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Obama’s Alternate Universe
Posted on Jan 8, 2010
By Scott Ritter
As America enters the year 2010 and President Barack Obama his second year in office, the foreign policy landscape presented by American policymakers and media pundits appears to be dominated by two physical problems—Iraq and Afghanistan—which operate in an overarching metaphysical environment loosely defined as a “war on terror.” The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, entering their seventh and ninth years respectively, have consumed America’s attention, treasure and blood without producing anything close to a tangible victory.
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While Obama has promised a draw-down of military forces in Iraq, the lack of stability in that nation since the removal of Saddam Hussein precludes any meaningful reduction of troops, and the ever-present potential of renewed civil and sectarian warfare means that whatever troop level is eventually settled upon will be deployed in Iraq for quite some time. Moreover, the Iraq conflict, built as it was on an American policy that sought the alteration of the political character of the Middle East beyond simply removing an Iraqi dictator from power, has drawn the United States inexorably toward conflict with Iraq’s larger neighbor to the east, Iran.
Over the past 20 years Iraq and Iran have been linked in American policy objectives in the Middle East, both in terms of dual containment and dual transformation. Regardless of what rhetoric the Obama administration chooses to hide behind, the underlying characteristic that continues to define America’s Iran policy is regime change. It is not the policy that is subject to debate in Washington, D.C., but rather the means of implementing that policy. The ongoing tension over Iran’s nuclear program is less derived from any real threat such a program poses (it is, in reality, one of the least significant issues facing the United States today in terms of national security concern), but rather the utility that such an artificial crisis serves in facilitating the larger objective: regime change.
Obama’s Iran policy bears a marked similarity to the Iraq policies of the Clinton administration throughout the 1990s, with the specter of weapons of mass destruction used as a screen to hide the true goal. In both cases, the policies were constructed in a manner that gave the United States no viable solution short of open conflict. President Bill Clinton maneuvered around the issue of all-out war, settling for a decade-long “non-war” in the form of CIA covert operations and assassination attempts and enforcement of “no-fly zones,” combined with selective aerial attacks, including the 72-hour “Operation Desert Fox” in December 1998.
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The failed attempts by the United States to orchestrate a “soft” revolution in Iran, in the form of covert support to pro-Western reformists, have only strengthened the position of the extreme hard-liners the United States seeks to remove from power, in the same way that the continuation of economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s only strengthened the regime of Saddam Hussein.
When the Obama administration is finally confronted with the reality that there is no possibility for viable economic sanctions against Iran, and that the reform movement inside Iran will never be able to force a regime change in Tehran, war with Iran, however insane and unpalatable, becomes the only option. In the end, it is not the theocracy in Tehran, or an Iranian nuclear program, that will push America to war with Iran, but rather American policy itself, designed as it is not to solve any tangible problem emerging from Iran, but rather to mollify domestic political pressures at home.
The situation President Obama faces in today’s post-Taliban Afghanistan is similar to the one he faces in Iraq: There is no good policy option for resolving a problem that is defined mostly by the need to manufacture a perception of “victory” for the American people. In Afghanistan, as was the case with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States removed a political entity from power and ended up creating a vacuum in the nation’s social, political and economic reality that the American occupier has not been able to fill, no matter how much money has been spent and how many soldiers have been deployed. With the Taliban made politically unacceptable in Washington, D.C., the idea that the Taliban may in fact be politically viable inside Afghanistan will not register among those American officials tasked with bringing stability to that nation.
The war in Afghanistan is further complicated by the fact that, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is inexorably linked to the nebulous concept of a “war of terror,” and in particular the defining moment in this “war”—the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. American politicians, like those they represent, tend to operate in a conventional linear manner, seeking absolute cause-and-effect relationships from even the most complex of problems.
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