Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Obama's Holiday Gifts to Iran, China and Russia

Walter Russell Mead writes about the end of "the end of history" as regional powers reject the status quo. He observes:

A happy Thanksgiving week capped off a successful fall for the Axis of Weevils. As President Obama pardoned a turkey in the Rose Garden and millions of other gobblers headed for the ovens, the three big Eurasian powers seeking to gnaw away at the post-Cold War order across the world’s greatest landmass are celebrating big wins.
Iran should be giddy with joy; pro-administration commentary from the White House and its media allies has focused on the nuclear technicalities to paint the deal as a success, but there is no disguising the immense diplomatic gains that Tehran made. Washington hasn’t just loosened sanctions as part of a temporary negotiation; it is opening the door to a broader relationship with Iran at a time when Iran and its Shia proxies are making unprecedented gains across the Middle East. ... Iran believes it can trade a promise to end its nuclear program for American acquiescence to its domination of the Fertile Crescent and, potentially, the Gulf. This would be an epochal shift in the global balance of power and the consequences — in strained alliances and diminished US influence and prestige — are already being felt. 
After the nuclear deal came more joy for Tehran; as the New York Times reports, morale is flagging and unity is fraying among the Syrian opposition even as Butcher Assad’s ground forces continue to grind out more gains. Mussolini and Hitler used to have days like this as Franco’s forces slowly and painfully crushed the Spanish Republic — while a divided west stood by, wringing its hands at the slaughter and dithering over the unsavory nature of the Republican coalition. As the sanctions ease, there will be more money to support Assad and Hezbollah; at a critical moment the United States is giving Iran access to more resources for war. Meanwhile, far from showing restraint, Iran continues to push the envelope of what was agreed in the nuclear talks, as officials announce ambitious plans for lots more nuclear reactors, including more heavy water reactors like the one at Arak. In effect, the United States has tilted toward Iran in the Sunni-Shi’a war; both friends and foes are scratching their heads. 
President Putin, meanwhile, is giving hearty thanks for one of Russia’s biggest successes since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Kremlin is high-fiving its stunning, come-from-behind victory as Ukraine said a polite “No thank you” to the European Union’s offer of an economic association agreement. ...
Putin may not be able to hold onto his prize, but for now he can justly boast of having outwitted and bested the EU on one of the biggest issues of the day. 
It’s been tougher going in the Far East; China’s declaration of a special air defense zone over the East China Sea met with mockery and disdain from the neighbors until Washington stepped in with a face saving concession. After US bombers blew through the zone, Japan and South Korea followed up with flights of their own. Japanese civilian air carriers announced plans to comply with China’s demand, but after the display of resolution from Tokyo and Washington, they stiffened their spines and announced that they would not change their flight procedures to suit China’s new zone. 
They should have waited a bit longer; the US government has asked American airlines to comply with the new China zone. ... In context, Beijing is likely to see Washington’s advice to US airlines as less of an olive branch than a white flag — a sign that Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’ is more about hot air than real political will.

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