Can Y’all smell What Pres Obama’s cooking?
No I’m not talking about the acrid smell of Boehner’s singeing flesh as he roasts in PBO’s Veto threats as well as the bonfire that is Congress. That is subject for another diary. No, I’m talking about PBO’s Foreign Policy chestnuts roasting beautifully.
The Burma Blueprint a Model for Iran Detente
Prez Obama really works best when there’s a melee brewing all around him. And so it was in 2011 when the GOP debt ceiling hostage taking was underway, he moved swiftly to accelerate the diplomatic thaw between the US and Burma. DC was clueless about how that happened and predictably gave PBO very little credit.
In his speech in Rangoon, PBO said:
“When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear: We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. So today I’ve come to keep my promise and extend the hand of friendship.”
He lived up to his promise as Times reported:
“Shortly after taking office, Obama eased American foreign policy toward greater engagement with Burma’s generals. Naysayers predicted that the clutch of xenophobic generals would not respond. But for whatever reason, Burma’s opening soon followed. For an American leader who calls himself the country’s “first Pacific President” and has pivoted U.S. foreign policy toward Asia in an effort to hedge China, the good news coming out of Burma couldn’t have occurred at a more opportune time.”
A fledgling but empowered Burmese government proceeded to enact reforms, following which President Obama quickly reinforced support by first sending then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton there, followed by his own visit 2 weeks after reelection.
“Thein Sein’s government has introduced a raft of substantive reforms, allowing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to participate in April polls that resulted in her becoming an elected member of parliament, hacking away at press censorship, releasing political prisoners and signing cease-fires with some of the ethnic militias that had been battling the central government for decades. In return, the U.S., like many other Western nations, has eased the economic sanctions that had further isolated an already reclusive regime and pushed it into China’s economic embrace. Just a few months ago, the Rangoon airport where Obama landed was decorated with advertisements for local instant-coffee brands and jewelry companies owned by the regime’s cronies. Now, the biggest sign in baggage claim is a Coca-Cola advertisement: “Cola Welcome to Myanmar.””
Burma was a blueprint for how PBO quickly seizes unexpected openings to propel stakeholders (even those with unsavory records) otherwise paralyzed by fear, to just go for it. He showed the Burmese military junta that he was more interested in the real goal of reversing Burma’s isolation from the world and restoring democracy, than justifiably punishing them their horrendous record of repression.
So he encouraged them to reverse political repression, lift house arrest on Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her buy-in into the transforming political system. In a perverse way that action brought Suu Kyi down from her long standing perch as political martyr to the realm of mortal politician member of parliament. While these moves risked appearing to have prematurely validated the Burmese leaders’ feeble steps toward democracy. But it worked, And now Burma is no longer outcast but grappling with the mundane task of governance and succeeding or failing at it.
Right now as we bang our heads in disgust at the economic terrorists in our Congress holding us hostage, green shoots are glaringly sprouting right under our noses as Iran and the US signal potential to strike a deal on the former’s nuclear program. Before the ongoing US-Iran choreography, PBO stripped his detractors bare.
Whether he knew it would turn out exactly this way and so played “fulcrum politics” or characteristically planned to take advantage of all options, PBO’s request for congressional vote on Syria amounted to:
1. An amplified public polling that got the American people on record saying loudly that they prefer diplomacy to military engagement, which also became a message that POTUS simultaneously relayed to the MIC.
2. PBO got GOP on RECORD en masse to be anti-war. Meanwhile our own Emoleft contributed high decibeled gnashing of teeth and exposed charlatans like Alan Grayson in the process.
3. He got neocons isolated from their GOP congressional choir. All the big photo-ops with McCain & Graham in the White House in the run up to the congressional vote that never was, made the warmongers think PBO needed war street cred cover from them. Instead what happened was to coral them and neocons like Kristol, Krauthammer, Dan Senor, off on the lonely island of bellicosity, while revealing them to have zero following.
4. The almighty PNAC was killed in the Syria showdown
5. Pres Obama also showed AIPAC up not to have the same influence in Washington as beltway wisdom thought they had.
Syria: Means to an End
PBO gave Putin the sideshow that is Syria. He said so himself during his interview with Stephanopoulous when he stated that as bad as chemical weapons in Syria was, that was not Americas’ critical focus. Everybody took the bait, and puffed Putin up high over a relatively minor part in PBO’s grand vision for the Middle East. In my native language we call that “putting the monkey hat on someone”.
Rouhani said in Anne Curry’s interview that Iran had a significant role in the Syria deal. This tells us that while Putin hogged all the acclaim rather prematurely, the larger picture and diplomatic chess game is now being revealed to us piece by piece. It kinda now makes Putin look like the pre-opening circus act who makes the audience think he’s all that, only for the real show to come later and wow everybody into utter speechlessness. In a way it also cuts Putin off from claiming any credit on Iran since he did a premature victory lap (of course that won’t prevent beltway stenographers from continuing to hoist Putin high on this too).
