"it seems less clear that the trade-off was worth it."
February 27, 2018 9:14 AM   Subscribe

 
So, wait, which is it? Is it the Iran deal, or is it kow-towing to the Saudis? Because those two are...not the same thing.
posted by Punkey at 9:26 AM on February 27 [16 favorites]


After reading the Keating piece, the only thing I feel more sure of is that making the right choice is a fantasy, and good outcomes are merely lucky. How can anyone make sense of the multitude of factions, forces, powers and aims, and hope to game it out towards a better world? By the end, it seems, Keating is simply struggling with the hangover of having tried.
posted by fatbird at 9:28 AM on February 27 [10 favorites]


The trade-off in the headline was, it seems, achieving the Iran deal by enabling the Saudis to prosecute their "anti-Iran" war in Yemen; secondarily, achieving the Iran deal prevented serious engagement in Syria because it was just too much at the same time.
posted by fatbird at 9:30 AM on February 27


That seems a stretch.
posted by Artw at 9:38 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Hey, let's apply this logic a little further back. If we had let the banks and the auto industries collapse under Bush Jr. - there would be no Republicans in power and there would be no Trump Presidency. 33% unemployment would have driven anyone and everyone away from the fuck you I've got mine attitude that we've allowed retirees and upper middle class tools to think they've avoided.

I can't get behind cherry picking which political and historical realities we want to question. This is the state we're in. Obama made the best decision for the country at the time and in good faith - just like Bush Jr. did. The reality is, if we'd had to actually experience 'pain' we wouldn't be numb to the pain that others have to deal with anyway.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:40 AM on February 27 [13 favorites]


Not to mention, 'serious engagement' in US foreign policy means more weapons and 'advisers'. So yeah, I don't think that would have helped with Syria.
posted by tavella at 9:41 AM on February 27 [5 favorites]


I seem to remember there was a vote at some point.
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on February 27


I may be wildly misunderstanding, but I still count it as a win that Obama was able to keep Iran from nuclear capability. Iran is indeed a major regional power and acting mostly contrary to US interests, but I don't see how the nuclear deal can be held at fault for that. Who knows where that would have gone. Iran and North Korea are known to be swapping technology and weapons around, for instance. Who knows if that alone could have ended worse for all of us.

This seems to be the argument that a perfect outcome was not reached, so no incremental wins should be sought. I really don't understand that line of thinking.
posted by bonehead at 9:55 AM on February 27 [10 favorites]


So it begins...
posted by infini at 9:56 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]


I may be wildly misunderstanding, but I still count it as a win that Obama was able to keep Iran from nuclear capability. Iran is indeed a major regional power and acting mostly contrary to US interests, but I don't see how the nuclear deal can be held at fault for that.

For a lot of conservative hacks writers the Iran deal is a mistake in that it's a step into bringing an Islamofascist regime back into the International Community.

But then again, when has being an Islamofascist country ever stopped the United States dealing with them? We have no morals or high ground in the International Community. We will go hand in glove with the bloodiest hands in the world if we can turn a deal favourable to the interests of the United States from it.
posted by Talez at 9:58 AM on February 27 [5 favorites]


The preferred conservative hack solution to preventing Iran from getting a nuke was to nuke it first.
posted by fatbird at 10:00 AM on February 27 [6 favorites]


There's a reason why those of us who are not native born citizens still shudder at the phrase "interests of the United States".
posted by Talez at 10:00 AM on February 27 [19 favorites]


From the last link:
The Yemen of today can in some ways be seen as the enduring failure of three fallen 20th-century empires. It was Britain that initially put Yemen on the West’s maps. The southern port city of Aden became a key supply point for British warships traveling to and from India, especially after the Suez Canal opened in 1869. The Brits, along with the Ottomans, also introduced the idea of partition to the area, drawing a north-south border line that still largely exists today.
Similar Western-European-19th-Century-Colonization-actions are responsible for a hell of a lot of other tensions throughout the Middle East. Everyone since then has been trying to cope as best they can with the fallout.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:06 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]


The trade-off in the headline was, it seems, achieving the Iran deal by enabling the Saudis to prosecute their "anti-Iran" war in Yemen; secondarily, achieving the Iran deal prevented serious engagement in Syria because it was just too much at the same time.

