- Many Americans, in fact, many people in the world, have
been under the impression that Obama's approach to foreign policy, especially
as it pertains to the Middle East, would be the antithesis of that of the
Bush administration. This dichotomy, however, is increasingly questionable
as the professed advocate of change looks more like a proponent of continuation.
- In fact, even during the Presidential campaign Obama
did not present a consistently peaceful foreign policy. For example, immediately
after becoming the de facto Democratic presidential nominee he addressed
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel
lobby. He not only pledged full support to Israel but also expressed strong
words against Iran promising to do everything in his power to prevent
Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and demanding an end to Iranian support
for Hezbollah and Hamas, the militant enemies of Israel, as the price for
ending American economic warfare.
- All of this can reasonably lead to the question: Will
Obama's Middle East policy differ significantly from that of the neoconservatives
who were the driving force for the war on Iraq and have fashioned a broader
Israelocentric Middle East war agenda? (The neoconservatives are the subject
of my recent book:The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War
in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel). Obama himself
does not appear to be completely aligned with the neocon position as was
John McCain. However, the President's close advisors, such as David Axelrod,
Rahm Emanuel, Dennis Ross, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, tend to be ardently
pro-Israel and hawkish, reflecting a neocon orientation, even though none
of these individuals are actually neocons.
- If there were one antiwar pledge Obama seemed bound to
honor, it was that of withdrawing troops from Iraq. However, since his
election, he has spoken of keeping a "residual force" in that
country, which now seems to be morphing into a long-term strategic relationship.
And Obama is increasing Americans forces by 50 percent in Afghanistan to
deal with a "deteriorating situation," which portends to get
the United States bogged down in an unwinnable war for years.
- But the gravest issue facing Obama is Iran, where any
American attack is apt to bring about a conflagration in the entire Gulf
region, seriously hampering the flow of oil. Israel has been targeting
Iran and stated that the world community the United States
must use any means to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. If the
requisite action is not taken, Israel threatens to take matters into its
own hands and strike at Iran.
- While Israel is rattling sabers, Obama says that he will
be looking for areas where the United States can "directly engage"
with Iran in face-to-face talks. Despite this pro-diplomacy rhetoric, however,
Obama is putting strong barriers in the way of any real diplomacy. He emphatically
states that Iran must cease funding "terrorist" groups (i.e.,
groups that militantly oppose Israel), and that a nuclear-armed Iran would
be totally unacceptable to the United States. While a U.S. intelligence
assessment released in December 2007 concluded that Iran had stopped trying
to develop a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has expressed with
absolute certainty that Iran is doing so. For example, CIA director Leon
E. Panetta testified to Congress, "There is no question that they
are seeking that [nuclear] capability."
- While making these demands, there is no indication of
any comparable quid pro quo that the United States intends to offer Iran.
There is no promise that the United States will stop its covert efforts
to undermine the Islamic government. There is no promise that the United
States could guarantee a non-nuclear Iran from an attack by Israel or its
other nuclear-armed neighbors, Pakistan and India. It is not apparent how
Iran is expected to feel secure when its neighbors maintain nuclear arsenals
with nary a complaint from the United States.
- Moreover, while the United States demands that Iran stop
supporting any group that is militarily resisting Israel, there is no comparable
promises that Israel will be required to obey international law and pull
out of its settlements on the West Bank and allow the Palestinians a viable
state, and that Israel will not invade Lebanon again.
- Will Obama opt for war with Iran? The Obama administration's
primary concern so far has been on the economy. However, when all the business/financial
bailouts and stimulus packages fail to achieve the economic rejuvenation
(the likely result which should be noticed long before the end of Obama's
first term), then will be time to move into the war business. In fact,
war, at least war expenditures, can be presented as the ultimate Keynesian
stimulus package as many Americans believe that World War II solved
the Great Depression.
- Obama, with the image of being a man of peace, would
have greater credibility with the American people in taking an aggressively
hardline policy toward Iran than either Bush II or McCain. This especially
would be the case after his pursuit of diplomacy, which has little chance
of success without a quid pro quo to Iran. Once diplomacy breaks down,
tougher measures would be portrayed as the only alternative in dealing
with an allegedly intransigent foe.
- And Obama would undoubtedly be pushed in this belligerent
direction by the neoconservatives outside his administration and the hawks
within, as well as by Congress under the sway of the Israel Lobby. Given
Obama's record so far, it seems highly unlikely that he would resist. American
hardline policies such as a naval blockade or the bombing of Iranian nuclear
facilities would inevitably spiral into a full-scale war.