Friday, January 13, 2012

What That Dead Iranian Scientist Has to do With China

I titled my most recent article for Asia Times “Desperate Days: The Obama Administration Struggles to Disengage from the Middle East and Escape to Asia”.  The crack editors at AT instead opted for Obama Drags Middle East Baggage to Asia, which perhaps doesn’t convey the bloody Great Game element as well.

My point is, the logic of economics, diplomacy, and security theater tells the Obama administration that the US will find its future and, equally importantly, welcoming arms in Asia.  A meticulous, multi-stage campaign has been crafted to sell the “strategic pivot to Asia” to the key stakeholders: policy wonks and insiders, politicos, US moneybags, military brass, and the nations in Asia that are worried about China but also dubious about American staying power.

Part of the shift in resources involves putting the complications, compromises, and expenses of the Middle East in America’s rearview mirror. 

Goodbye Iraq, goodbye Afghanistan, and maybe, just maybe, the United States can work out a modus vivendi with Iran.  Iran, without exaggeration, has been desperate for normalization of relations with the US for probably the last decade.  The only dispute within Iran seems to be on the terms of engagement and who gets to take credit for reintegrating Iran into the global system.

Our 21st century partners in Asia, it is safe to say, would also love to see the United States shed its Iran incubus, and lose the fear that their energy imports, banking systems, and futures are hostage to whatever mischief we decide to cook up in the Middle East.

However, whenever it looks like the Obama administration is going to translate its carefully-choreographed campaign of international pressure against Iran into negotiations with Iran, something happens.

I imagine President Obama pounding his desk in frustration and bellowing a la Michael Corleone, “Every time I try to get out, they…pull… me…back…in.”


That’s where the murder of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan comes in. 

Jim Lobe, bless him, makes a similar point in a thoughtful piece up at his blog, flagging the murder as an attempt to disrupt the efforts to restart the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, possibly conducted  by factions inside Iran but more probably by Israel.

Looking at it from the Asian angle, I think it also had something to do with forcing the United States to reaffirm and continue its expensive and destructive engagement with the Middle East.

The US political dynamics also support continued Middle East involvement.  Beyond the undoubtedly sincere Israel-love of the American Right, Republicans are no doubt happy to see President Obama continuing to flounder in the bloody bog of the Middle East instead of capering off to peaceful and prosperous Asia.

By the way, there has been an interesting discussion as to whether Ahmad Roshan’s murder should be termed “terrorism”.  Slapping the “terrorism” tag on Western policy toward Iran is a useful rhetorical point, but to me the term “terrorism” was always a canard, something meant to discredit the asymmetric warfare of opponents who couldn’t advance their objectives with conventional military forces. Best just to call Ahmad Roshan’s death “murder”.  Or, if you prefer, “state-ordered extrajudicial murder”.

To me, Israeli fingerprints are on the operation not because of its precision, but because of the somewhat creepy efforts to avoid collateral casualties with the sophisticated shaped charge (as the media was suspiciously quick to point out).  Israel has no qualms about blowing up streetfulls of people in its operations, so I am not inclined to give them a lot of brownie points for massaging the optics of the murder (and making sure that international outrage will not inhibit further murders in the future).

Here’s the takeaway paragraphs from my Asia Times piece:

The signature event in United States-Chinese relations last week was not the anti-climactic release of the US Defense Strategic Review, which re-emphasized the Barack Obama administration's widely touted ambitions to perform a strategic pirouette from the Middle East to East Asia. It was the murder of another Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran.

The assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan by forces unknown serves as a message that the Obama administration will find it difficult to reinvent itself as the savior of Asian peace and prosperity; instead, the United States will find itself reprising its dreary and detested role in the Middle East soap opera as defender of the pro-Israel/anti-Iranian status quo.

Every time Obama tries to position the US as the guarantor of peace and prosperity in Asia, something or somebody yanks his chain back to the Middle East, war, and the prospect of global economic ruin.

The murder of Ahmadi Roshan came on the one-year anniversary of the murder of two other Iranian nuclear scientists by similar methods (motorcyclist + bomb + car). It also came at a time of heightened tensions (anyway, tensions higher than the usual heightened tensions), inviting the inference that somebody, probably somebody in the region, wants to goad the Iranian government into a response that could start the military action ball rolling.

It is a safe bet that Obama, disengaging from two futile, polarizing, and massively expensive land wars, does not want war with Iran. It is also plausible that Saudi Arabia does not relish the opportunity to prove that it really does have the excess capacity to replace Iranian energy shipments to China, Japan, and South Korea.

And it is certain that Obama does not want the corpse of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan to serve as the poster child for US foreign policy, or that he wishes to ingratiate himself to America's East Asian friends and allies by bearing the gift of $200/barrel oil (while Beijing exploits its relationship with Iran to buy energy at a discount).

But Iran won't go away: Israel, Saudi Arabia, and their US supporters in both parties won't let it.

Because these powerful stakeholders want to make sure that plans to widen the US diplomatic and military footprint in East Asia don't come at the expense of their perceived existential interests in the Middle East.

So Obama has to drag his Middle Eastern baggage to Asia and make the case that Asia-Pacific should help America work through its Iran obsession.

Instead of exporting American solutions to Asia, the US seems to be exporting American problems.

It does not appear that the Obama administration has figured out how to make lemonade from this sackful of citrus.

One can imagine that the Obama message to Asia is "Believe the policy, not the politics", ie, the United States knows where its interests and future lie, and is not going to drive the world off a cliff because election year politics demand appeasement of the anti-Iran cranks.

However, Asia has zero votes in US politics. On the other hand, the people who are caught up in the rhetoric of war with Iran do have the votes, interest, and money to make their influence felt…


denk said...

something happened at atimes
the forum [edge] is *locked down*
all the posts preceding 2012 were gone, including my 6 mth's effort of expose' on fukus black ops/false flags against china

2 enquiries to the editors evokes no response.

Jessica B Johnson said...

I personally think that America should leave interference in various regions and countries. Terrorism is the reaction of American's policies that they are not leaving to kill innocent people in afghanistan, pakistan, iraq as well as iran. Why America want to become the inspector of the world all countries have their own rights and concerns, US should leave interference in other countries meters.

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