There's a joke about a man who tells a psychiatrist, "Everybody hates me," to
which the psychiatrist responds, "That's ridiculous - everyone doesn't know
you, yet." Which brings me to Barack Obama: one of the best-informed
people in the American security establishment told me the other day that the
president is a "Manchurian Candidate".
That can't be true - Manchuria isn't in the business of brainwashing
prospective presidential candidates any more. There's no one left to betray
America to. Obama is creating a
strategic void in which no major power will dominate, and every minor power
must fend for itself. The outcome is incalculably hard to analyze and
terrifying to consider.
Obama doesn't want to betray the United States; he only wants to empower
America's enemies. Forcing Israel to abandon its strategic buffer (the
so-called settlements) was supposed to placate Iran, so that Iran would help
America stabilize Iraq, where its influence looms large over the Shi'ite
America also sought Iran's help in suppressing the Taliban in Afghanistan. In
Obama's imagination, a Sunni Arab coalition - empowered by Washington's turn
against Israel - would encircle Iran and dissuade it from acquiring nuclear
weapons, while an entirely separate Shi'ite coalition with the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization would suppress the radical Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan and
Pakistan. This was the worst-designed scheme concocted by a Western strategist
since Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery attacked the bridges at Arnhem in 1944,
and it has blown up in Obama's face.
Iran already has made clear that casting America's enemies in the leading role
of an American operation has a defect, namely that America's enemies rather
would lose on their own terms than win on America's terms. Iran's verbal war
with the American president over the violent suppression of election-fraud
protests leaves Washington with no policy at all. The premise of Obama's policy
was that progress on the Palestinian issue would empower a Sunni coalition. As
the president said May 18:
If there is a linkage between Iran and the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the
other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians - between
the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our
hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian
Israel's supporters remonstrated in vain. Harvard law
professor Alan Dershowitz, a prominent Obama supporter, wrote, "If there is to
be any linkage - and I do not believe there should be - it goes the other way:
it will be much easier for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank if
Iran does not have a nuclear umbrella under which it can continue to encourage
Hamas and Hezbollah to fire rockets at Israeli civilians."
No matter: America made clear that it had annulled the George W Bush
administration's promise that a final settlement would allow most of Israel's
500,000 "settlers" to keep their homes, in order to launch the fantasy ship of
Iranian cooperation with America.
That policy now is in ruins, and Washington has no plan B. David Axelrod,
Obama's top political advisor, told television interviewers on January 28 that
Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who spent the last week denouncing the
United States, "Did not have final say" over Iran's foreign policy and that
America still wanted to negotiate with Iran. This sounds idiotic, but the White
House really has painted itself into a corner. The trouble is that Obama has
promised to withdraw American forces from Iraq, and Iran has sufficient
influence in Shi'ite-majority Iraq to cause continuous upheaval, perhaps even
to eventually win control of the country.
By a fateful coincidence, American troops are scheduled to leave Iraq's urban
centers on June 30. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein left Iraq open to Iranian
destabilization; that is why the elder George Bush left the Iraqi dictator in
power in 1990.
Offering Iran a seat at the table in exchange for setting a limit to its
foreign ambitions - in Lebanon and Gaza as well as Iraq - seemed to make sense
on paper. But the entity that calls itself revolutionary Islam is not made of
paper, but of flesh and blood. It is in danger of internal collapse and can
only assert its authority by expanding its influence as aggressively as it can.
After the election disaster, Iran's revolutionary leadership urgently needs to
demonstrate its credibility. Israel now can say, "A country that murders its
own citizens will have no compunction about massacring its enemies," and attack
Iran's nuclear capacity with fewer consequences than would have been imaginable
in May. And if an Israeli strike were to succeed, or appear successful to the
world, the resulting humiliation might be fatal to the regime.
Israel may not be Tehran's worst nightmare. Iraq's Sunnis are testing the
resolve of the weakened mullahs. The suicide bombing that killed 73 people at a
Shi'ite mosque in Kirkuk on June 20 and a second bombing that killed another 72
Shi'ites in Baghdad's Sadr City slum most likely reflect Sunni perceptions that
a weakened Tehran will provide less support for Iraqi Shi'ites. Although
Shi'ites comprise more than three-fifths of Iraq's population, Sunnis provided
the entire military leadership and are better organized on the ground.
America's hopes of enlisting Iran to provide cover for its withdrawal from the
cities of Iraq seem delusional.
