15 November 2013

NYT mockery of Bibi's stance on negotiations with Iran: an opinion or a message?


The rift between Washington and Jerusalem is deeper than it ever was during the current POTUS years in the White House, which is deep indeed, taking into account that Obama-Bibi chemistry so far produced poor results. The bitter and totally undiplomatic exchange of verbal blows between Kerry and Bibi was unprecedented:

Kerry, already bruised by the teetering Israeli-Palestinian talks and furious with Netanyahu over announcements of new settlement building, suggested Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the Israeli leader did not know what he was talking about.

“I’m not sure that the prime minister, who I have great respect for, knows exactly what the amount or the terms are going to be because we haven’t arrived at them all yet,” Kerry said.
And, of course, Bibi is no less outspoken about the looming agreement:
Netanyahu warned Kerry and his European counterparts that Iran would be getting "the deal of the century" if they carried out proposals to grant Tehran limited, temporary relief from sanctions in exchange for a partial suspension of, and pledge not to expand, its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel.

"Israel utterly rejects it and what I am saying is shared by many in the region, whether or not they express that publicly," Netanyahu told reporters.
In the light of this rift and the practically unreserved support NYT provides to the White House, the editorial Iran Nuclear Talks: Unfinished, but Alive, closely followed by Thomas Friedman's What About US?, wasn't very surprising. Both articles, by the way, were widely echoed in the Israeli press, Ynet links as an example only.

As if following in the footsteps of John Kerry, the NYT editorial was exceptionally harsh when mentioning Bibi:
Unfortunately, the inconclusive negotiations have given an opening to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who excoriated the proposed agreement as the “deal of the century” for Iran before it is made public, to generate more hysterical opposition.
Israeli media, as one, latched onto that "hysterical opposition" quote with vengeance. Granted, NYT was never too gentle with Bibi, but this is a new high. No matter how august NYT high and mighty feel about themselves, even people like I, who don't belong to the Bibi's groupies' camp, were taken aback at the vehemence displayed. The attack on Bibi was especially difficult to understand, when the editorial itself states the reasons for failure of this stage of negotiations:
One primary obstacle involves Iran’s insistence that it has a right to enrich uranium (which can be used for nuclear power plants or weapons), something Washington is not ready to concede.
And then NYT reconfirms that it was Iran that walked away from the almost ready agreement:
But while France took a harder line than its partners on some issues, a senior American official said it was the Iranian delegation that balked at completing an interim agreement, saying that it had to engage in additional consultations in Tehran before proceeding further.
Of course a dig at France and its separate position on Iranian nukes was irresistible:
Meanwhile, other reports blamed France for the failure to reach a deal after Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius complained that the proposed agreement was a “fool’s game” just as negotiations were at a critical point.
The war cry of the editorial, though, is reserved for the end:
The opponents of a deal are energized and determined. The United States and its allies have to be united and smart.
The first sentence of that quote would be funny if its ridiculousness wasn't so obvious. The "mighty opponents": Israel, Saudi Arabia and a few other Sunni states in the Gulf, who have every good reason to fear the emerging nuclear Shia Iran. How do all of the mentioned - together or separately - change the course decided upon by United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, must be a question of the century, but not one to be answered by NYT editorials.

As for the "United States and its allies": that one deserves a separate discussion, to appear later in this post. In any case, the enemies of peace are named, the "allies" are listed, the course of action is mapped out by NYT.

The big "But"

And then, on the heels of the editorial, comes a very strange and self-contradictory op-ed by Thomas Friedman. Why is it strange? Because it starts with a paragraph that couldn't be disagreed upon by any of the so called "opponents of the deal":
It goes without saying that the only near-term deal with Iran worth partially lifting sanctions for would be a deal that freezes all the key components of Iran’s nuclear weapons development program, and the only deal worth lifting all sanctions for is one that verifiably restricts Iran’s ability to breakout and build a nuclear bomb.
"Yes and yes", I am more than sure that Bibi, the Saudis, the French and everyone else concerned with the issue will answer to that statement. But then comes the inexplicable addendum:
But there is something else that goes without saying, but still needs to be said loudly: We, America, are not just hired lawyers negotiating a deal for Israel and the Sunni Gulf Arabs, which they alone get the final say on. We, America, have our own interests in not only seeing Iran’s nuclear weapons capability curtailed, but in ending the 34-year-old Iran-U.S. cold war, which has harmed our interests and those of our Israeli and Arab friends.
If anyone could explain the meaning of conjunction between these two paragraphs, I would be grateful. Indeed, is there a contradiction between hammering out an agreement on nuclear freeze and a breakthrough in bilateral relationships between US and Iran? And, if there is no contradiction (and I can't see one), why does the second paragraph start with that "But..."? A naive reader, like you and I, would say: do the first and, then, mighty please, go full steam with the second - why not? And if you think that becoming buddies with Iran will curb their support for terror everywhere in the world, resolve the Syrian conundrum and reign in Hezbollah - more power to you.

