How Obama is like Ike

His dal­liance with Iran mir­rors Eisenhower’s courtship of Egypt

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Clif­ford D. May Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran is, ac­cord­ing to no less an au­thor­ity than the U.S. gov­ern­ment, the world’s lead­ing state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism. Its Le­banese proxy, Hezbol­lah, sui­cide-bombed U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983. Ira­nian-backed Shia mili­tias killed hun­dreds of Amer­i­can troops in Iraq more re­cently. Just months af­ter the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion of 1979, Iran’s rulers be­gan tak­ing Amer­i­can hostages. They con­tinue to do so.

The cler­i­cal regime rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant na­tional se­cu­rity threat to the United States, and an ex­is­ten­tial threat to the Mid­dle East’s Sunni na­tions and its one Jewish state. It seeks what, in an ear­lier age, we’d have called an em­pire.

So last week, when Barack Obama vis­ited MacDill Air Force Base in Florida to give his fi­nal pres­i­den­tial ad­dress on na­tional se­cu­rity, what did he have to say about Iran, its con­tin­u­ing use of ter­ror­ism, its supreme leader’s an­i­mos­ity to­ward the United States and its hege­monic am­bi­tions?

“Just think about what we’ve done these last eight years with­out fir­ing a shot,” he boasted. “We’ve rolled back Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.” That was it — his one and only ref­er­ence to Iran. And it was mis­lead­ing. Iran’s rulers have frozen or slowed some com­po­nents of their nu­clear pro­gram — and let’s be clear, we’re talk­ing about a nu­clear weapons pro­gram. But other com­po­nents, for ex­am­ple, bal­lis­tic-mis­sile devel­op­ment and ad­vanced re­search on cen­trifuges, have con­tin­ued apace.

Nor is it true, as Mr. Obama im­plied, that the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion — the un­signed, non­bind­ing agree­ment that Mr. Obama con­cluded with Tehran de­spite both con­gres­sional and pub­lic dis­ap­proval — pre­vents Iran’s ay­a­tol­lahs from be­com­ing nu­clear-armed. On the con­trary, it pro­vides them with a path to­ward that goal even if, over the years ahead, they re­tain their com­mit­ment to what they call a ji­had against the West.

About two years ago, Michael Do­ran, a for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil se­nior di­rec­tor, cur­rently a scholar at the Hud­son In­sti­tute, pro­duced an ex­ten­sively re­searched 9,000-word re­port, pub­lished in the on­line jour­nal, Mo­saic, in which he es­tab­lished that achiev­ing rap­proche­ment with Iran has been Mr. Obama’s “ur­gent pri­or­ity” since his ear­li­est days in the White House. How­ever, he “con­sis­tently wrapped his ap­proach to that pri­or­ity in ex­cep­tional lay­ers of se­crecy,” con­vinced that nei­ther Congress nor the Amer­i­can pub­lic would sup­port him.

His mo­ti­va­tion re­mains elu­sive. Per­haps he be­lieved that Iran’s rulers har­bor le­git­i­mate griev­ances that, if ad­dressed, would lead them to mod­er­ate their poli­cies. Per­haps he has seen him­self as a Kissin­ge­rian builder of what Mr. Do­ran calls a “grand vi­sion of a new Mid­dle East or­der,” an ar­chi­tec­ture that would bal­ance the pow­ers of the re­gion’s Shias/Per­sians, Sun­nis/Arabs and Is­raelis/Jews. Or, more alarm­ingly, per­haps he is in­ca­pable of dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween friends and en­e­mies.

Such con­fu­sion would not be un­prece­dented, as Mr. Do­ran makes clear in a new book, “Ike’s Gam­ble.” In it, he re­veals how Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisenhower mis­com­pre­hended pan-Ara­bism, which one might re­gard as the pre­cur­sor of pan Is­lamism. That led to the devel­op­ment of a Mid­dle East strat­egy he would come to re­gret.

The story be­gins in 1953, when Eisenhower first en­tered the White House. Great Bri­tain had 80,000 troops sta­tioned along the Suez Canal. Ga­mal Ab­del Nasser, who had taken power in a coup a year ear­lier, was de­mand­ing their de­par­ture.

“Eisenhower be­lieved that Amer­ica’s task was to be an hon­est bro­ker be­tween the Bri­tish and the new Arab na­tion­al­ists seek­ing re­dress from their for­mer over­lords,” Mr. Do­ran writes. “In no way idio­syn­cratic, Ike’s view of the Amer­i­can role in the re­gion was by far the dom­i­nant per­spec­tive in Wash­ing­ton — a per­spec­tive re­in­forced by the for­eign-pol­icy elite’s stance to­ward Is­rael, which at best could be de­scribed as arm’s-length when not pos­i­tively ad­verse.”

Eisenhower saw Nasser as an anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist who, if given Amer­i­can sup­port, would help bring other Arabs into a strate­gic part­ner­ship against the Soviet Union. With this in mind, Eisenhower sided with Nasser, who na­tion­al­ized the Suez Canal, and against the Bri­tish, the French and the Is­raelis who sought through force to re­gain Western con­trol of that strate­gic as­set.

He even had the CIA equip Nasser with a pow­er­ful broad­cast­ing sys­tem. “Voice of the Arabs” was soon beam­ing “Nasser’s rad­i­cal pan-Arab ide­ol­ogy, in all of its anti-Western and an­tiZion­ist glory, into ev­ery Arab house­hold in the Mid­dle East. In the end, grav­i­tat­ing not to­ward Wash­ing­ton but to­ward Moscow, Nasser would work as­sid­u­ously to un­der­mine the Western po­si­tion in the Mid­dle East.”

It even­tu­ally be­came ob­vi­ous that Nasser’s in­ter­est was power and hege­mony over other Arab states (e.g. Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Le­banon), rather than self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and free­dom. Peace­ful co­ex­is­tence with Is­rael was out of the ques­tion. He would take what he could get from the United States but he would never join an Amer­i­can-led “in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

The par­al­lels be­tween how the Eisenhower ad­min­is­tra­tion viewed Egypt then and how the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion views Iran now are strik­ing. To­day, Mr. Do­ran writes, “Transna­tional Is­lamist move­ments are shak­ing the re­gion in a man­ner sim­i­lar to Nasser’s pan-Ara­bism.”

In time, how­ever, Eisenhower rec­og­nized that he had been wrong to be­lieve that “help­ing the Arabs bal­ance the power of the Is­raelis and the Euro­peans was the key to a suc­cess­ful re­gional strat­egy.” And, in later life, “he ex­pressed re­gret for hav­ing treated his al­lies so harshly at Suez, and even came to see Is­rael as a strate­gic as­set.”

For now, at least, Mr. Obama con­tin­ues to turns a blind eye to ev­i­dence that “Death to Amer­ica!” re­mains the long-term goal of the Ira­nian rev­o­lu­tion. He re­jects the pos­si­bil­ity that Iran’s “mod­er­ates” are ac­tu­ally strate­gic prag­ma­tists, ea­ger to ac­cept Amer­i­can money but, in ex­change, will­ing to do noth­ing more than ex­er­cise a bit of pa­tience when it comes to achiev­ing their Is­lamist and im­pe­rial am­bi­tions.


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