In his State of the Union message in January, President Barack Obama patted himself on the back and said that a breakthrough had been made in denying Syria the ability to gas its own citizens, and in resolving the nuclear impasse with Iran through patient negotiation "backed by American strength."
There have been some compliance problems even between Syria's sponsor, Russia, and the Assad government in Syria, on the issue of surrendering stocks of serin gas, (which can be easily and secretly replenished), and the latest round of talks in Vienna on Iran's nuclear program have ended with both sides acknowledging, albeit quite cordially, that there has been no tangible progress and stating that the other side will have to be "more realistic."
The issue of the practice of the Syrian government to gas its own citizens was only dumped into the lap of the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, after Obama huffed and puffed and despatched naval units to Syrian coastal waters to punish Assad with cruise missiles, and then abdicated his constitutionally stipulated role of commander-in-chief of the armed forces to the Congress, and as it prepared to kill the whole idea of attacking Syria, the president grasped Putin's straw (and coat-tails), and devolved the issue to Russia, Assad's chief armourer to begin with. In the circumstances, it is little wonder that Assad has not rushed to comply with his undertaking to divest himself of this capacity to gas civilian innocents, (in the high humanitarian tradition of his father), and has, in fact, continued in that habit, albeit with a different chemical agent for the delectation of his uncooperative countrymen.
No serious observer expected much of the talks with Iran. That country undoubtedly did find the sanctions imposed inconvenient, though the Chinese and Russians largely ignored them, and they were less rigorous than what the U.S. Congress wished to impose, but Obama threatened to veto the more draconian preferences of the legislators. But Iran was generally assumed, (and certainly was by me), to be seizing a breathing space on the hopeful supposition that whatever happened the screws would not be appreciatively tightened again. It was a refreshing pause for the loopy Iranian theocracy, but not an act of desisting from the well-settled Iranian intention to become a nuclear military power.
For the United States, that imposed an absolute embargo on the ability of Imperialist Japan to continue its brutal occupation of Indochina and large parts of China in 1940, by ceasing oil and scrap iron exports; and placed a quarantine on Cuba during the 1962 Missile Crisis; and enforced the containment of the entire Soviet Empire for decades, this Milquetoastish and delusional activity of President Obama's hardly qualified as the position of "American strength" which he described in his annual message to the Congress. Even less was it in the slightest degree a re-enactment of Theodore Roosevelt's admonition to "Speak softly but carry a big stick." President Obama did speak softly, does have a big stick, but has shown again and again that he won' use it, apart from hunting down bin Laden, a psychopathic outlaw.
Not to mire us in nuclear minutiae, scientists judge that what is needed to provide any security that Iran will not be in a position to pitch nuclear warheads at an opponent quickly, is tough restrictions on enrichment of uranium, and intensive and comprehensive inspections to ensure that no such drive is in progress. Naturally, and as is their well-established custom, the Iranian despotism, now fronted by a less egregious and sociopathic puppet than Ahmedinejad, claims only peaceful intent, though it regularly threatens to incinerate Israel. Tehran claims only to be developing enhanced nuclear capacity for purposes of medical research, academic satisfaction, and such peaceful pursuits as may arise. The Iranians want to expand their centrifuge capacity from the present 19,000, many of them obsolete, to 50,000, The official position of the United States is that any such position "would give Iran an unacceptably rapid break-out capability."
The Iranians allegedly do not want talks to break down because of a likely Israeli air attack, which though it would not be permanently incapacitating, would do great damage, retard development, and could be repeated as needed at intervals. The Vienna talks will have one more session before breaking for the summer. Though no one seriously expected that they would achieve an agreement, the Iranians have apparently put their program on hold, without rolling it back very far. If this condition can be maintained for another two years and eight months, there will be a new U.S. administration, and whether it is led by Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush, or anyone else who is plausible now, it will be a good deal more purposeful than the incumbents, and much more likely disposed to mean what it says in stating that a militarily nuclear Iran is unacceptable.
Although it was probably far from its intentions, the Obama administration may have prompted the slow-down in Iranian nuclear military development necessary to get an administration in office in Washington seriously interested in the retrieval and judicious deployment of "American strength." If so, this will be a novel achievement-stalling for long enough for another administration to be elected that will be more likely to produce a solution to the issue. If Iran develops a nuclear military capacity, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia will almost certainly do the same, and it will be only a matter of time before one of those countries departs the responsible standards that have been observed by Pakistan and Israel with their nuclear potential, and discharges such a weapon or gives or fumbles it into the hands of terrorists who do. In this one bizarre, respect, the Obama administration may help manage through the crisis after all.
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