What move on the chessboard might Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei venture
to pre-empt an Israeli air raid against the nuclear facilities? Iran has the
rocket launchers of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and terrorist
sleeper cells throughout the world. Iran might seek to pre-empt what it
anticipates to be the next move from Israel by demonstrating its capacity to
inflict injury on Israel or on Jewish targets elsewhere. That would require
careful judgment, for a heavy handed action could provide a pretext for even
more serious action by the Israelis and others. The same sort of consideration
applies to Iranian support for Pakistan Shi'ites, for Hezbollah, and other
vehicles of Iran's program of imperial expansion.
The Obama administration has put itself in a peculiar bind. It has demanded
that the Pakistani army suppress the Taliban, after Islamabad attempted a
power-sharing agreement that left the Taliban in control of the Swat Valley. To
root out the largely Pashtun Taliban, Pakistan's largely Punjabi army has
driven a million people into refugee camps and leveled entire towns in the Swat
Valley. Tens of thousands of refugees are now fleeing the Pakistani army in the
South Waziristan tribal area. Punjabis killing Pashtuns is nothing new in the
region, but the ferocity of the present effort does not augur well for an early
end to the conflict.
While the Pakistan army holds nothing back in attacking the Taliban, American
troops in Afghanistan have been told that they no longer can call in air
strikes if civilians are likely to suffer. That will put American forces in the
unfortunate position of the Pirates of Penzance, who exempted orphans. Once
this became generally known, everyone they attempted to rob turned out to be an
The Taliban need only take a page from Hamas' book, and ensure that civilians
are present wherever they operate. The US has made clear that it will not deal
in civilian blood, the currency of warfare in that region since before the dawn
of history. It will not be taken seriously in consequence.
What will the administration do now? As all its initiatives splatter against
the hard realities of the region, it will probably do less and less, turning
the less appetizing aspects of the fighting over to local allies and
auxiliaries who do not share its squeamishness about shedding civilian blood.
That is the most dangerous outcome of all, for America is the main stabilizing
force in the region.
The prospect of civil wars raging simultaneously in Pakistan, Afghanistan and
Iraq is no longer improbable. The Israel-Palestine issue is linked to all of
these through Iran, whose credibility depends on its ability to sustain such
puppies of war as Hezbollah and Hamas. Whether or not the Israelis take the
opportunity to strike Iran, the prospect of an Israeli strike will weigh on
Iran's proxies in the region, and keep Israel's borders in condition of
potential violence for the interim.
America's great good fortune is that no hostile superpower stands ready to
benefit from its paralysis and confusion. When Soviet troops landed in
Afghanistan in December 1979, America was in the grip of an economic crisis
comparable to the present depression. American diplomats at the Tehran Embassy
were still hostages to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The price of
gold doubled from around $400 to $800 after the Russian invasion because most
of the world thought that Russia would win the Cold War. If America lost its
dominant superpower status in the West, the dollar no longer could serve as a
global reserve currency. To the superpower goes the seigniorage, the state's
premium for providing a currency.
By contrast, the gold price barely fluttered all through the present crisis.
America remains the undisputed global superpower for the time being. America's
creditors express consternation about its $1.8 trillion budget deficit and many
trillions more of guarantees for the banking system, but there is nothing they
can do about it for the time being but talk. That is how one should interpret a
June 25 Reuters report that a "senior researcher with the ruling Communist
Party" had urged China to shift some of its $2 trillion in reserves out of
dollars and into gold.
Li Lianzhong, who heads the economic department
of the Party's policy research office, said China should use more of its $1.95
trillion in foreign exchange reserves to buy energy and natural resource
assets. Speaking at a foreign exchange and gold forum, Li also said that buying
land in the United States was a better option for China than buying US Treasury
"Should we buy gold or US Treasuries?" Li asked. "The US is printing dollars on
a massive scale, and in view of that trend, according to the laws of economics,
there is no doubt that the dollar will fall. So gold should be a better
There is no suggestion that Li, even though he is a
senior researcher, was enunciating an agreed party line.
The last thing China wants at the moment is to undercut the US dollar, for
three reasons. First, as America's largest creditor, China has the most to lose
from a dollar collapse. Second, Americans would buy fewer Chinese imports. And
third, the collapse of the dollar would further erode America's will to fulfill
its superpower function, and that is what China wants least of all.
America remains the indispensable outsider in Asia. No one likes the United
States, but everyone dislikes the United States less than they dislike their
neighbors. India need not worry about China's role in Pakistan, for example,
because America mediates Indian-Pakistani relations, and America has no
interest in a radical change to the status quo. Neither does China, for that
matter, but India is less sure of that. China does not trust Japan for
historical reasons that will not quickly fade, but need not worry about it
because America is the guarantor of Japan's security. The Seventh Fleet is the
most disliked - and nonetheless the most welcome - entity in Asia.
