Is Awesome, Mideast Edition
It takes a special
innocence to imagine that the chaos unfolding in the Middle East can be put
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
May 18, 2015
Ben Rhodes, President
Obama’s deputy national security adviser, has been offering a reassuring view
of the Iranian nuclear deal in the face of some Arab skepticism. “If you can
diplomatically and peacefully resolve the nuclear issue in a way that prevents
Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he told reporters last week, “we
believe that will lead to a much more stable region.” Mr. Rhodes also contends
that with a deal “there will be no need to see [a] regional arms race.”
So what’s more frightening:
That Mr. Rhodes believes what he’s saying? Or that he does not?
Just for Mr. Rhodes’s
benefit, here’s a refresher course on stability and the arms race in the
Middle East since April 2, 2015, the day Mr. Obama announced his framework
nuclear agreement with Iran.
April 2: Iranian Foreign
Minister Javad Zarif immediately accuses the U.S. of “spin”
and contradicts Mr. Obama’s key claims regarding the terms of the deal.
April 12: A Swedish think tank
reports that Saudi Arabia registered the biggest
increase in defense spending in the world.
April 13: Moscow says
it will deliver the S-300 air-defense system to Tehran. Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei later boasts that the U.S. “can’t do a damn thing”
militarily against Iran.
April 14: Iran announces
agreements with Russia and China to build additional nuclear
April 17: Iran dispatches an
armed convoy of ships, believed to be destined to resupply pro-Iranian Houthi
rebels in Yemen in contravention of a U.N. arms embargo. The convoy turns back
after the U.S. deploys an aircraft carrier to the region to shadow the ships.
April 20: Jason Rezaian, the
American-born Washington Post reporter imprisoned in Iran since July, is charged
with espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments” and
“propaganda against the establishment.”
April 20: The British
the U.N. panel monitoring sanctions on Iran that it “is aware of an
active Iranian nuclear procurement network” associated with two Iranian
companies that are under international sanctions.
April 22: Saudi Arabia resumes
airstrikes in Yemen despite administration pressure to maintain a cease fire.
April 28: Iran seizes
the 837-foot long Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands flagged cargo
ship with 34 sailors aboard, as it transits the Strait of Hormuz along an
internationally recognized route. The ship is released a week later after Maersk
pays a fine of $163,000.
April 29: Former Saudi
Intelligence Minister Turki al Faisal tells
a conference in Seoul that the kingdom will match Iran’s nuclear
capabilities with its own. “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too.”
The prince also accuses Mr. Obama of going “behind the backs of the
traditional allies to strike the deal.”
May 8: Reuters reports
that inspectors have discovered traces of sarin gas at an undeclared
military research site near Damascus. The report puts paid to administration
boasts that its diplomacy effectively solved the Syrian chemical crisis.
May 11: Saudi Arabia’s King
Salman withdraws from the Arab summit meeting with Mr. Obama. The king of
Bahrain follows suit, preferring instead to attend
a horse show with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
May 13: Reuters reports
“the Czech Republic blocked an attempted purchase by Iran this year
of a large shipment of sensitive technology usable for nuclear enrichment after
false documentation raised suspicions.”
May 14: Iranian patrol boats fire
upon a Singapore-flagged oil tanker with machine guns as it transits
the Strait of Hormuz. The ship makes it safely to Dubai.
May 17: Citing senior U.S.
officials, the Sunday Times reports
that “Saudi Arabia has taken the ‘strategic decision’ to
acquire ‘off-the-shelf’ atomic weapons from Pakistan.”
Also on May 17, Islamic State
fighters in Iraq seize the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. This
is after Mr. Obama crowed
in February that “our coalition is on the offensive, ISIL is on the
defensive, and ISIL is going to lose.” Now the Iraqi government will turn
to Shiite paramilitaries under Iranian control to try to retake the
city, further turning the Baghdad government into an Iranian satrap.
I recount these events not
just to illustrate the distance between Ben Rhodes’s concept of reality and
reality itself. It’s also a question of speed. The Middle East, along with our
position in it, is unraveling at an astonishing pace. Reckless drivers often
don’t notice how fast they’re going until they’re about to crash.
We are near the point where
there will be no walking back the mistakes we have made. No walking away from
them, either. It takes a special innocence to imagine that nothing in life is
irreversible, that everything can be put right, that fanaticism yields to reason
and facts yield to wishes, and that the arc of Mideast history bends toward
Ben Rhodes, and the
administration he represents and typifies, is special.