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Iran the Eternal Enemy

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 4/04/2016 Michael Brenner
OBAMA © SAUL LOEB via Getty Images OBAMA

President Obama denounced Iran's leaders for what he claimed was behavior that did not conform to the spirit of last year's nuclear accord. He offered that judgment as justification for Washington's continued effort to restrict the restoration of the IRI's normal commercial relations with other countries as foreseen by the agreement. The United States' readiness to punish any financial institution (American or foreign) facilitating business transactions with Iran gives it considerable leverage to influence the terms of Iran's return to the global economy.

There is a certain odd logic in President Obama's condemnation of Iran's conduct. For he made it unmistakably clear that as far as the United States was concerned, any move toward normalization of relations turned on Tehran's acceptance of its long-standing bill of indictment of the IRI that extends far beyond the nuclear issue.

Let us bear in mind Obama's repeated statements in the immediate wake of the accord that the nuclear deal in itself changed nothing in the American judgment that Iran was a hostile state -- a sponsor of terrorism, a multi-pronged fomenter of disruption in the region, and a party with whom the US could not deal. Washington has followed through on that in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, etc. Since that depiction of Iran flows from the way we characterize the regime, it properly can be said that the United States still seeks either Iran's full conformity to the American conception of how political influence should be distributed in the region or regime change in Tehran.

Hence, Obama's denunciation of Iran for such sins as continuing to back Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria represents continuity. American demands are rooted in the American hubris that its exceptional virtue grants it the prerogative to interpret and judge the behavior of everyone else. The resulting mindset underlays a philosophy whereby no one else is permitted to have legitimate interests without their being certified by Washington -- be it Iran, Russia, or whomever. That certification is based not on principle, but rather whatever expedient appraisals Washington makes of what best serves its own interests and purposes

At present, a peculiarly warped logic has produced the conclusion that those interests include acting as an accessory to Saudi Arabia's assault on Yemen even if that means a sharp increase in the strength of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP), labeling al-Nusra/al-Qaeda as part of the "moderate" opposition to Assad, and pulling its punches in regard to the multiple links between ISIL and Erdogan's Turkey. Relations with Iran will remain antagonistic so long as Obama's team views the Middle East through these distorted lenses.

For years now, President Obama and his senior security officials have told us that the gravest terrorist danger came from the AQ subsidiary al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP) based in Yemen. We have attacked it with drones, conventional air strikes, Special Forces and assorted clandestine operations. This was done first in collaboration with the government of long-time former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. Once he was forced from office in the wake of the Arab Spring (literally fire-bombed out of it), we connived with the Saudis to replace him with his Vice-President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. A weak, unpopular figure, Hadi nonetheless was our man who let us bomb to our heart's content.

His unseating by the Houthis has been interpreted by Washington, as well as the KSA, as part of an Iranian sponsored push in the region. Hence, our full and unqualified backing for the Saudi bombing campaign despite the incontestable fact that the Houthis are bitter enemies of AQAP who have fought them effectively. While traditionally expressing animosity toward the United States, the Houthi leadership had given indications of a willingness to consider forms of tacit cooperation against AQAP.

AQAP had been flexing their muscles amidst the political disorder in Sana'a and exploiting the weaknesses of Hadi's regime. So why declare all-out war on their enemies? That's the big question. The distressing answer is that the Obama administration decided that in fact containing/crushing it was not the primary American interest. It pivoted toward Riyadh -- accepting the Saudi view of the region which placed highest priority on thwarting Iranian/Shi'ite designs (real or imagined) by suppressing the Houthis than the "war on terrorism."

Two questions stand out: Do the Obama people actually believe this fictional account or are they just going along with it? Either way, why are they ready to pay such a steep price in facilitating the growth of AQAP (as has occurred during the month-long bombing campaign)?

The American campaign against AQAP is stymied. The base from which drone strikes were launched, and Special Operations Forces operated, was evacuated just before it was overrun by AQAP irregulars. The base commander -- a Hadi loyalist -- fled to Saudi Arabia before the assault, appealing to his troops to stand down. Elsewhere, the elite Yemeni units trained by Central Command to fight AQAP were bombed by the Saudis, thereby degraded and leaderless.

In summary: The United States government knowingly follows a course that leads to a strengthening of a terrorist group which the President has declared the gravest threat to the United States. But don't worry good citizens, just make sure to take off your shoes at airports and sleep soundly knowing that the NSA will continue to monitor your electronic communications without warrant. The attempt to keep Iran isolated reflects this

Strange worldview.

There are only two conclusions that can be drawn from this latest American misadventure in the Middle East. Either the Obama people have cynically exaggerated greatly the terrorist threat from AQAP -- or, they have been recklessly negligent in endangering the American people.

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