For Pres Obama figuring out how to get tomorrow right is always more useful than expending energy on recriminations for horrors that have already happened.
Here’s where I step out to psychoanalyze a bit. We all know PBO’s lifestory chapter and verse—kid grows up without father, raised partially by peripatetic mother and only had anchoring with grandparents.
Here’s what I glean from PBO’s memoir “Dreams form my Father” – that as a kid try as hard as he wished for his life to be “normal” – dad present, mom to hang around longer, not to ALWAYS be in the position of outsider in all situations, not to be bullied in a foreign land because of race – that none of that wishing for his circumstance to be different ever changed anything. It’s something many of us can relate to. So PBO learned to MASTER how he RESPONDED to adversity rather than let adversity DEFINE him.
He says it all the time: “We can’t prevent all evil in the world, but how we choose to respond, that’s entirely up to us“.
This is a trait many on the left have vilified PBO for especially when he decided not to haul GWB, Cheney and the GOP cabal through hearings for lying us into a disastrous war in Iraq. The left has never forgiven him for that. PBO always operates with the simple question, how does that backward glance actually make things better for those who are in pain NOW and tomorrow. And that also confounds beltway stenographers (as Chuck Todd unhelpfully reminded us yesterday).
So with that principle in mind. It’s getting clearer that PBO sees many of the world’s hot conflicts as being irresolvable because of fear of losing face than on any real intractable substance. Conflicts fester because no one wants to take the risk to get on the dancefloor lest they expose their vulnerable flank. At the most basic level world civilizations and high and mighty rulers in their guts have never grown past kindergarten behavior.
Syria as precursor
The world watched Pres Obama take a risk by holding off military strikes against Syria and be mocked for being “weak” by myopic political adversaries, so-called allies, and the entire American corporate commentariat. More importantly PBO did not react to the mockery by reversing his position to show stupid machismo. Stuck to his goal.
As Sully once said very early in PBO’s presidency, he has an almost inhuman capacity to absorb insult, so long as he’s achieving his goal.
I posit that many around the world recognize that trait in PBO and so if Rouhani’s overtures are sincere, it is because of how he has seen PBO conduct himself and the kinds of risks he’s willing to take so long as the real goal is reached, chemical weapons out of the equation in the volatile Middle East and removing the nuclear irritant that’s impoverishing Iran itself and needlessly empowering Israeli rightwingers and their US backers. They’ve also seen how PBO skillfully outmaneuvered the deeply fossilized neo-con conventional wisdom among the powerwielding DC permagov, in both political parties especially when it comes to Iran.
They see he has stepped out dangerously on a ledge here, but also realize he’s no bumbling buffoon. He takes risks, but they are highly calculated risks. In this case he as weighed the options and decided that all parties have reached a dead end in their decades, even centuries, long conflicts. Exhaustion, depleted resources, a huge youth bulge, a looming new order in internecine conflicts have all converged to open up windows of opportunity for meaningful deals to be struck.
More importantly the world has seen America under PBO act with uncharacteristic restraint relative to our capacity to bomb away with impunity. For example, despite Medvedev making disdainful comments about PBO the very week he was elected in 2008, our Pres. brushed that aside and saw someone he could work with to get START treaty done.
Why? He quickly read that Medvedev desperately wanted to assert his bona fidis as a world player, so POTUS obliged him, just as he’s just done to Putin under different circumstances. Medvedev quickly became an Obama fanbot. Both Medvedev & Putin wanted attention and validation, and they got it because in both circumstances both countries wanted something that the other could give. So deal.
Where PBO has acted with lethal force, the world saw him do so with a scalpel and surgical precision. He’s not shown interest in wholesale indiscriminate punitive missions against blanket populations (yeah yeah, I can hear emos screaming “dronez”, NSA spying dragnet)
Enter Pres Hassan Rouhani
US media tend to treat figures on the world stage as if they’re props in a shadow puppet game whether ours or adversaries’ game. So we get simplistic quips like, “is Rouhani negotiating with Khamenei’s backing or not?”
So just like the Burmese government did releasing Nobel Peace laureate Aung san Suu Kyi, Iranian President Rouhani has begun making significant overtures such as the release of high profile political prisoners yesterday, one of whom President Obama had spoken about in one of his Nowruz video broadcasts to the Iranian people, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and who said:
“I don’t know why they released me. I don’t know under what legal basis they released me. But I am free.”
Today, news comes that Rouhani will be bringing Iran’s only Jewish member of parliament with him to the UN General Assembly.
But the possible thaw in US-Iranian standoff didn’t just begin with recent Syria maneuvers. PBO invested heavily right from the period of his candidacy for President when he was mocked for saying he’d talk to America’s adversaries, including Iran.
