Changes Which Barack Obama Should Make

Monday, January 28, 2013

From Recourse to Balanced Diplomacy to Creating Reciprocal Opportunities

Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Former Iranian Ambassador to Armenia & Senior Expert on Strategic Issues

A presidential swearing-in ceremony and national election of two running mates in the area of international dealings helped them to experience 48 exciting hours. Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States and took the helm at the White House for another four-year term. Concurrently, there was another election going on in Israel in which the political party headed by the incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the highest proportion of votes. Of course, Bibi’s success was not remarkable and the margin of difference with the vote given to the Israeli left was insignificant. In the following interview, Iranian Diplomacy discusses challenges facing the US president during his second term in office; his inaugural speech, especially that part in which he pointed to the role of diplomacy; and finally his promise of change with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior expert on strategic issues.

Q: Barack Obama has finally taken the official oath of office to start his second term as the US president for another four years. What is your opinion about international challenges facing Obama during his new presidential term?

A: The answer to this question will cover a wide range of issues, but there are a few points which can be recapitulated as follows.

1. During Obama’s first term as president, the United States clearly tried to distance itself from the political team in Israel which was headed by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This measure on the part of the United States was almost unprecedented at this level. Although official positions taken by Washington are seemingly aimed at downplaying changes in Tel Aviv regime following the recent election there, the White House is apparently happy about the currently shaky position of Netanyahu and his party after all their past ballyhoo. At present, undiplomatic behavior and harsh reactions shown by Tel Aviv do not create big waves in Washington anymore. As a result, what happens in Israel is not probable to play a determining role in the US policies during Obama’s new presidential term. The US government will, however, try to avoid personalization and further deepening of differences between Obama and the new political alliance which will be in power in Israel through 2013.

2. China will remain a priority on Obama’s political agenda and there will be possibly more bargaining between the two sides. China’s hands are in the US mouth as the US continues to put new obstacles on the way of China’s progress in various fields. The United States will have trouble in interaction with the immediate periphery of China and may need to try and make China “more limited.” Today, China gives rapid response to political developments and this will be among major changes in 2013. Competition and cooperation will go on hand in hand and China will gradually start to show more attention to the importance of relations with non-Western countries. China gives priority to foiling the United States geopolitical ploys in its foreign policy and is actively pursuing that goal. Relations with China, on the other hand, are of special importance to the United States and their importance for Washington cannot be compared to relations with other countries.

3. Russia is still considered by the United States to stand somewhere between a threat and an outright enemy. Obama is trying to weigh possible grounds for interaction, especially according to the viewpoints of its new Secretary of State John Kerry. Perhaps, the approach proposed by some US political elites to offering a balanced definition of common interests between Washington and Moscow, will gradually replace the policy of “resetting” ties which was Obama’s main goal in relation to Russia during his first term in office. Russia, on the other hand, will take a variety of approaches to the United States. The Kremlin’s viewpoint will be different from that of the Russian political elite and a professional team of foreign policy experts.

4. Europe will be concerned and will remain to be so. The rapid speed of making decisions and implementing those decisions by certain European countries in new political areas will be an alarming sign for the United States. It is quite remarkable that just as Obama announced that the United States considers terrorism a closed case, the third generation of Al-Qaeda declares its presence in North Africa and the issue persists as a chronic concern for the White House.

Q: When Obama entered election campaigns for the first time in 2008 as the first African American to run for president in the United States, the main point which differentiated him from other chief executives of the United States was his promise of change. How do you see his success in living up to that promise within framework of his foreign policy during the past four years? In what respect has he been different from previous presidents of the United States?

A: Obama actually failed to introduce his promise of change as a dominant discourse in the United States domestic and foreign policies. However, this does not mean that he had failed in all fields. His overall performance is still in the twilight zone. The current state of affairs which exists between the United States and the rest of the world shows that the time when the United States was “the sole responsible party” for hectic and sensitive global issues is long past. Political wagers are currently more dominant than strategic and consolidated choices in the US foreign policy. Many foreign policy tactics of the United States have failed to bear fruit in various fields and selection of new people to change the composition of the country’s national security team for Obama’s second presidential term attests to this fact. In his quest for new opportunities, Obama sometimes went astray though he was frequently warned about this by his old friends and close aides.

His new focus on reaching common understanding of national interests in the field of foreign policy is one of the prominent characteristics of Obama. He aims to show that his party position is of secondary importance and he gives the highest significance to bigger priorities.

Q: Obama’s address upon taking the oath of office did not have much to do with the foreign policy and he sufficed to general references to that issue. According to the Washington Post, he talked about the recourse to diplomacy as a means of resolving the existing problems and also made innuendos to future strategy of his government towards Iran. What is your opinion about this issue?

A: I think his positions are not revealing of the entire conditions. He should not have any delusional thinking about effectiveness of sanctions against Iran. The general conditions in the Middle East region and in relation to Iran are characterized by sanctions, pressure, and negotiations and this combination cannot be possibly called good use of diplomacy. It is, on the contrary, part of a prolonged war of attrition. Iran's behavior in the face of new pressures from the United States cannot be emotional. On the other hand, the Americans have received Iran's strategic messages. If Iran succeeds to get out of the existing dire conditions, new equations will take shape in the region. In that case, the people of Iran as well as its leadership and high-ranking officials will be the final winners. At any rate, balanced diplomacy exercised with awareness can create reciprocal opportunities. The United States should be careful about its own policies as well as the policies of some of its regional allies in the cases of Syria and Iraq and should heed recommendations of international rival powers. The Middle East is not a casino, but the cradle of the human civilization. The change of tactics is not the final solution as it should be done in parallel with a change in approaches from confrontation to interaction. The American officials should not choose for repetitive options and also avoid of experiencing inefficient or dual-track solutions. They should note that none of these options will change strategic calculations of the Iranian leadership, political elite and the nation.

Key Words: Recourse, Balanced Diplomacy, Reciprocal Opportunities, Official Oath of Office, International Challenges, Middle East, Koleini

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:

*The United States and Negotiations with Iran: From Delusion to Reality:

*Republicans’ Political Trap for Obama:

*US Diplomacy vs. Tel Aviv’s Adventurism: Who Is the Final Winner?:

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