From cold peace to engagement

Obama must make a bold push for a game-changing nuclear deal with Tehran

November 10, 2012 12:44 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:40 pm IST

From his tumultuous four years in office, during which he battled a chronic recession and tried to clean up the wreckage left behind by the hubristic foreign policy of his predecessor George W. Bush, it is evident that Barack Hussein Obama is not a war-president. Though he failed to close Guantánamo Bay — a prison but more a symbol of hate, and perhaps vendetta, that continues to alienate Muslims across the globe — the charismatic President did manage to fulfil two important campaign promises of his first term: winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama’s instinctive lack of the bloodlust — drone strikes in AfPak and the barren mountains of Yemen notwithstanding — must be terrible news for the super-hawks in Israel. They barely managed to conceal their dismay as polling closed in the U.S and vote counters showed up numbers that meant the President would serve another four years in the White House. Unfettered by the burden of seeking re-election, and with a rare chance of creating history before his four-year term ends, it is unlikely that Obama would fulfil the dreams of the cabal that surrounds Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of flattening Iran’s nuclear infrastructure through endless waves of air strikes.

While Mr. Obama may not send his B-2s, F-18s and Tomahawks into battle, and will likely restrain Mr. Netanyahu — the likely Prime Minister for a second term after Israel’s January elections — from attacking Iran, he would still need to mend a broken relationship with Tehran. The President does have a real chance of bridging the gap between a cold peace and a substantial engagement with Iran. The key, of course, is the nuclear dialogue, where the real gamechanger would be a deal — if achieved — that allows Iran to enrich uranium up to 20 per cent purity, but no more.

Calming West Asia

By striking a deal with Iran that would seal Tehran’s non-nuclear weapon status, Mr. Obama would make a substantial contribution, worthy of his Nobel, in calming West Asia. It is conceivable that the resulting peace-dividend may help defuse the noxious Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia — a major source of rising sectarian tensions between the region’s Sunni monarchies, led by Riyadh, and countries that supposedly form the region’s Shia crescent, led by Iran. Israel’s so called “existential threat” — though hardly believable because of the presence of its own stockpile of atomic weapons — arising from the deployment of medium range, nuclear tipped Iranian missiles would also be largely eliminated. With the Iranian crisis out of the way, the region’s concerns would once again shift naturally towards the festering but almost forgotten Israel-Palestine conflict, whose resolution holds the promise of imparting real stability to West Asia and beyond. It is now up to President Obama to either pursue timid incremental politics and risk being rated by history as an underachiever, or boldly navigate through the region’s uncharted waters and elevate his status from a well-meaning politician to a real statesman of our times.

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