But - I am afraid that there is another, more sinister meaning to that "But". Taking into account Friedman's influence on the White House Middle Eastern politics ('In May 2011, it was reported in The New York Times that President Obama "has sounded out" Friedman concerning Middle East issues.'), one can decipher the message, not so artfully hidden in the op-ed. Which is: yes, in the ideal world we'd like to get that ideal agreement with Iran on the nukes. But you, the miscellaneous nay-sayers and troublemakers, should remember that US is interested above all and most of all in becoming best buddies with Iran again, and if the agreement that will be eventually signed, and no doubt it will be signed (at least this is what I, Tom Friedman, hear from the WH), if this agreement is not exactly up to par - well, too bad for you. Because our priorities are different, and it is not for nothing that our POTUS wanted to "engage" Iran from day one of his first term in the WH...

And of course, Friedman will not be Friedman without this crude attempt to frighten his loyal readers with a bold mind reading exercise of "some of our allies" (guess who?):
Some of our allies don’t share those “other” interests and believe the only acceptable outcome is bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and keeping Iran an isolated, weak, pariah state.
Yes, I can just see Bibi pining days and nights for the red button that will send the IAF on its ultimate adventure - and bring an inevitable retaliation with untold number of dead and untold destruction. But of course, everything to please the man who won the Pulitzer Prize three times and is incapable of poetic flights of feverish imagination.

The "allies" comedy

Now we can discuss this finishing sentence from the editorial: "The United States and its allies have to be united and smart". Let's take a look at the "allies": Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China and their motives regarding the nuclear deal with Iran.
  • Britain. Would dearly like to get its presence in Iran back to normal and I bet British Petroleum is chafing at the bit to get back. I strongly doubt that nuclear-armed Iran is a consideration at all in London.
  • France. Has its own historical and other reasons to be tougher on Iran than all the others in the team. However, I wonder for how long its determination will keep.
  • Germany. Is torn between its loyalty to Israel and its once very strong commercial relations with Iran, who was traditionally a great customer for German high-tech (that including the rather infamous centrifuges).
  • Russia? You must be kidding, calling Russia, the country which above all likes to stick it to US, an ally. Not to mention Iran being its customer of choice for military equipment, nuclear power stations, civilian aviation and you name it. And, of course, the mutual interests in Syria and other places in the Middle East and elsewhere.
  • China? They are so hungry for new sources of oil that they will let Iran to test a few nukes in their territory, if asked. Ally of US? Pull another one.
In short, there is something the list is short of, and that is real allies for US. The sheer stupidity of that NYT editorial closing sentence should, by rights, haunt its writer for a long time, but in reality it will hardly interfere with his/her digestion, I am sure.

And re Israel, that other ally, mentioned in another context by Mr Friedman: it looks like being an ally of the current administration doesn't carry a lot of commitment on the administration's side, the alliances being dispensed of with ease, when the realpolitik commands.
The BuzzFeed report cited a Senate aide who said that “every time anybody would say anything about what would the Israelis say they’d get cut off and Kerry would say ‘you have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”
It is not a big surprise to see again that allies are replaced as easily as underpants, but at least most people change their underpants in the privacy of closed rooms.

Although - why this focus on the ineffectual sidekick of the POTUS, who, after all, only carries out his POTUS' wishes? Let's recall the POTUS' "commitments". We all remember that presidential promise (commitment?):
But to the issue of Iran, as long as I'm president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.
It was repeated an uncounted number of times, but I know, I know: it is only a politician's promise, which is as good as a weather forecast, but carries less personal responsibility. Besides, as I hear, this promise was just a hasty slip of the tongue (no matter that it was so frequently repeated) and has been lately corrected to become Obama’s Promise To Iran: ‘If You Like Your Nuclear Weapons, You Can Keep Them’. Whatever, and my advise to Iranians will be... oh well, do what you want with that promise...

To complete the picture, I strongly recommend the post What No One's telling You About Iran's Big Victory In Geneva by Joshuapundit.

Also, check out the Israel: The Impudence Accompanying Betrayal by prof Barry Rubin that starts with a simple statement: "I’ve always been amazed that anyone thought the United States would ever act against the Iranian nuclear threat. There was never any chance that such a thing would happen. The United States would never go to war with tens of millions of people."