He followed through in his Inaugural Address on Jan 20, 2009 then started the long arduous process of reaching out his hand to Iran seeking a partner to Tango with. He persisted despite being rebuffed countless times. He invested in personal diplomacy using that most old fashioned of means — letterwriting
“Few American presidents have held a deeper belief in the power of the written word than President Obama. And in few ways has that belief been more tested than in his frustrating private correspondence with the leaders of Iran, a country with which the United States has had no diplomatic ties for 34 years.This week, Mr. Obama indicated that he might finally have found a pen pal in Tehran.“
Of course Iran’s change in tone is not solely due to Pres. Obama’s penmanship overtures. PBO is no wide-eyed idealist. He squeezed Iran economically by corralling the largest international consensus on economic sanctions against Iran. The hardliners including former President Ahmedinejad saw the writing on the wall, that while:
“Iran expanded its nuclear program exponentially and confronted the United States and the West – the economy shriveled, Iran’s hard-line politics grew viciously divisive, and the risk of war rose.
So anticipation could not be higher for the next Iranian to take a turn at the UN podium: Hassan Rouhani, the centrist cleric nicknamed the “diplomat sheikh.” His promises of moderation and re-engagement with the West carried him to a surprise June election victory over a slate of conservative rivals.”
But here’s the character trait about Pres Obama that confounds the American commentariat: the goal for PBO was not sanctions for punishment sake, but rather a pinch to get them to calculate RATIONALLY and come to the negotiating table for a better deal.
Looks like we’re about to find out if PBO’s bet that Iran would eventually respond to multifaceted stimuli AT THE OPTIMAL TIME, was the right one. Carrots & sticks.
More importantly it is PBO’s never wavering principle that everybody in the world wants to be treated with DIGNITY and RESPECT. It’s amazing how much that simple creed can accomplish and likewise how many futile conflicts have resulted from hubris and disrespect.
Rouhani is in luck because just as PBO read the challenges that Burmese leaders had transforming, he’ll facilitate Rouhani’s overtures in ways that respect the domestic political minefields in Iran and maintain the latter’s dignity, because:
“…as he reforges Iran’s diplomatic approach, Rouhani must also reassure conservative critics back home that he is not selling out to the West or compromising revolutionary principles. Rouhani’s many liberal and reformist supporters expect, too, that he will bridge Iran’s social divides and loosen internal restrictions.“
So speed is of essence for some tangible enticements to be in the offing from both sides, while Iran’s conservatives are silent FOR NOW and PBO has tied his critics up in knots.
But as every Obama adversary finds out, PBO is no naif, and Rouhani must sure know this. PBO’s not extending his hand to Iran for the sake of Kumbaya, but to advance key strategic goals – namely,
1. Getting Israel gently down from the structurally flawed ledge where its hardliners have perched it because of existential fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
2. Unraveling the dumbest yarnball in which neocons and their militaristic cabal have ensnared America for 3 decades in the Middle East.
The supreme folly that is the PNAC (Project for the New American Century) now makes fools of the US fighting on both sides of stupid wars against ourselves. Of course as Chuck Todd mightily tells us, it’s not media’s job to tell us the truth. So they never bothered to explain the folly of going to war in Iraq since all they cheered was “shock and Awe”. President Obama euphemistically called it a “dumb war” because it was the height of sheer stupidity akin to Wile E. Coyote strapping on explosives but believing his nemesis would be hurt.
So in the 1980s we supported Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran cuz we wanted to exact revenge for the toppling of the Shah of Iran and our interests along with him. Also, Saddam was our minority led Sunni bulwark against the Shia dominated Iran. Then Bush Sr. invaded Iraq in 1991 ostensibly to “free” Kuwait (but of course t’was about oil interests in the Gulf).
However, GHWB left Saddam in place to maintain our geopolitical interest against Iran.
Then in 2003 GWB inexplicably torpedoes the entire rationale for our policy that had been in effect, even if threadbare at that point. Why? Hubris. The neo-con’s thought they could have it all. That is, mow down the Sunni-Shia balance en route to total dominance of the Middle East from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, and all will be cowed and reshaped in our image, while we control all oil spigots. Of course they forgot that it is people with complicated histories and faiths who actually live there.
So here we are today trying to extricate ourselves from what is truly a tragi-comedy of errors, which has us pushing the interests of the very people who attacked us on 9/11. But somebody’s gotta do it. PBO, that is.
Meanwhile like coy members of the high school mutual appreciation society, revised smoke signals are going up from both sides about possibly meeting on Sept 24, at the UNGA
Yeah PBO is gourmet cooking alright
[of course not mistress Chip’s kinda cooking :>) ]
P.S. Pres. Rouhani just wrote an Op-Ed for the Washington Post this evening and says thus:
“The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities“.
Does he sound like PBO or what?