Overall, I don't think the idea that bad actors can use your actions as an excuse for their crimes is a compelling reason to avoid trying to do good things. Regimes like Saudi Arabia will find a reason to kill civilians and start brutal wars no matter what anyone else is doing. If it hadn't been the Iran deal that set Mohammed bin Salman off, it would be something else. I also cannot imagine anything that Obama could possibly have done in 2015 that would have made the Syrian Civil War any less of a disaster. Intervening decisively on the side of the anti-government forces would almost certainly mean more dead Syrians today and for the indefinite future.
posted by Copronymus at 10:07 AM on February 27 [5 favorites]


War with Iran might already be the only thing that will save Netanyahu, and Trump may find himself in a very similar position soon.

Gulf Wars I and II were merely hors d'oeuvres -- hope they didn't spoil your appetite, because the main course is on its way from the kitchen even as we speak.
posted by jamjam at 10:11 AM on February 27 [4 favorites]


Lee Smith, the author of the article in the second link, seems to be one of those guys who believes that everything Obama did in the Middle East--and especially the Iran deal--was based on some sort of crypto-anti-Semitism that insufficiently pro-Israel (and therefore stupid) Jewish Americans kept falling for. Keating, at least, is displaying some sort of introspection, even if I ultimately disagree with his conclusion. Smith, however, is just ranting and going off on conspiratorial tangents.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:17 AM on February 27 [8 favorites]


Iran is one of the two or so countries in the region that credibly pose an existential threat to Israel. Is Netanyahu really willing to risk his own country on his political future? I mean, I knew he was a scoundrel, but that seems a bit too far even for him.
posted by bonehead at 10:18 AM on February 27


It seems to me the the problem is not so much the deal with Iran as it is our willingness to deal with Saudi Arabia on their terms. They seem to exert an outsized influence on our policy for which we get very little in return. They aren't exactly a beacon of democratic ideals, either.
posted by TedW at 11:01 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Back in 2010, Netanyahu ordered the military to prepare for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, and the military chief of staff and the head of Mossad simply refused:

By Samuel Burke, CNN

A sensational story is rocking Israel this week – alleging that the Israeli military defied orders from its commander in chief, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Leading Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan is reporting that Netanyahu ordered his military to prepare for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities nearly two years ago. Dayan's story documents that both the army chief and the head of Mossad (Israeli intelligence) refused to comply with Netanyahu’s order.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Thursday, Dayan said the information came from officials who were in the room with Netanyahu when the conversations took place, during a meeting of Israeli ministers.

“It happened in the course of 2010 and all of a sudden, just when they are at the door, the chief of staff [of the Israel Defense Forces], then Gabi Ashkenazi, and the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, are given an order by the Prime Minister Netanyahu to step into a pre-attack alert and be ready to strike in Iran.”

Dayan told Amanpour that she believes this is the closest Israel has ever come to striking Iran, but the dramatic rift between the military and political establishments stopped it.

“You have on the one side Prime Minister Netanyahu with a deep conviction…. And on the other hand, you have the chief of staff and the head of Mossad who very courageously set off the alarms and say, ‘Guys, this is not the right thing to do now. And if we step into this pre-attack alert, this is noisy; this can lock us into war.’”

Also speaking with Amanpour on Thursday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, would neither confirm nor deny some parts of Dayan’s report. ...
Netanyahu has undoubtedly purged such dissidence from the upper ranks by now.
posted by jamjam at 11:31 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]


When is Netanyahu going on trial, anyway?
posted by Artw at 11:36 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]


The preferred conservative hack solution to preventing Iran from getting a nuke was to nuke it first.

Give it time. There's three more years to go, y'know.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:39 AM on February 27


I may be wildly misunderstanding, but I still count it as a win that Obama was able to keep Iran from nuclear capability.

I'm still not convinced Iran was actually seriously working on a nuclear capability, but at least Obama's deal was a first step in the direction of normalisation of US-Iran relations after the paranoia of the Bush years.

(If Iran was developing nuclear weapons, it was 100% on Bush and his targeting of the Axis of Evil. They saw what happened to Iraq and how North Korea was treated and took the obvious conclusion.)

We should interfered in Syria ignores that the US and allies have been interfering in Syria already and that it's going exactly as well as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya told us it would go, while thinking that Saudi Arabia played America to get its war in Yemen going is putting the cart before the horse. Without US consent, there wouldn't be this war.

