Obama’s bold gambits
In addition to economic travails including dwindling jobs, shaky welfare and carelessly taken debt, the world seems headed into another long Mideast war similar to a low intensity third world war of attrition.
President Barack Obama is struggling to prevent deterioration by using astute foreign policy moves. His gambits may turn out to be a worthy blend of Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Machiavelli or he might be this century’s most notable early flop as the statesman who tried to prevent wars by jawboning. The year 2014 should tell.
If good fortune smiles, the so-called Geneva II conference on bringing peace to Syria will take place starting January 22. If it happens as planned, Obama’s long march to prevail will begin since he will have brought Iran and Saudi Arabia to the table alongside the main enemies within Syria plus Russia and China.
In effect, the conference will not be just on peace in Syria but about starting a delicate process to create stability in the volatile Mideast region. Currently, the region is riven by apparently insoluble conflicts, including Israel-Palestine, inflammable Syria, shaky Iraq and medieval enmity between Saudi Arabia’s (and the Gulf’s) self-serving Sunni royal families and Iran’s self-righteous Shia mullahs.
Obama is playing the game like a chess Grand Master. First, he dared to stand up to Israel’s Benyamin Netanyahu to force a restart to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is floundering but is not yet hopeless.
Then he pushed Iran into talks to stop developing nuclear weapons technology, which Netanyahu fears the most. Now, surprisingly, he is warming to the hitherto outrageous notion that detested Bashar al-Assad may be the only bulwark against a safe haven for al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists in Syria.
Covertly, Obama and his Western allies seem to be jettisoning the government in exile and military force they created two years ago to depose Assad. That forced Saudi Arabia to voice outrage publicly, which is unprecedented because its royal family has been a respectful American ally for over six decades.
Despite their mutual hostilities, there is talk currently that the Saudis and Iranians might show up at Geneva II alongside Assad’s representatives, the al-Qaeda affiliated fighters, another radical Islamic front (reportedly financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar), and the quarrelsome pro-US factions. Imposing enough unity among probable participants to build coherent delegations capable of functioning at a diplomatic conference seems a very tall order.
Still, bringing Saudis and Iranians around the table as a first step to stabilizing the entire chessboard will be a signal achievement. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will chair the conference, which could turn into a poisoned pill for his career if the house of cards collapses.
Iran is on Washington’s radar after more than 30 years of open hostility because it has agreed to strike a deal by summer 2014 containing concrete guarantees that it will never build nuclear weapons.
Syria has already allowed international monitors to freeze its chemical weapons stockpiles and will allow its manufacturing capabilities to be destroyed within four months.
So, some of Obama’s gambles are already advancing to payoff. If Geneva II does happen and moves to end the war eventually within a wider regional settlement, Obama’s name will be engraved upon history.
Or the region’s unpredictable people might beat him to checkmate. And he still has to reckon with Netanyahu.