In December, President Obama said that he wished to see Iran ultimately become a “very successful regional power.” His wish – a nightmare for the Western-oriented Arab states – is becoming a reality. Consider:
▪ Gulf of Aden: Iran sends a flotilla of warships and weapons-carrying freighters to reinforce the rebels in Yemen – a noncontiguous, non-Persian, nonthreatening (to Iran) Arabian state – asserting its new status as regional bully and arbiter. The Obama administration sends an aircraft carrier group, apparently to prevent this gross breach of the United Nations weapons embargo on Yemen. Instead, the administration announces that it has no intention of doing anything. Meanwhile, it exerts pressure on Saudi Arabia to halt its air war over Yemen and agree to negotiate a political settlement involving Iran.
▪ Russia: After a five-year suspension, Russia announces the sale of advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran, which will render its nuclear facilities nearly invulnerable to attack. Obama’s reaction? Criticism? Threats? Sanctions? No. A pat on the back for Russian President Vladimir Putin: “I’m, frankly, surprised that (the embargo) held this long.”
▪ Iran: Last week Obama pre-emptively caved on the long-standing U.S. condition that there be no immediate sanctions relief in any Iranian nuclear deal. He casually dismissed this red line, declaring that what is really important is whether sanctions can be reimposed if Iran cheats. And it doesn’t stop there. The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama is offering Tehran a signing bonus of $30 billion to $50 billion (drawn from frozen Iranian assets) – about 10 percent of Iranian gross domestic product.
▪ Syria: After insisting for years that President Bashar Assad of Syria “step aside,” the U.S. has adopted a hands-off policy toward a regime described by our own secretary of state as an Iranian puppet.
▪ Iraq: Iran’s Quds force commander Qassem Suleimani, director of Shiite militias that killed hundreds of Americans during the Iraq War and were ultimately defeated by the 2007-08 U.S. surge, operates freely throughout Iraq flaunting his country’s dominance. In March he was directing the same Iraqi militias, this time against the Islamic State – with the help of U.S. air cover.
This is the new Middle East. Its strategic reality is clear to everyone: Iran rising, assisted, astonishingly, by the United States.
Obama’s initial Middle East strategy was simply withdrawal. He would enter history as the ultimate peace president, ushering in a new era in which “the tide of war is receding.” The subsequent vacuum having been filled, unfortunately and predictably, by various enemies, adversaries and irredeemables, Obama lighted upon a new idea: We don’t just withdraw, we hand the baton. To Iran.
Iran went into the nuclear negotiations heavily sanctioned, isolated internationally, hemorrhaging financially – and this was even before the collapse of oil prices. After 17 months of serial American concessions, the Iranian economy is growing again, its forces and proxies are on the march through the Arab Middle East, and it is on the verge of having its nuclear defiance rewarded and legitimized.
The Saudis are resisting being broken to Iranian dominance. They have resumed their war in Yemen. They are resisting being forced into Yemen negotiations with Iran, a country that is, in the words of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., “part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
Obama appears undeterred. Our friends in the region, who for decades have relied on us to protect them from Iran, look on astonished.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.