The U.S. Needs to Break Free from Barack Obama’s Iran Strategy

In an interview in October, the former president Barack Obama admitted that he made “a mistake” in not backing the 2009 Green Revolution in the Islamic Republic, in light of the more recent protest movement in that country. Mark Dubowitz argues that the Obama administration’s decision instead to pursue a strategic reorientation with regard to the Middle East (and Russia), which culminated in the 2015 nuclear deal, has made it difficult for the current administration to find a way forward. To Dubowitz these mistakes were rooted in a deep-seated opposition to what President Obama saw as Western imperialism.

[I]n retrospect, there is something disturbing about what Obama did in 2009 that looks even more troubling from the vantage point of Syria, Crimea, and the Donbas, and America’s continuing inability to forget about the [nuclear deal].

It is possible from one angle to see Obama’s support for the Arab Spring as support for democracy in the Middle East. Yet as his decision to turn his back on the Iranian pro-democracy protesters suggests, Obama was hardly a supporter of regional democrats. Nor was he particularly interested in supporting Iraq’s struggling democracy, which he saw as a tar pit that would only prolong U.S. engagement in the region—which he strongly opposed. In place of U.S. engagement, Obama supported anti-Western, “one election” Islamists who, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and Ali Khamenei in Iran, used and abused democratic mechanisms to gain and keep power. His preference was not for democrats per se, but for anti-imperialists who overthrew or sought to overthrow autocratic U.S. allies.

Anti-imperialist narratives were clearly important to Obama. . . . The fact that they utterly failed to correspond to regional realities caused multiple problems on the ground in the Middle East. Obama’s policy of trying to put the United States on the side of his own preferred client states created a slaughter in Syria that in turn led to multiple other slaughters throughout the region. The rise of Islamic State (IS) was fueled partly in response to vicious Iran-backed attacks against Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis. The shocking rise of IS required Obama to send U.S. troops into Syria and back into Iraq. It also emboldened Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine for the third time in 2022.

Obama’s ongoing and catastrophic policy failure, which has blocked the Biden administration from developing any kind of workable strategic vision for dealing with current realities in Iran and throughout the region, demonstrates that substituting American narratives about purity and guilt for hard-power realities is a dangerous business.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Barack Obama, Green Revolution, Iran, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden