Our Friday Edition | Not in My Backyard! (Part 3)
By Abraham A. van Kempen with Guest Columnist Robin Wright
What is the Side of the Story that is Not Yet Decisive?
The Hague, 22 July 2022 | If you know of any story that is decisive, tell the world. We're still searching.
Excerpted from Robin Wright’s article below:
“At his press conference with Biden, Lapid [Yair Lapid, Prime Minister of Israel] warned,
‘Words will not stop them.
Diplomacy will not stop them.
The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force.’
‘Shaking the hand of a murderer is bad,’ Riedel told me, ‘going to war with Iran is insanity.’ “[Bruce Riedel, a former CIA, Pentagon, and National Security Council staffer, e-mailed Robin Wright and said, ‘We are committed to war with Iran.’]
21 July 2022
Source: The New Yorker
By Robin Wright
Published 16 July 2022
The President rallied Israel, and key Arab nations as diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program falters.
On the final stop of his diplomatic tour in Jeddah, Biden held talks with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.Photograph by Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Royal Court / Reuters
When Joe Biden took office eighteen months ago, he intended to extricate the United States from two decades of messy wars, even if it meant abruptly abandoning allies and leaving thousands of Gold Star families with nothing to show for their losses. But this week, on his first Presidential trip to the Middle East, the President declared that America was willing to use its military might again—this time, against Iran. He also laid the groundwork for a coalition of long-standing rivals—including Israel and key Arab nations—to help. He drew new battle lines.
In Israel on Thursday, Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed the Jerusalem Declaration, which commits each country to “use all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Biden vowed to work with Israel and “other partners” to confront the Islamic republic’s aggression and counter the “destabilizing activities” of its regional network of proxies. “I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way,” Biden said.
Yet fifteen months of indirect talks with Iran to revive the nuclear deal that was brokered, in 2015, by the world’s six major powers have deadlocked. (President Donald Trump abandoned it, in 2018.) And new flash points have recently emerged. Before the trip, Biden’s national-security adviser, Jake Sullivan, charged that Iran was set to provide hundreds of drones to Russia—and train Russian forces to use them—for the war in Ukraine, at a time when Washington is giving Kyiv billions in arms and aid. (Vladimir Putin is due to visit Iran on Tuesday, only his second known trip outside Russia since he invaded Ukraine in February.) On Friday, Tehran unveiled armed drones on its warships in the Persian Gulf, where the US’s Fifth Fleet is based. Twenty percent of the global oil supply passes through the Gulf. Iranian media reported that the drone deployment was a “welcome to Biden.”
On Israeli television, Biden rejected Tehran’s demand for the US to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of terrorist groups, one of the main outstanding issues in the nuclear talks. Trump had put the Revolutionary Guard on the list, an act the US has never taken toward another country’s armed forces. His designation was meaningless in practical terms—the Revolutionary Guard and many of its leaders were already heavily sanctioned for missile proliferation, supporting terrorism, and human rights abuses. None of those sanctions will be lifted if the deal is revived. But delisting the IRGC now is politically untenable in Washington. Biden was also pressed on whether he would use military force against Iran. “Yes, as a last resort,” he replied. Iran is “closer to a nuclear weapon now” than ever, he noted. The United Nations estimates that Iran may be just days away from enriching enough uranium to fuel a bomb, although other time-consuming steps are required to build a weapon and marry it to a delivery system. “Time has run out” for reviving the nuclear deal, a senior Israeli official said this week. At his press conference with Biden, Lapid warned, “Words will not stop them. Diplomacy will not stop them. The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force.”
The long-simmering confrontation between Washington and Tehran, dating back to the seizure of the US Embassy and dozens of American hostages in 1979, has evolved again into a tangible crisis. Shortly after the Jerusalem Declaration was released, Bruce Riedel, a former CIA, Pentagon, and National Security Council staffer, e-mailed me, “We are committed to war with Iran.”
Iran lashed back quickly. “The great nation of Iran will not accept any insecurity or crisis in the region,” President Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line critic of US policy, said, on Thursday. “Washington and its allies should know that any mistake will be met by a harsh and regrettable response from Iran.” In a tweet, the Foreign Ministry warned that the Middle East would not experience “peace, stability and calm” as long as Israel remained an American President’s first stop and its security America’s top priority.
Biden’s trip has taken US policy and the Middle East in a “much more dangerous direction,” Riedel told me later. Both are now on a “slippery slope.” A war with Iran would be “three or four times bigger and more deadly than a war with Iraq,” he warned. “It will make everything else we've done in the Middle East look like a kindergarten party.”
The four-day trip has highlighted Biden’s policy failures in the Middle East, especially after his triumphant European tour last month, to expand NATO and mobilize the West against Putin. The United States, long considered the most viable broker of peace in the Middle East, made little progress resetting relations with the Palestinians, which tanked under Trump. “I do believe that at this moment when Israel is improving relations with its neighbors throughout the region, we can harness that same momentum to reinvigorate the peace process between the Palestinian people and the Israelis,” Biden said, at a meeting in Bethlehem with President Mahmoud Abbas, on Friday. However, there was little movement on the process or substance of peace.
