Is Diplomacy Turning the Obama Administration Away From War?

by David Keil

Western powers and Iran signed a six-month agreement that binds Iran never to develop a nuclear-weapons capability, provides for intrusive inspections of Iranian energy installations, and lifts a small part of the Western sanctions that have harmed the Iranian economy. “Obama signals a shift from military might to diplomacy,” says the title of an article by Mark Landler in the New York Times, November 25.

One day later, two U.S. B-52 bombers flew into a zone close to China where China is developing a natural-gas field, indicating open violation of a Chinese decision that aircraft should identify themselves when flying into the zone.

Is U.S. military violence falling back? Are the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq, and the occupation of Afghanistan typical only of the past? Is future U.S. foreign policy to be run more by diplomatic means?

Which points toward the future: a deal signed with Iran, or a provocative, intrusive flight of the same class of bombers that devastated the countryside of Vietnam?

A look at the map of the exclusion zone declared by China in the East China Sea indicates that it is closer to China than to any other country, such as Japan, which claims some tiny islands near the Chinese coast. The Pentagon sent its B-52s on behalf of Japan, and its spokesman reminded the world that the U.S. is obligated by treaty to defend Japan against attack – including tiny islands far from Japan but claimed by Tokyo.

Here is a guess: the East China Sea incident is about global military power; it is about access to energy; and it is about potential competition between Chinese enterprises and U.S. corporations. The incident says that Washington will continue to operate as a global bully.

Another guess: the deal with Iran is about containing Iran as a regional power; it is about corporate access to energy; and it is about U.S. military power in the Middle East.

Two more guesses: First, the National Security Agency spies everywhere and on everyone, including on top officials of the U.S.’s closest allies, in order to enforce Washington’s intention to militarily dominate the entire world and to intimidate potential challengers. Second, policy planners in Washington are preparing future wars over resources, with particular attention to the future role of global warming and climate change in generating conflict.

A short-term shift of emphasis from war to diplomacy occurred quickly this fall. In August, the Secretary of State, John Kerry, announced that the Syrian government had killed 1,300 civilians with chemical weapons, and he and the President announced the intention to send missiles against Syria.

The British Parliament declined to join the military project. Peace groups and MoveOn mobilized small protests against a new war against Syria. Members of Congress, right and left, declared their opposition. Russia suggested a diplomatic solution. And there was no U.S. missile war against Syria. Instead, Saudi Arabia, the U.S.’s closest ally in the Mideast after Israel, has pursued a proxy war in Syria and elsewhere, heavily financing Sunni-fundamentalist mercenaries, whose methods include car bombs, and who focus their weapons against civilians.

Iran is a significant oil producer and a regional power. Its foreign policy stopped being pro-U.S. when the hated Shah, installed by the C.I.A. in 1953, was overthrown by revolution. Iran is the chief Mideast target of the U.S., Israel, and the Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia. Iran backs the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad. The Saudi monarch sends mercenaries to terrorize Syrians. A powerful Saudi is quoted in the NY Times: “If we don’t do this in Syria, we’ll be fighting them next inside the kingdom.”

Currently a rift is occurring between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Whereas the Saudi royal dictatorship asks for war against Iran sooner, the Obama administration sees a chance to make gains now by diplomacy.

Diplomacy serves power. Negotiations between unequally armed parties, in which one has a history of bullying the other, are about the violence of the bully. The Western powers have decided that Iran may be held back for the time being, as a regional power, by means of diplomacy and threat. As Iran asserts itself independently of the U.S. and its European allies, it seems likely that Iran will be targeted again for war – perhaps as soon as six months. As the U.S. negotiates with Iran, the U.S.’s Saudi allies wage war against Iran’s ally Syria.

Four major powers in the Mideast and Western Asia are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. All have been U.S. allies (Iran before 1979) and have experienced instability, if not revolution, recently. Iran has been least burdened by military or monarchical dictatorship in the last thirty years. Revolution for democratic rights exploded in Egypt in 2011, and now the military is using guns to re-establish its dictatorship. On a recent visit to Egypt, Secretary of State John Kerry “emphasized continuity with Egypt’s general and said little about their brutal tactics,” according to the New York Times, Nov. 26.

The U.S. continues to wage a drone war in Pakistan. In response to a recent drone killing, 10,000 Pakistanis blocked roads used by NATO to supply its forces in Afghanistan. What would happen if a government came to power in Pakistan that announced measures against the U.S. missile attacks on Pakistan? What if the Saudi monarchy were threatened by a democratic movement, as it fears? What if the power of the generals in Egypt were at risk? Every event in recent years points toward violent U.S. military action against such threats to its interests.

This is not to mention either Latin America or Africa. The 2009 military coup in Honduras, which hosts a U.S. military base, tells us that diplomacy won’t replace U.S. violence. The NSA’s spying against top officials in Mexico and Brazil, and the use of occupied Cuban territory at Guantanamo to hold and abuse prisoners without charges, indicate that Washington sees Latin America as a region to bully. It is a potential site of U.S. wars. The ongoing U.S. drone war in Somalia and Sudan point to future U.S. wars in Africa.

The 2013 National Convention of the Socialist Party U.S.A. chose antiwar activity as one of its four action-plan issue priorities. It is likely that violence by the U.S. military will continue to be a focus of world concern in 2014. It seems likely that we will see convergence among concerns about this violence, about climate change, and about spying by the U.S. government against people here and everywhere.


David Keil is a Socialist Party member in Massachusetts and belongs to the Editorial Board of The Socialist.


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