This time Barack Obama will go straight into the Hall of Fame of the most influential men in America, just as every president of the United States yearns to do before their term in office comes to an end.
He is the real protagonist of the Iran agreement, outshining all the other diplomats — starting with his embarrassing Secretary of State John Kerry — and the P5 + 1 countries which helped to conclude the “big deal.”
After two long years of negotiations, Obama’s big coup began the same day that Hassan Rouhani took over in Tehran, elected on June 14, 2014 and inexplicably described as “the moderate” from his very first presidential moments. It was a sign that something had changed in Tehran and that the ayatollahs’ politics were undergoing a change of direction.
Since that election, the U.S. has no longer been depicted as the “Great Satan,” and the Western media spotlight has no longer shone on Iran, simply no longer highlighting the violence, hangings and other nastiness that this country commits — just like the others — just for political advantage.
Iran has suddenly become a potential ally and even, with time, could be shown to be a bulwark against Islamic extremism and the outbreak of the Islamic State — so much so that that Obama himself wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in October 2014 outlining a road map of the conflict in the region.
Can we mention realpolitik here?
Definitely. The president of the United States is not an idealist, at least no more so than he was when he finished teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago.
He, of course, has his ideological convictions, but he is a man of compromise — or of reluctance — at all costs, as he has already demonstrated in the Syrian crisis, where he waited improbably long before stopping a military attack that would have dragged the U.S. into another major and possibly hopeless war. Moreover, the slogan of his first electoral campaign is burned into everyone’s memory: “Yes, we can.” As if to say, anything is possible, even an agreement with Iran.
And he really wanted this agreement — because it made sense, because it was natural to try and because it could be a good agreement in the long term. Nevertheless, the road is still fraught with danger, and the White House number one is well aware of this.
But what else could the president do, following seven years of highs and lows after having lost control of Congress?
Obama’s Historic Legacy
The 44th president of the United States would have wanted to leave as a legacy a photo of America that morning: An energetically independent country with a growing economy thanks in part to the government’s efforts in saving heavy industry such as the automobile industry, and an army removed for the first time from the quagmire of wars fought in foreign, distant lands, due to the — some might say evil — strategy of using drones and the most advanced technologies invented by Pentagon scientists, instead of putting “boots on the ground.”
Obama has at least three foreign policy medals he can pin to his chest:
- The vengeance wrought on Osama bin Laden, with the parallel defeat of al-Qaida — extremely effective, in the opinion of the American public;
- The unexpected diplomatic about-face with Cuba; and
- From today, the agreement in the process of being finalized with Iran.
As for the rest, his administration has reached the last phase of the presidential cycle with a series of scorching domestic defeats: As well as having lost Congress, he witnessed a half victory with his so-called “Obamacare” law, which gave insurance cover to 13 million Americans who were previously uninsured, but which runs the risk of being overturned by the Republican vote; and he decidedly lost the battle for gun control, when the powerful National Rifle Association’s lobby convinced Congress to overturn provisions that sought to limit the indiscriminate acquisition of weapons by the American public.
The Iran agreement, according to analysts, could thus be his saving grace.
According to Israel, however, it is “the historic surrender of the West to Iran and its axis of evil.”
We will see. Undoubtedly, with regard to geopolitics, we will only know in five to 10 years if some of the moves made by the United States today in the Middle Eastern chess game — not jeopardizing itself, favoring the Shiites and leaving Iraq and Syria to their fates — will have been far-sighted. In the same way that we will know if the decision to turn our forces almost exclusively against the Russians will have paid off.
Because that’s the reality. The accord, which the White House so desperately desires with Iran, is above all a way to snatch this geographic area away from Moscow, practically the only target of economic sanctions from this moment, since those same sanctions have been lifted from Russia’s most faithful allies, Cuba and Iran. An obsessive encirclement by the Russian Federation — aggressive to the point of provoking a civil war in Ukraine — is the geopolitical horizon that Barack Obama reached today, and is the toughest legacy that he leaves for the next president.
However, the accord between Iran and the other world powers is missing the word “finished,” given that the Republican Congress still has 60 days in which to review the articles and give its definitive approval — allowing Barack Obama’s political adversaries a chance to rummage around in the agreement’s small print and undermine a successful outcome.
That notwithstanding, it would be difficult at this point to deviate from the main path. The true danger, in fact, was never the nuclear bomb, which was little more than an incitement. If anything, the real danger is the use that Tehran will make of the positive outcomes of the agreement, when its economy starts to grow again to the detriment of the other Gulf countries, competing not only for oil, but also in military and religious arenas.
With typical head-of-the-class attitude and forgetting the NATO provocations on eastern European borders, Barack Obama’s United States, always convinced that its side of the story is right, will thus hand over a large part of the political responsibility to the international community, in the conviction that it will make good use of it. The agreement in itself is a positive thing. But the Middle East may not be even remotely ready for this proof of maturity.