And of course it's because Trump is desperate to sell nuclear reactors to SA that non-proliferation measures are being waived, not the other way around.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:55 AM on February 27 [4 favorites]


I feel like the Keating article is a template that I've seen many times about different places and conflicts. There is an inherent conflict in having a military superpower that is capable of global force projection and is at least paying lip service to humanitarian ideals, because the range of outcomes achievable through force projection often don't include good outcomes where all moral atrocities are prevented.

There is a powerful unwillingness to accept the possibility that past decisions killed a whole bunch of children but the alternative was worse, because the dead children are actual and the worse is hypothetical. We are stuck in endless re-litigation of alternate outcomes because the actual outcome is morally intolerable. Doesn't necessarily mean the decision was wrong.
posted by allegedly at 12:14 PM on February 27 [4 favorites]


So the argument is that because we cut a deal with Iran we were forced to intervene on the opposite side of their proxy conflict with Saudi Arabia to keep everyone happy? Is preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons not in Saudi interest? Is the issue that they would not actually mind so much if the U.S. or Israel was "forced" to bomb Iran? I don't know, this is an honest question.

And then there's the whole argument about Syria built on top of that, and I can't say Keating seems sincerely convinced that there was a good option in Syria.
posted by atoxyl at 12:22 PM on February 27


Is the issue that they would not actually mind so much if the U.S. or Israel was "forced" to bomb Iran?

Far from not minding, they're probably encouraging Israel to do it right now. Saudi and Israeli goals in the region are pretty strongly aligned right now, and they're very likely to be working together closely on projects related to their mutual antipathy to Iran. Sending a military force under the control of someone they can fully disavow is also a strategy that's worked a lot better for the Saudis than actually using their own military has, at least recently.
posted by Copronymus at 12:32 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


That's sort of what I'm getting at, via understatement. Saudi Arabia seems to be extracting a lot from the U.S. and allies no matter what. So what is it that really keeps us from saying "no" to them more often?
posted by atoxyl at 12:44 PM on February 27


Saudi Arabia seems to be extracting a lot from the U.S. and allies no matter what. So what is it that really keeps us from saying "no" to them more often?

*cough*

*cough cough*

*cough cough cough*

*just an uncontrollable hacking fit*
posted by joechip at 1:54 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


One aspect of Obama’s view of the Middle East was completely correct: The United States gains little, and probably makes things worse, by taking sides in sectarian grudge matches. Its engagement with Iran after decades of tension was an admirable attempt to take a more balanced approach to Mideast diplomacy, but its effect was to do the opposite. Elected in part on a promise to extract the U.S. from the conflicts of the region, Obama ended his term with America just as enmeshed in them as ever.

Obama's sensible attempts to avoid getting more involved in the region are all for naught because...we're still involved in the region? What could the Obama have done to make the Middle East better in the last 8 years? What could the Obama have done to make the Middle East worse in the last 8 years? There is considerable overlap in the potential answers to these two questions. I think Obama spent eight years trying to get the world to calm the hell down. Maybe it wasn't enough! But...it's not like teasing war with Iran or invading Syria or cutting off relations with Saudi would've helped.

My take is that the Iran Deal was Actually Bad in the way that Obamacare was Actually Bad -- AKA, it was an imperfect good, and if it looks bad in 2018 that is due to the active sabotage of the crazy grifters who now run our country.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:58 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]


"My take is that the Iran Deal was Actually Bad in the way that Obamacare was Actually Bad -- AKA, it was an imperfect good, and if it looks bad in 2018 that is due to the active sabotage of the crazy grifters who now run our country."

Not to be the boy who cried capitalism or anything, but my sense is that one big reason that both Obamacare and the Iran Deal have been flawed is that they were predicated on needing the cooperation of people who make a whole lot of money with things exactly as they are right now, in order to change the things that make them money.

Real actual healthcare reform in a country where a substantial portion of our GDP is spent on healthcare means a bunch of people losing their jobs. Real actual reform in Iran or Saudi Arabia or Syria depends on a lot of people losing their kingdoms, figuratively and literally.
posted by klangklangston at 4:49 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]


The sanctions against Iran were already falling apart because Iran is a primary producer of oil, and oil is relatively fungible. The companies that respected the sanctions kept lobbying other governments against them so that they'd at least be on a level playing field, and the only reason sanctions even held together that long was pressure from the US, particularly through its semi-control if the world banking system.

