P5+1-Iran: U.S. in search of a new game by Pepe Escobar
P5+1-Iran: U.S. in search of a new game
The P5+1 negotiations with Iran, mostly a Washington-Tehran affair, may be a means to a complex and ambitious end: a new strategic and energy equation in Southwest Asia. U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address indicates that to reach this goal, the U.S. is steering away from war to diplomacy
Look at how U.S. President Barack Obama configured the U.S.-Iran relationship during his State of the Union address on January 28: “These negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.”
Admittedly, Obama is fighting a formidable array of interests against a rapprochement between Tehran and Washington – from the Israel lobby and the Gulf petrodollar lobby to the Capitol Hill minefield (Democrats and Republicans alike), some sectors of the industrial-military-surveillance complex, and the neo-cons blaring inside the right-wing corporate media box.
However, it does also sound as if Obama was sabotaging his own negotiations. Iran “is not building a nuclear bomb,” as the alphabet soup of U.S. intelligence has already, tirelessly, established. And Obama’s America is not “strong and confident.” But at least he pledged to veto any bill sent to him by Congress to derail the negotiations. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the U.S.’s pro-Israel lobby, has tried and will keep trying again
Obama is not exactly a master of foreign policy. He “withdrew” from Iraq only because of a formidable rebuff by the Iraqi Parliament. On Afghanistan, it’s the Pentagon – and the CIA – that have always run the show. Because of one of his reckless “red lines,” Obama was, recently, on the brink of bombing Syria – with cataclysmic consequences – until he was saved by Moscow.
But now, it looks like Obama is steering away from war to diplomacy. For his administration, the P5+1 negotiations with Iran – which is essentially a Washington-Tehran affair – are a means to a complex and ambitious end: reaching a new strategic equation in Southwest Asia.
Obama himself would never conceptualise it this way – because he doesn’t know much about China. But it’s as if the Obama administration saw Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a Persian Deng Xiaoping – with all manner of juicy business possibilities open if a definitive nuclear deal is reached. And reaching a deal would be Obama’s “Nixon in China” moment.
As much as Iran does not need to “rejoin the community of nations” (as Obama said), because it was never expelled from it, the myth of U.S. “geopolitical primacy” in Southwest Asia remains what it is – just a myth. You can’t have “primacy” in the region anymore based on a Likudnik Israel, a paltry military dictator in Egypt, and the petrodollar paragons of democracy in the Gulf.
The fact is that in an inevitably multipolar-bound world, Washington needs a new game. And an intelligent game implies a minimally decent relationship with Tehran. Otherwise, Iran will keep advancing as a key developing country on its own anyway, allied with Russia and China and expanding trade/business relations with everyone from Turkey, India and Pakistan to Northeast and Southeast Asia.
So now the formula could be: follow the money; follow the business sense; and follow a new strategic balance. Obama is certainly calculating that a broad understanding with Iran implies no more U.S. wars in West Asia, in parallel to the U.S. depending on less imported oil from the region. No wonder the House of Saud is agitated.
All through 2014, the P5+1 negotiations will hinge on whether we are slowly moving away from U.S. imperial power towards a new Southwest Asia equation where multipolar players include the U.S., Russia, Iran, the European Union and Turkey. The Saudi reaction has been to intensify, weaponise and then try to sell – again – the myth of a Sunni-Shia war, blaming the Shias, Persians and/or Arabs, as the source of all regional problems.
The possibility of a marriage of reason between Washington and Tehran is as enticing as the certainty of a divorce in the money marriage between Washington and Riyadh.
If he’s being true to himself, Obama ought to have observed that there are absolutely no common values between the U.S. he extolled at the State of the Union address and the land of a universal, non-stop jihad. Without those millions of barrels of oil a day, Saudi Arabia would have been “sanctioned” to death, if not outright shocked and awed, a long time ago.
But it’s too early to tell whether we are about to marvel at the first post-imperial U.S. presidency since World War Two. There’s always 2016; meanwhile, perhaps a U.S.-Iran deal may still be reached in 2014.
Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil, is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, Hong Kong. He has been a foreign correspondent for 30 years, working out of Europe, the U.S., and Asia. He is also an op-ed writer and contributes to various websites and radio stations from South America to West Asia. He is the author of five books, including ‘Obama does Globalisation’ (2009).