Dore Gold Iran, Mid-East Strategy & Arab-Israeli Diplomacy
 
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Should Barack Obama Be Compared To Jimmy Carter?

Just when President Barack Obama is facing mounting criticism over his domestic agenda for the US, one of the leading American journals of international relations, Foreign Policy, published a cover story for its January/February issue comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter, who is widely perceived as having been a failed president. This negative comparison did not come from the conservative side of American political culture, that is represented by Fox News or the Wall Street Journal, but rather from a liberal publication owned by the Washington Post. Since the magazine is found all over bookstores and airports, it has received a great deal of attention on network television programs.

The author of the controversial article, Walter Russell Mead, focuses on the fact that both presidents came into office with the intention of reducing  US military involvement overseas. Carter came into office at the end of the Vietnam War while Obama made his opposition to the Iraq War the one of the main themes of his election campaign. Mead points out that both Carter and Obama sought to reach out with diplomatic initiatives toward American adversaries: Obama has sought to engage diplomatically not only with Iran, but also hoped to normalize relations with Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. American allies have always experienced a degree of discomfort with these diplomatic shifts, not only Israel, but also a key American ally in South America, like Colombia. 

In one important respect the comparison of Obama to Carter is premature, and even unfair, for Obama has only been in office for one year, while Carter earned his reputation after four years in office. Obama could still change and his speech on Oslo when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, showed that he was considered adopting a completely different approach to global challenges that was closer to the policies of his predecessor, President Bush. Moreover, Obama is sending another 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, although it took him months to make the decision.  In Carter's case, his policies only really changed at the end of his third year in office, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, leading Carter to admit that he learned more about Moscow during that crisis than he ever knew before. The president that wanted to cut back US military involvement in the world after Vietnam suddenly sent his secretary of defense to the Middle East to negotiate new American bases for the US Rapid Deployment Force, in Egypt, Oman, and Somalia, that Carter ordered the Pentagon to create.

There is one point of comparison between the two presidents worthy of consideration--that is the role of Iran in determining how their administrations will be judged. Carter's mishandling of Iran brought about his downfall. The Shah of Iran was convinced that the Carter administration selectively used the issue of human rights against him, accelerating his loss of power to Ayatollah Khomeini. What was undeniable was that Carter's UN ambassador, Andrew Young, called Khomeini "a kind of saint." Ambassador Sulllivan who was Carter's envoy to Tehran during the Islamic Revolution called Khomeini a "Ghandi-like figure." The Carter administration's outreach to the Islamic Republic during 1979 was greeted by contempt by Khomeini, whose supporters captured the US Embassy and held its diplomats hostage for 444 days. 

The Obama administration still clings to its policy of engagement with Iran. True, it appeared to take a new military initiative against Iran by the deploying missile defense units to the Persian Gulf, by while partly reassuring nervous Arab states close to Iran, like Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE, the American decision did not fundamentally do anything to change continuing enrichment of uranium and its drive for nuclear weapons. Nor does this umbrella address Iran's chief method of extending its power: subversion and terrorism in neighboring states, including in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Gaza, and in the Yemen insurgency.

In any case, the White House was not pleased with the decision of the Senate to pass unanimously legislation for new sanctions on Iran last week, as the House of Representatives did already in December. It is still seeking to work on Iran through the UN Security Council and it does not want to alienate the China. Though the chances that the Russians and the Chinese would agree to sanctions on the sale of refined oil products, like gasoline, are virtually nil, it does not seem that the administration is ready to move unilaterally against Iran, but rather still insists on UN support as a prerequisite for any action.

During 2009, when Obama extended his hand to Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly responded with an offensive remark that it was now clear that the US was weak and could no longer defend its interests. Should the Obama administration delay firm diplomatic action on Iran, it should not be ruled out that the leadership in Tehran might resort to increasing acts of subversion against Western targets. Iran already probed Washington's response when it used its army cross the Iraqi border and in order to occupy several Iraqi oil wells a few weeks ago. Iranian speedboats belonging to the Revolutionary Guards have been prepared to test the responses of the US Navy in the Persian Gulf, as well.

Thus Obama might find himself tested by the Iranians in the months ahead. For example, if they reach the conclusion that the West is unable to do anything against them, they might halt all cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and turn off the cameras that monitor their uranium enrichment activities in Natanz. Among professionals this is called "nuclear break out." It was successfully done by the North Koreans in 2002, and after the West did nothing, they tested their first nuclear device in 2006. How Obama handles Iranian provocations in 2010 will undoubtedly affect whether how his administration will be judged. If he accepts with a the reality of a nuclear Iran then he may well be seen to be another Jimmy Carter. But if he fulfills his commitment of making sure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons and proves he is determined to defend the interests of the Free World, then history will look upon him very differently.

This article appeared in hebrew in Yisrael Hayom.
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xtteam says:

The whole debate has, apparently, been sparked off by the proposed erection of a statue commemorating Norman Collie and his local guide John Mackenzie on the island of Skye. belstaff jackets