Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama's New Approach to Iran

Obama's New Approach to Iran
By Jerome Grossman

The Obama administration will take part directly in international negotiations with Iran aimed at ending Teheran's nuclear program. It is the latest move in a shift in U. S. policy toward Iran, a very positive step toward direct engagement with Iran that President Obama promised during his campaign for president, a step that merits strong approval.

This expression of conciliation contrasts sharply with U.S. policy since 1979 and especially with the belligerence of the Bush administration, a belligerence that has not inhibited Iran but has alienated U.S. allies in Europe. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "There is nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon". However, Iran has been suspected of developing the nuclear bomb for at least 20 years and has insisted that its centrifuges are enriching uranium only for peaceful use. As Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said at the United Nations in 2007: "The world does not need to prove to Iran that Iran is building an atomic bomb. Iran must persuade the world that it does not want the bomb." Yet, Mohammed El-Baradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency that monitors Iran's facilities, does not accuse Iran of bomb making capability.

The situation is complicated by widespread disapproval of Iranian human rights violations, its combination of religion and politics, as well as the insults directed at Israel, Jews and the West. The Iranians justify their conduct by reminding the world that the United States and its allies supported Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran, 1980-1988, that cost Iran a million lives. On April 3, the London Times printed an article headlined, "Only Obama can save Iran from Israeli bombs", citing the hawkish Netanyahu government in Israel. When Netanyahu travels to Washington next month, Iran is expected to dominate the conversations. Israel will not attack Iran without tacit approval from America - we hope. But time is running out. This could become Obama's biggest challenge as he assumes the mantle of keeper of the peace

President Obama deserves credit for putting the U.S. on the diplomatic track with Iran. He may have been influenced by the financial crisis in the U.S... As David Wessel put it in the Wall Street Journal on April 9, "For 15 years, the American people have been told they could have it all: costly wars, expansion of Medicare to cover drugs, health insurance for those without, more money for schools-and tax cuts for most of them. They deserve to be told that they can't have it all in the future."

Apparently, Obama has ruled out another costly war and will concentrate on the desperately needed domestic programs. Two unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are two too many. Obama will avoid the third war, gaining his objectives by diplomacy and soft power.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Barack Obama's War

Barack Obama's War
By Jerome Grossman

President Obama seems to be serious about a major effort to conquer Afghanistan even if it requires military operations in Pakistan without the permission of that ally. Must every U.S. president pursue a war to mark his time in office? Is it the required role of a superpower to fight all over the world? Iraq War number two was George W. Bush's war. Iraq number one belonged to his father. Bill Clinton's war was in Bosnia and Serbia. Lyndon Johnson's presidency will be marked forever by Vietnam. Was America in danger in any one of these wars?

Obama tells us that his war will be a long-term effort lasting at least five years, to root Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan although both are now hiding in the wilderness of Pakistan. 38,000 US troops are now in Afghanistan. 17,000 more are on the way, 4000 additional will arrive to train Afghan troops, and General David Petraeus has requested 10,000 more for next year. Some military experts think that 250,000 soldiers plus an equal number of civilian contractors will be necessary to pacify Afghanistan, a country 50% larger than Iraq, with forbidding mountainous terrain where guerillas hide.

U. S. forces are regularly attacking the Taliban and other insurgent Pakistanis with unmanned drone airplanes and secret Special Forces on the ground. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 1 that the air raids have stoked anger among ordinary Pakistanis many of whom are ambivalent about the U.S. fight against Islamic militants but see the strikes as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

The Pakistan Taliban chief goes much further, threatening an attack on the U.S. homeland in retaliation. “Soon we will launch an attack on Washington that will amaze everyone in the world." The CIA takes such threats seriously, the “blowback" effect carried out by a weak enemy incapable of matching strength on the battlefield but impelled to retaliate against the hated invader, the defiling infidel.

The U. S. military and diplomats are finding it difficult to obtain the necessary cooperation of the Pakistani government and military against the Taliban. Despite heavy subsidies from the U.S. government, Pakistan’s Islamic leaders worry more about India, their historic Hindu enemies against whom they have fought three wars since 1948. Right now the two nations are actually fighting another undeclared war in Kashmir. Crushing the Taliban would weaken Pakistani forces in the event of another Indian war, dividing the people of Pakistan even more than they are now.

With Al Qaeda dispersed and Bin Laden in hiding, it is difficult to see the American purpose in invading this land of poverty and banditry, a land that has not been subdued by previous superpowers. Does Obama believe that he cannot afford not to conquer Afghanistan, that the political fallout in America from a military withdrawal might endanger his presidency? I hope not. Afghanistan is unimportant, certainly not worth the lives and the money, not even from an imperial viewpoint. The U. S. is already the only superpower, no economic or military power can compete. The only danger is over extension, the unnecessary expenditure of people and resources, a characteristic of a wasteful empire.


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