Sunday, April 18, 2010

Secret Memorandum Confirms Obama's Lack Of A Plan In The Middle East

The Foreign Policy's blog The Cable revealed earlier this month the lack of a clear policy towards Israel in the Obama administration:
Although the public fireworks between top U.S. and Israeli officials may have died down in recent days, a fully fledged debate has erupted inside the Obama administration over how to best bring Middle East peace talks to fruition, let alone a successful conclusion.

Some reports have suggested there are two camps within Obamaland -- one favoring an incremental approach focused on persuading the Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations, and a second group pushing the president to lay his own "American plan" on the table.

But one U.S. official close to the issue told The Cable there's a more diverse spectrum of opinion inside the administration, with different officials exhibiting a range of views on what the tactics and tone of the U.S. approach should be going forward.
Now the New York Times reveals a secret memorandum that indicates the Obama administration is not so clear on how to handle Iran either:
Gates Says U.S. Lacks Policy to Curb Iran’s Nuclear Drive 
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.

Several officials said the highly classified analysis, written in January to President Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, came in the midst of an intensifying effort inside the Pentagon, the White House and the intelligence agencies to develop new options for Mr. Obama. They include a set of military alternatives, still under development, to be considered should diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.

...Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed. Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a “chairman’s guidance” to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning. He cautioned that a military attack would have “limited results,” but he did not convey any warnings about policy shortcomings.
Keep in mind the memorandum was written in January--and Obama's deadline to Iran to stop pursuing nuclear power was December 2009.

According to the article, among the strategies the memo said need to be developed is how to deal with Iran in the event that it decides to go ahead and assemble the individual parts necessary for a nuclear weapon--but does not assemble the weapon itself: a possibility many analysts apparently consider likely.

The memorandum calls for a plan on how to contain Iran if it should decide to produce nuclear weapons and provide them to one of the terrorist groups it supports. This is supposed to be a possibility US officials consider to be a less likely.

The problem is that under Obama, the US has become a less than reliable ally, so its judgement on what kind of arms Iran may--or may not--provide to Hamas and Hizbollah is less than reassuring.

For example, take the recent issue of Syria providing Scuds to Hizbollah--an increased threat to Israel. According to Reuters, it's only a problem "in part":
The United States believes that Syria intended to transfer long-range missiles to Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas but there are doubts about whether the Scuds were delivered in full and whether they were moved to Lebanon, U.S. officials said on Friday.

The alleged deal to transfer the Scud missiles to Hezbollah has fueled cross-border tensions with Israel and could cast doubt on U.S. President Barack Obama's diplomatic outreach to Syria.

"We think the intent is there," a senior U.S. official said of Syria transferring the missiles to Hezbollah, a Iranian- and Syrian-backed Islamist group that fought a war with Israel in 2006.

But the senior official and two others briefed on the case said it was unclear whether the missiles, which could hit deep inside Israel, were actually handed over in full to the guerrilla group. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"We believe a transfer of some kind occurred but it is unclear if the rockets themselves have changed hands," the senior official said.

A partial transfer could involve weapons parts, documents or funding, other officials said. [emphasis added]
What the article does not delve into--and what the State Department fails to follow up on--is that hedging by claiming that Syria only sent Scuds "in part" to Hizbollah does not change the fact that this is a violation of the 2006 US-sponsored agreement that ended the Israel-Hizbollah war.

Barry Rubin notes this and adds:
I can't help thinking of the Cuban missile crisis if, in 1962, the Kennedy Administration said that the Soviets had only shipped missiles to Cuba which could target the United States "in part," so it was ok.
At the risk of stating the obvious: Obama is no Jack Kennedy, and it is not so clear that Obama would have taken strong action if he had been in Kennedy's shoes. Today, with the threat being not to the US but to another country--one undergoing difficulties with the Obama administration--it is unclear whether the US can be counted upon.

Syria, like Iran, sees the confusion and lack of follow-through of the Obama administration--and matters are unraveling while Obama can do no better than blame Israel for his own lack of a plan.

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NormanF said...

Just blame Israel for not making the US look good in the Middle East.

Now THAT's a plan!

Daled Amos said...

It's not so much not making the US look good as it is the way the US wants Israel to make it look good that is the problem--bending over backwards and making sacrifices that put live and Israel's security at risk.