Iran can help Obama finesse his legacy
By M K Bhadrakumar
President Barack Obama is setting a new precedent in America's history as an imperialist power. He is all but apologizing before he orders a military attack against a sovereign country with which the United States is not at war and which has not offended America's vital interests and concerns as a sovereign country even remotely.
The Obama administration is publicizing in advance that it is going to be a "limited" military attack by the US on Syria. It is even willing to give advance notice of when the attack can be expected. Who would say Obama is not a humane and considerate statesman?
By "limited" attack, the Obama administration is indicating it will not directly attack Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles but only
their "delivery systems'', which means the Syrian air force and the army units that are capable of staging a chemical weapon attack. Indeed, someone is in command of any country's armed forces and, therefore, the "command-and-control" systems of the Syrian armed forces will also be targeted.
In sum, the plan behind the "limited" attack is to degrade the Syrian armed forces. The political objective is clear. The Obama administration insists that it is not "regime change''. What it means is that the US and its allies would hope that coming under immense pressure of death and destruction, the Syrian armed forces might begin, finally, to begin to question President Bashar al-Assad's leadership quality, which, in turn, could lead to a coup against him that will not be a "regime change" and yet a sufficient-enough "regime change''.
The Iraq experience has taught the US the crucial importance of keeping intact as far as possible the state structures and institutions - read, the armed forces, security establishment and the bureaucracy - in a country even when its regime changes hands according to American desire.
The risk involved is great because implicit in this situation are both the "known knowns" and the "unknown unknowns" that former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once warned against. To quote from Rumsfeld's press statement in February 2002,
There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns - there are things we do not know we don't know.
Rumsfeld was speaking in the context of Iraq, where his prognostication was that the main dangers of the confrontation were the "unknown unknowns, " that is the threats from Saddam, which were completely unpredictable.
Suffice to say, whether the Obama administration is going to succeed in reaching its objective is far from clear because the "known knowns" alone in Syria are very substantial. But what is clear in a much broader and profound sense are the following.
First, this move to attack Syria comes out of a master plan that the US (and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) pretended all along didn't exist. The art of dissimulation has been perfected to the ultimate point. The US has taken an abrupt turn from the path leading to the proposed Geneva 2 summit without bothering to even explain why, while unilaterally concluding without any concrete evidence that the Syrian government should be held responsible for the latest chemical weapon attacks near Damascus.
Second, when the chips are down, the US rallies its allies and forms a "coalition of the willing''. The disarray that was supposed to have been there between the US on the one hand and its Persian Gulf allies (and Israel) on the other hand over the regime change in Egypt was a petty squabble among vendors in a fish market, after all. When the need arises and the time comes, they unfailingly move together like a pack of wolves.
Third, the US unilaterally interprets international law and has no qualms about launching military attacks without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. While a practicing democracy, which espouses the values of "inclusive" democracy, the US administrations act without taking into consideration domestic public opinion. According to US opinion polls, not even 10% of the American people want their country to get involved in any way in the civil war in Syria.
Four, Obama has been throwing dust in the eyes of world opinion by creating the impression that there shall be no more "Afghanistans" and "Iraqs" and that he is still reeling under pain when yet another body bag arrives from the Afghan war and he is called upon to sign the condolence letter to the bereaved family. The US invasion of Iraq resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. But it doesn't leave a scar on Obama's sensibility.
However, the most profound lesson coming out of all this as the US begins the countdown of an attack on Syria lies somewhere else: Why Syria, why not North Korea?
The answer is clear. As CNN's military analysts are at pains to explain, this is going to be a military operation that incurs no risk of US casualties. The attack on Syria will be staged from the blue sea with cruise missiles - not even aircraft flown by US pilots lest they get shot down.
The American analysts explain that the Syrian armed forces are already overstretched after two years of fighting the rebels all over the country. They flag how Syria couldn't even retaliate against repeated Israeli air attacks - something unthinkable just a couple of years ago.
In sum, Syria has no deterrent power. This is where Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il proved visionary leaders. They have bequeathed to the current leadership of Kim Jong-eun in Pyongyang a deterrent power that will make the Obama administration think not twice but several times over before launching a military strike against North Korea. This is exactly where Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad seems to have faltered.
Now, this becomes a morality play for Iran. Of course, the Iranian regime takes very seriously the "fatwas" handed down by their Spiritual Leader and Supreme Leader not to embark upon a nuclear weapon program. But, is that the wise thing to do?
After all, we have to be alive first before we can think of observing "fatwas" - even Persians. The point is, the impending US attack on Syria should be a wake-up call for the Iranian regime - alerting it to the existential struggle that lies ahead.
How can Tehran take Obama's word seriously anymore? Only this past week, it emerged authoritatively from the US official archival materials that the 1953 coup against Mohamed Mossadeq was a CIA operation; and, that the horrendous chemical weapons attacks by Saddam Hussein's forces were staged with crucial intelligence inputs from the CIA.
Has anything really changed under Obama? The Iranian leadership needs to ponder calmly and collectively.
No matter the outcome of the imminent US attack on Syria, which is bound to have tragic consequences, Tehran should take a momentous decision to safeguard against such aggression. The only way it can do that will be by having the deterrent power that North Korea possesses, which keeps predators away.
World opinion will understand. The meek also have a moral right to defend themselves - even if they are far from inheriting the earth as God prophesied. Let this be Obama's finest presidential legacy - a nuclear Iran.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
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