So it's not like Obama had an infinite amount of choice here: he could basically manage the removal of sanctions or see them continue to weaken and probably encourage the development of parallel trading systems. The latter option wouldn't be markedly better for anyone and would certainly be worse for the US. Consequently, I have never criticised Obama for offering a legitimate elimination of sanctions even though I believe the sanctions continued to be justified.

What I do criticise Obama for is that he apparently ignored the people warning him of the likely consequences: a wealthier, emboldened Iran increasing its regional attacks. Obama and Netanyahu notoriously dislike one another, and there's no reason to think Israel should have had a veto here, but I believe Obama had a duty to keep Israel informed of negotiations (he didn't) and take its interests into account. Instead, he seems to have really believed that Iran would improve its behaviour after the removal of sanctions.

The present situation in Syria is at least partially due to Iran's increased freedom of movement, and it's really bad - not just for Syrians and Israelis, but potentially the whole world. Iran is now allied with Russia and they both have bases in Syria. The US continues to be involved in Syria against Russian interests; Russia is now protecting Syrian/Iranian bases; and we're about an inch away from direct clashes between Russia and the US, or Israel, or perhaps both.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:20 PM on March 1


Lee Smith, the author of the article in the second link, seems to be one of those guys who believes that everything Obama did in the Middle East--and especially the Iran deal--was based on some sort of crypto-anti-Semitism that insufficiently pro-Israel (and therefore stupid) Jewish Americans kept falling for.

Also by him—The Arab-ization of American Politics:
Adopting and retooling Arab tropes like “resistance”—often armed and typically directed at Israel—is hardly a new fashion for the progressive camp.
posted by XMLicious at 8:06 PM on March 5


Okay, so a crazy person.
posted by Artw at 9:58 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


That's pretty much exactly Lee Smith's point: that when he said Obama's foreign policy would be disastrous, he and his fellow critics were deprecated as "overly emotional people who are driven by suspect loyalties".

The "suspect loyalties" thing was pretty blatant: the NYT literally published a list of Jewish US politicians opposed to the Iran deal. The NYT didn't just start liking fascists after Trump got elected. I'm not at all a fan of Lee Smith's writing but ... some of the anti-anti-Dealists were clearly coming from a bad place.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:35 AM on March 6


I suppose the Smith piece I linked to demonstrates craziness—as for example does a related one from June last year about America’s Descent Into Middle Eastern-Style Conspiracy-Theory Madness in which he asks, Weren’t the polls dead wrong? Wasn’t that the big story of the 2016 election?, asserts that no one has ever reported on any real ties between Trump and the Russian government, and analogizes Hillary lost to Trump because the Russians hacked the election. Our children died because Jews poisoned the wells. (Note that at the end of his piece linked to in the OP, he congratulates himself as someone willing to "speak uncomfortable truths" that will "keep us [Americans] from being complicit in genocide".)

But the reason I pointed out the "Arab-ization" piece and the quote from it is because it appears to be blatant shameless racism to me. [T]he romance with resistance dates back to at least the 1960s, when the European left seemed to hitch its wagon to the Arab cause—like he just can't think of any European enthusiasm for "resistance" from earlier on which has nothing to do with Arabs? (Not to say that racism against Arabs on Smith's part negates any of the anti-Semitism pointed out above, they just don't add up to cogent geopolitical commentary.)

I find it notable that none of the articles in the OP links mention the stuxnet attack. Any analysis of relations between the U.S. and Iran during the past decade seems woefully incomplete if it leaves out (as other "Obama loves Iran" narratives always do, like that of the Romney campaign in 2012) the fact that we carried out an act of war against Iran's military infrastructure, specifically their nuclear program, under Obama. (I hope no one is going to try to pull "cyberattacks don't count" in 2018 as a dismissal of this.)

I feel like I'm willing to be convinced that the Iran deal was "a mistake" or "a disaster" or otherwise simply not the optimal course of action to take as the international sanctions regime was beginning to crumble, but the OP links fail to convince me of that by major omissions—Like what is the specific proposed optimal solution that should have been taken instead of the sanctions and the stuxnet attack and the JCPOA, and where's the analysis of the negative fallout from it? Would the situation in Iraq have also been magically solved if only the Iran deal hadn't occurred, as well as the situations in Syria and Yemen?—and by the enormous red flag of giving Lee Smith any credence whatsoever.
posted by XMLicious at 8:33 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


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