All of this may change drastically, quickly, and for the worse. Obama's policy
reduces to empowering America's enemies in the hope that they will conform to
American interests out of gratitude. Just the opposite result is likely to
ensure: Iran, Pakistan and other regional powers are likely to take radical
measures. Iran is threatened with a collapse of its Shi'ite program from
Lebanon to Afghanistan, and Pakistan is threatened with a breakup into three or
Obama has not betrayed the interests of the United States to any foreign power,
but he has done the next worst thing, namely to create a void in the region by
withdrawing American power. The result is likely to be a species of pandemonium
that will prompt the leading players in the region to learn to live without the
In his heart of hearts, Obama sees America as a force for evil in the world,
apologizing for past American actions that did more good than harm. An example
is America's sponsorship of the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the
left-leaning government of Mohammed Mossadegh.
"In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the
overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," the president
offered in his Cairo address to Muslims on June 5. Although Iran's theocracy
despises Mossadegh - official Iranian textbooks call him the "son of a feudal
family of exploiters who worked for the cursed Shah, and betrayed Islam" -
Iran's government continues to reproach America for its role in the coup. "With
a coup they toppled the national government of Iran and replaced it with a
harsh, unpopular and despotic regime," Ahmadinejad complained in a January 28
It is s a bit late to offer advice to Obama, but the worst thing America can do
is to apologize. Instead, it should ask for the gratitude of the developing
world. Weak countries become punching-bags in the proxy wars of empires. This
was from the dawn of history until the fall of the last empire - the "evil"
empire of Soviet communism.
The Soviets exploited anti-colonial movements from the 1917 Bolshevik coup
until the collapse of the Afghanistan adventure in the late 1980s. Nationalists
who tried to ride the Russian tiger ended up in its belly more often than on
its back. Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, Angola and numerous other weak countries
became the hapless battleground for the contest of covert operations between
the Soviet Union and America - not to mention Vietnam and Korea.
The use of developing countries as proxy battlefields and their people as
cannon fodder came to an end with the Cold War. As a result, the past 20 years
have seen the fastest improvement in living standards ever in the global south,
and a vast shift in wealth towards so-called developing countries.
By defeating Russia in the Cold War, America made it possible for governments
in the global south to pursue their own interests free from the specter of
Soviet subversion. And by countering Soviet subversion, America often averted
much worse consequences.
Many deficiencies can be ascribed to the Shah of Iran, but a communist regime
in the wake of a Mossadegh administration would have been indescribably worse.
The septuagenarian Mossadegh had his own agenda, but he relied on the support
of the communist Tudeh party. The US feared a Soviet invasion of Iran, and "the
[Harry S] Truman administration was willing to consider a Soviet invasion of
Iran as a casus belli, or the start of a global war", according to
Francis J Gavin's 1999 article in The Journal of Cold War Studies.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with help from British intelligence
helped the shah overthrow the left-leaning regime. But this was no minor
colonial adventure, but a flashpoint with the potential to start a world war.
It is painful and humiliating for Iranians to recall the overthrow of a
democratically elected government with American help. It would have been
infinitely more humiliating to live under Soviet rule, like the
soon-to-be-extinct victims of Soviet barbarism in Eastern Europe.
The same is true of Chile, where the brutal regime of General Augusto Pinochet
overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973,
with help from the CIA. Allende was surrounded by Cuban intelligence
operations. As Wikipedia reports:
Shortly after the election of
Salvador Allende in November 1970, the [Cuban Directorate of Intelligence - DI]
worked extremely closely to strengthen Allende's increasingly precarious
position. The Cuban DI station chief Luis Fernandez Ona even married Salvador
Allende's daughter Beatrice, who later committed suicide in Cuba. The DI
organized an international brigade that would organize and coordinate the
actions of the thousands of the foreign leftists that had moved into Chile
shortly after Allende's election. These individuals ranged from Cuban DI
agents, Soviet, Czech and North Korean military instructors and arms suppliers,
to hardline Spanish and Portuguese Communist Party members.
Latin American friends who still mourn the victims of Pinochet's "night and
fog" state terror will not like to hear this, but the several thousand people
killed or tortured by the military government were collateral damage in the
Cold War. Like Iran, Chile became the battleground of a Soviet-American proxy
war. The same is true in Nicaragua. (Full disclosure: I advised Nicaragua's
president Violeta Chamorro after she defeated the Cuban-backed Sandinistas in
the 1990 elections; I did so with no tie to any government agency.)
Obama's continuing obsession with America's supposed misdeeds - deplorable but
necessary actions in time of war - is consistent with his determination to
erode America's influence in the most troubled parts of the world. By removing
America as a referee, he will provoke more violence than the United States ever
did. We are entering a very, very dangerous period as a result.
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, Associate Editor of First