In a recent interview with NPR, as Jazz observed, President Barack Obama pledged a new era of obstructionism would dawn when Republicans take control of the representative body of government in January. The press, however, will surely not characterize Obama’s veto threats in that fashion. Why would they? The media had every opportunity to thoroughly examine the pluses and minuses associated with reshaping relations with Cuba, and they opted to gloss over its complications and focus almost exclusively on its benefits. Many reading press accounts of the president’s decision might wonder why Obama’s predecessors, all far savvier stewards of American national interests abroad, didn’t pursue that same course sooner.
Without seeking much in exchange, the president recently revealed that a routine prisoner exchange with the communist island nation would serve as his arbitrary catalyst for reversing decades of American foreign policy. Obama, emboldened by his exercise of the presidency’s powers of fiat and enjoying the adoration of an NPR interlocutor, warned that he might not be done unilaterally surrendering to anti-American governments that jeopardize U.S. interests overseas and prevent their citizens from exercising full democratic rights.
When probed on the issue, Obama appeared open to the possibility of opening a new American embassy in Iran.
“I never say never, but I think these things have to go in steps,” Obama said. Of course, if the president is inclined to reshape American foreign policy in his image again, one of those “steps” could simply be a routine prisoner transfer. If the president is keen to reward Tehran for its aggression, an American Marine held captive by Iran for three years who recently went on a brief hunger strike would make a great candidate to get the ball rolling.
“In order for us to, I think, open that aperture with respect to Iran, we have to get this nuclear issue resolved,” the president continued, “and there’s a chance to do it and the question’s going to be whether or not Iran is willing to seize it.”
Here is another false obstacle. The latest round of nuclear negotiations “collapsed” when both parties reached the perpetual impasse associated with the levels of enriched uranium Tehran should be allowed to produce. When the deadline for a conclusion to the negotiation was reached in late November, it was simply extended yet again.
According to The New York Times, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Zarif believes that the president will have a harder time convincing the U.S. Congress to embrace a deal than will Iran’s representatives. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s pledge to eventually increase his nation’s uranium enrichment rates tenfold even amid international negotiations on the subject demonstrates clearly why Congress will be more leery of consenting to a nuclear pact. The United States plans to abide by it. As such, The Times reported, the president will do his best to circumvent the Senate, the body that traditionally ratifies international treaty.
All this sidestepping of the processes of statecraft envisioned by the framers must have Obama’s supporters positively giddy.
Finally, Obama gave a nod to the concerns of Israel which has been in a state of low-intensity war with Iran for decades. “They have legitimate defense concerns,” Obama said of Iran after noting the cost in lives they paid during the Iran-Iraq War, “but those have to be separated out from the adventurism, the support of organizations like Hezbollah, the threats they’ve directed towards Israel.”
Clearly, Cuba did not have to make amends for its “adventurism” in Venezuela, where forces loyal to Havana helped quell anti-government protests in February and March. Nor was Cuba made to reconcile for its intervention in Angolan civil war the mid-1970s. Instead, the president and the American press insisted that the causes of tension between Havana and Washington were ancient history. Is it that hard to envision a similar narrative emerging from a White House-led decision to erase the enmities that have hindered U.S.-Iranian relations in the past?
That having been said, normalizing relations with Iran – a nation which any soldier who served in Iraq will tell you played no small part in orchestrating lethal resistance to the occupation – will prove more difficult for the president. Despite a lack of polling data on the subject, it is hard to believe rapprochement with Iran would be anywhere near as popular with the public as Obama’s Cuba move has been. It is possible that Obama’s decision not to close the door on normalizing relations with Iran was merely a rhetorical flourish. The president did, after all, make mention of his 2008 campaign promise to engage America’s enemies diplomatically. Maybe he was merely seeking to reassure his allies that his views on the issue of engagement with Tehran had not changed.
But who knows? Obama is determined not to play the role of lame duck, and his legacy – already tattered and dubious heading into his final two years in office – largely depends on sweeping reforms he can enact by fiat in 2015 and 2016. Creating a permanent rift between America and Israel by seeking to normalize relations with a nuclearizing Iran sure would earn Barack Obama a place in the history books.