Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of 'Globalistan' (Nimble Books, 2007), 'Red Zone Blues' (Nimble Books, 2007), 'Obama does Globalistan' (Nimble Books, 2009) and a contributing editor for a number of other books, including the upcoming 'Crossroads of Leadership: Globalization and the New American Century in the Obama Presidency' (Routledge). When not on the road, he alternates between Sao Paulo, New York, London, Bangkok and Hong Kong.
That would be a cautious first step trying to breach the impenetrable 34-year Wall of Mistrust between Washington and Tehran. And it has entered the realm of the possible after Obama admitted in an interview that letters have been exchanged between himself and Rouhani.
It’s been a long, tortuous and invariably nasty road since US President Jimmy Carter met the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, in 1977. The timing now couldn’t be better. Even if it’s just an ultra-choreographed photo op in an obscure UN corridor, so plausible deniability could be deployed by both sides - after all, influential hawks in Tehran, but especially in Washington, have been working for decades to prevent such a meeting. Not by accident the White House has pre-emptively denied any possible meeting.
Rouhani, technically, has already stopped a war – as Tehran worked closely with Damascus and Moscow devising a solution for the Syrian chemical weapons impasse. Rouhani is on full high-stakes diplomatic mode. Last week, he met with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) annual summit in Kyrgyzstan. They discussed not only the nuclear dossier, but also a common strategic path forward.
The Obama interview, recorded before the tentative deal struck in Geneva between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, offers a window on Obama’s game.
In the ‘carrot’ department, Obama for the first time admitted Iran should be part of the solution in Syria if it recognized “that what's happening there is a train wreck that hurts not just Syrians but is destabilizing the entire region.” In fact Tehran has been trying to convey that to Washington for months, even warning that the ‘rebels’ had access to chemical weapons.
But then, in the ‘stick’ department, Obama reverted to the same old message: “I think what the Iranians understand is that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue, that the threat against … Israel that a nuclear Iran poses is much closer to our core interests. That a nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilizing.”
It’s as if Obama was performing as a ventriloquist’s puppet for
And right on cue, a threat could not have been more explicit: “My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that [because] we haven't struck to think we won't strike Iran.”
Call it another exhibition of political schizophrenia. Still, Obama seems to leave a diplomatic door half-open: “You know, negotiations with the Iranians are always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy. But you know, my view is that … if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that in fact you can strike a deal."
Way more brazen is the White House’s drive to steal all the credit for the Kerry-Lavrov deal from Moscow – when it was the concerted Moscow-Tehran-Damascus negotiation that actually saved Obama’s presidency from absolute disaster.
Obama had the gall to assert he acted according to a US game plan to use Moscow to neutralize Syria's chemical weapons – and then open the door for a road map towards political transition in Syria.
Yet the current mess on what sort of UN resolution will regulate the dismantling of Damascus’s chemical weapons already reveals that Washington, London and Paris are doing everything they can to unravel the Geneva agreement even before it is implemented.
There’s absolutely no way Russia and China will accept this Syrian dossier falling under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, in an Iraq-style framework. Verification and implementation is fine; but not the UN Security Council imposing ‘measures’ (as in war) under Chapter 7 in case of non-compliance by Syria. ‘Non-compliance’ could involve anything from ‘rebels’ attacking inspectors to staging a false flag to implicate the government.
And now for the big picture
Here’s deceptive Obama in action: “... This is not the Cold War. This is not a contest between the United States and Russia. I mean the fact of the matter is that if Russia wants to have some influence in Syria post-Assad, that doesn't hurt our interests."
This is in fact way post-Cold War – even as vast sectors of the Beltway still harbor a Cold War mentality.
It doesn’t take a Freudian or Lacanian essay to examine how Obama is deeply exasperated by Putin playing high-stakes geopolitical chess – while Obama plays checkers with himself, and loses. First it was the Snowden case. Then Moscow saving Obama from his own, reckless, self-imposed “red line” by a deft diplomatic move. And finally Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times – which thoroughly thrashed American exceptionalism, a view espoused by virtually the whole developing world.