Biden would not even take concrete steps to reopen the US consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, which was closed by Trump in 2019, or the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington. The divide was sufficiently deep that Biden and Abbas could not issue a joint statement. The peace process is virtually dead. He did promise a hundred million dollars in aid for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem, subject to congressional approval. A nurse in the pediatric intensive-care unit of one of the hospitals interrupted Biden’s aid announcement. “Thank you for your support, but we need more justice, more dignity,” she said.
On his final stop in Jeddah, Biden held talks with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The CIA has concluded that MBS, as he’s popularly known, authorized the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, and columnist for the Washington Post, in 2018. Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get documents to legalize his impending marriage. “Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered—and, I believe, on the orders of the crown prince,” Biden declared, at a Presidential debate, during the 2020 campaign. He called Saudi Arabia’s current government a “pariah” with “little” redeeming value. He vowed to make the Saudis “pay the price.” Khashoggi’s body has still not been recovered.
In an open letter to Biden, published in the Post, Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, implored him to cancel the visit. She had waited for Khashoggi outside the consulate as he was suffocated, and his body was sawed into pieces. “The details of the suffering he endured have haunted me,” she wrote. She was horrified that Khashoggi’s killers “roamed free” as the US funneled billions of dollars in military equipment to the Saudi government. The trip “represents not just an unprecedented capitulation to MBS’s reckless, unaccountable rule but an unprecedented doubling down on support for the autocrats of the region, gifting them with a security agreement that no US Administration has ever committed to in the past,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of dawn, a pro-democracy group founded by Khashoggi, told me. (On Friday, Biden said he confronted MBS about the killing.)
Biden’s motivation for the trip was partly to lobby oil-rich countries to alleviate the global energy crisis and bring down prices. In Jeddah, the President met with leaders of the six Gulf sheikhdoms and Iraq, which pump millions of barrels of oil daily, plus Jordan and Egypt. In reality, even these mega-producers may not be able to do much. “No gusher is likely to follow because there does not appear to be a large amount of extra oil in Saudi Arabia (or in the United Arab Emirates) that can be produced on short notice,” Daniel Yergin, an energy specialist and author of “The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations,” wrote this week. “Meanwhile, many other oil-exporting countries cannot even return to their previous production levels, owing to a lack of investment and maintenance since the pandemic.” Americans and Europeans shouldn’t expect a significant price change or supply any time soon.
Biden also sought to deepen budding ties between Israel and the Arab world, which made significant headway under the Trump Administration when the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan established diplomatic relations with Israel. Biden won only minor concessions. The Saudis agreed to allow all international carriers flying to and from Israel to use their airspace. (Air Force One set the example by flying directly from Jerusalem to Jeddah on Friday.) The gap is still deep between a predominantly Jewish democracy and an autocratic monarchy that calls itself the guardian of two of Islam’s holiest sites. And, to some critics, the links have few benefits. “A new alliance between a Sunni tyrant and Israel is going to increase conflict and encourage reckless behavior while only increasing Iran’s belief that nuclear weapons are its only security against this new alliance,” Whitson told me.
Biden’s trip has solidified the shifting sands in the Middle East. For more than a half-century, the region was singularly defined by the Arab-Israeli dispute. The goals, the alliances, the flash points, and the battle lines have all changed. Foreign policy inevitably evolves. Events on the ground often overtake diplomacy. But Biden’s actions in the region may also have unwanted consequences. “Shaking the hand of a murderer is bad,” Riedel told me, “but going to war with Iran is insanity.”
Robin Wright, a contributing writer and columnist has written for The New Yorker since 1988. She is the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World.”
Editor’s Note | To repeat how I ended last week’s edition: “The two most powerful men in the world, Putin and Biden, are doing their photo ops in the Middle East. Why are they there? Balance of power!”
Putin will likely commit Russia’s nuclear arsenal to protect Iran, similar to how NATO covers Europe against Russia.
Biden will, of course, reinforce America’s unbreakable bond with Israel and repeat his unshakable belief, “were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.” I doubt Biden can convince the Arabs that America will always be their friend.So, the entire Middle East is up for grabs.
But first, they will all need to break bread with Iran. That might be, in the short term, a bridge too far. But in geopolitics, the adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” still prevails.
Welcome to the New World Order. Death Star 1, The EU-US Axis, or NATO versus Death Star 2, a yet-to-be-named ‘Alliance of Outcasts from the World Community’ seeking autonomy and self-determination from the ‘Free World.’ Just like NATO, this already-forming Alliance has armed drones and nuclear arsenals. Potentially, if not fearfully, the Alliance could spread its wings worldwide, unlike NATO, which only points its atomic bombs at the Russian people from the thirty NATO countries in Europe.
Haven’t our distinguished world leadership learned introductory physics:
Every action triggers a reaction.
What goes up must come down.
What comes around goes around.
Don’t worry about Armageddon. We’ll be playing tug of war (a contest in which two teams pull at opposite ends of a rope until one drags the other over a central line or in a ditch filled with water).
Peace is never absolute. It is a constant tug of war (often played by dummies). A rebooted balance of power might just guarantee absolute deterrence. It’s the perfect formula for peaceful coexistence. But what a recipe for disaster.
Why must the world reach a balance of power, not one that tilts more to any side? Who wants a nuclear crater in one’s backyard?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will sharpen the divide between democracies and autocracies and lead to more realpolitik strategic balancing. A key question is what kind of coordination emerges between democracies.
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