobbying.

    AIPAC created a new tax-exempt lobbying group in July called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran. The sole purpose of the organization is to oppose the Iran deal—which, in spite of the name of the group, will in fact prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (weapons the Iranian government denies ever even seeking in the first place, and for which there is not a shred of evidence) in return for an end to Western sanctions on the country.

    Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran is spending up to $40 million to place anti-Iran deal ads in 35 states, according to the Times, up from a previous estimate of $20 million. This figure may increase even more as the 60-day period in which Congress can review the deal draws to a close.

    AIPAC spending estimated $40 million to oppose Iran Deal
    By Ben Norton
    http://mondoweiss.net/2015/08/spending-estimated-million

  11. Joe Tedesky
    August 14, 2015 at 10:09 am

    “And that’s why this deal ultimately must be judged by what it achieves on the central goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This deal does exactly that. I say this as someone who has done more than any other President to strengthen Israel’s security. And I have made clear to the Israeli government that we are prepared to discuss how we can deepen that cooperation even further. Already we’ve held talks with Israel on concluding another 10-year plan for U.S. security assistance to Israel. We can enhance support for areas like missile defense, information sharing, interdiction — all to help meet Israel’s pressing security needs, and to provide a hedge against any additional activities that Iran may engage in as a consequence of sanctions relief.” ….. President Obsma’s Americsn University Speech
    …………………………………………………………………..
    There are many different points President Obama made within his American University speech. While he chastised the “mindset” which got America into the Iraq war, he offers Israel America’s backing, if Iran is to pursue a nuclear bomb program. I will admit that on one hand Obama seems to seek a peaceful solution, on the other side of that he is squarely making a pledge to deal with Iran by other means if necessary. Although, this maybe the only way a speech like this maybe given. Carrots and sticks, I guess. If I am to be completely cynical for a moment, I will tell you what I did hear with his speech. What I heard loud and clear was, that we will arm Israel to the hilt. Now, with a freshly armed Israel should this be our biggest fear of all. Would Israel finally be able to overcome their lack of air power to succeed with a first strike attack on Tehran? Add to this, would Israel by going it alone encourage America to join them in such an attack? Lastly, can the U.S. afford all this?

  12. Anonymous
    August 14, 2015 at 4:36 am

    Obama is too lazy to exert himself to define a policy.
    This lets the neo-cons run riot.

    • VoxPax
      August 14, 2015 at 5:11 am

      come again?

    • Mark
      August 14, 2015 at 8:41 am

      I don’t think “lazy” is the word for Obama.

      I believe he now sees reality concerning the neocon/Zionist strategy as having done nothing but foment conflict, and recognizes attacking Iran would be more risky than Iraq and the rest were thus far — I also believe he feels he’s done more than enough for the neocon/Zionist cause and will leave attacking Iran to someone else.

      If Obama did not agree with the Neocon/Zionist policies, Which he has carried forward’ from the very beginning of his Presidency, then he’s already proven to be a coward — though his spine does seem to be stiffening as of late.

      And if he had enough courage, and wanted to do the best thing for the USA, he would challenge the Neocon/Zionists directly by declaring that the US carrying out Israel’s pre-planned wars using 9/11 as an excuse has been the major problem in the M-E, and A major problem for the US, since 9/11.

      Where is the courage of those in the “US” Senate and Congress to stand up and back their president by doing what’s best for the USA by not involving ourselves in more of Israel’s illegal wars of choice?

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