For internal consumption, Obama in his interview took pains to stress that he and Putin have nothing in common as far as politics and values are concerned. He did frame Putin's "important role" for assuming "responsibility for pushing ... [Moscow's] client, the Assad regime."
Yet once again betraying his own, narrow Cold War thinking process, he had to invoke clueless reader of index cards and ‘freedom fighter’ enabler, former US President Ronald Reagan: “Well, y’know Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust but verify.’ And I think that that's always been the experience of US presidents when we're interacting with, first, Soviet leaders, and now Russian leaders.”
The big picture, though, happens to be immensely more complex than Obama’s schoolboy reductionism. It can be summarized in four concise points.
1. Putin and his Eurasian strategists DON'T want to integrate Russia into the Anglo-led unipolar system.
2. What Putin - and China's Xi Jinping, and other BRICS leaders, and Indonesia, Argentina and Iran for that matter - want is a multi-polar international order under the rule of law and without the US as hegemon.
3. This is why Syria is a real red line for Russia, China and Iran.
4. Which leads us to the long big picture: for Moscow and Beijing – as well as other key developing world players – what matters is to slowly but surely change the current world order. One issue at a time.
A graphic example of this process was the meetings last week at the SCO between Putin, Xi and Rouhani. Here
I analyzed some of the wide-ranging political, economic and trade implications – ranging from the New Silk Road to the Asian Energy Security Grid. No side will admit it openly, but it’s all but certain that the trio analyzed what the letters exchanged between Rouhani and Obama really mean.
In the wishful thinking department, Obama is also striving to give the impression that Washington is playing Moscow against Tehran. But that’s not the case. Russia, China and Iran are weaving a very complex strategic relationship – and that goes way beyond Syria and the Iranian nuclear dossier.
After its role in the Snowden case and now in the Syria chemical weapons dossier, there’s a growing perception across the real ‘international community’ – not that fiction invoked by Washington - that Russia is back as a great power. The chessboard is open to myriad possibilities.
Moscow is on the way to enhance its already substantial leverage over the flow of energy to Western Europe. In an incremental global push from oil to natural gas, it’s on the way to enhance its leverage over distribution and marketing of natural gas to be exploited in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It’s on the way to enhance its leverage as a prime supplier of first-class weapons, from sophisticated missile systems to stealth fighters such as the Sukhoi T-50.
It simply won’t allow the Jihad International congregated in Syria to truck drive 900km and start raising hell in the Caucasus all over again.
And even as it faces Chinese competition for sources of energy in Central Asia, it is working towards a win-win situation where both countries benefit from increasing trade and energy deals.
This analysis may be muddled – but it hits all the key nodes. The current movement of geopolitical tectonic plates is all about a slowly but surely move away from the petrodollar, with immense consequences.
Pipelineistan, of course, plays a central role – from the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline (defying Washington, and now with a possible extension to China) to the proposed, $10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline (bypassing Qatar and Turkey, both not by accident heavily bent on regime change in Syria).
Watch the spoilers
And that brings us back to Iran. There are two players who will take no prisoners sabotaging any possibility of a meaningful dialogue between Washington and Tehran; Israel and the Gulf petro-monarchies, especially the House of Saud.
For Israel, Tehran is the perfect, totally fabricated ‘existential threat’ used as a diversionist tactic from the real issue; the apartheid regime imposed on occupied Palestine.
For the House of Saud, Tehran is the perfect ‘existential threat’ in the form of demonized, ‘apostate’ Shiites, who happen to rule a much more sophisticated state than the intolerant, Wahhabi, neo-barbarian oil kingdom. On top of it, slick operator Bandar Bush, flush with cash, will not stop playing the sectarian card and weaponizing to death various ‘rebel’ strands, not to mention battle-experienced jihadists in Syria.
Both lobbies – Israel and the House of Saud - are extremely influential in Washington. And they know full well how American exceptionalism is obsessed with ‘credibility’. So they won’t stop inflating the ‘credibility’ balloon. The question is whether, with his ‘credibility’ in tatters after the ‘red line’ fiasco, a zig-zagging Obama will muster the diplomatic courage to really start tearing down the Wall of Mistrust.
One thing is certain; don’t bet on him putting his schoolboy ego on hold and asking for Putin’s help.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.