Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Obama waves the white flag
Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi
U.S. President Barack Obama's address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday was marked by acceptance and resignation of America's decline from its exclusive position of world leader.
In his speech, a clear message emerged: The American superpower cannot bear the burden alone for maintaining international order and the U.S. aspires to act cooperatively with the international community while relying on diplomatic tools.
Regarding Syria, the sword that hung above President Bashar Assad's head disappeared in one feel swoop and was replaced by the U.N. Security Council as an entity that is supposed to enforce the Geneva Conventions. But Obama's mention of international sanctions against Syria, should it violate its pledge to give up its chemical weapons, was general and toothless.
The same went for Iran. Obama repeated, almost word for word, the conciliatory message he sent to the Iranian people and their leaders in 2009. However, this time, unlike in the past, the message was delivered from a position of significant weakness. This is because of the resounding failure of Obama's attempt to gain congressional support for limited military action in Syria and the titanic battle the White House is engaged in with the House of Representatives on budget issues. There is no chance that Obama would receive a green light from the current Congress to strike Iran, no matter what the reasons.
Obama thus found himself at the U.N. raising a white flag on everything related to America's ability to shape global affairs.
Obama faces an Iran that has been weakened by crippling sanctions. The result of this was expressed by the president repeatedly in his speech, as he gave the go-ahead to a diplomatic process with Iran following the harmonious tones that have been emanating from Tehran recently.
The question to ask is this: Given the current circumstances, particularly in the wake of the Syrian fiasco, is there a real chance that the soft music being played by President Hasan Rouhani will be translated into a strategic decision by Iran to freeze its nuclear program?
The diplomatic process, to be led on the American side by the indefatigable U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will shed light on this key question. One can only hope that Kerry will be more successful in this than he was in enlisting support for military action against Syria.