I started this blog over a year ago to comment on the presidency of Barack Obama. See, I had followed Obama as a freshman US senator and I admired and diligently watched his candidacy in 2008 from the never-ending primaries against Hillary Clinton to the general election campain to that unforgettable night on November 4th 2008. I actually shed some tears when Wolf Blitzer at around 11 pm EST said: “CNN can now say Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States.” I still have goose bumps just writing this down. I had hoped, maybe mistakenly in hindsight that Obama would be a different president; different from the cautious watching-the-polls-worries-about-his-re-election  mold, somebody who would challenge the economic and military establishment, somebody who would present a different face of America to the world. He has done nothing of the sort. These are some of his accomplishments so far:

He has passed a healthcare bill that while viewed as revolutionary in the US, is laughable when compared to what is available in other industrialized countries. It’s greatest value to US citizens is that it now requires the transfer of taxpayers’ dollars to private health insurances companies while demanding nothing substantial of them. They can still make substantial profits from sick Americans while adding nothing of value to the healthcare chain.

He just passed a financial regulation bill that does not prevent too big to fail scenarios and thereby leaving the door opened for a potential repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

He promised to close the Guantanamo Bay Prison but this will certainly not happen. Even if it did, other US foreign prisons such as Bagram in Afghanistan will remain open for business and renditions will continue. So will drone attacks in Pakistan and other foreign interventions in the name of “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here.”

He has made no efforts to reduce the power of money in American elections, the undeniable “Elephant in the room” preventing any meaningful progress to be made on issues like healthcare and real financial regulation.

He has done nothing for the Peace Process or for the prospect of peace in the Middle East. In fact by continually reaffirming the US attachment to Israel, he has allowed settlement expansion to proceed unhindered thereby expanding “the facts on the ground” that would stand in the way of any potential future peace deal.

He has done nothing to reduce what some have called the “Fear Industrial complex“.

He has done nothing directly to improve the lives of impoverished minorities in the US

For an American president with African roots, he has done nothing of value for the African continent with respect to improving the terms of their commercial interactions with the West. So far he even fares less than George W. Bush

Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, he has done nothing different from his predecessors to improve US relations with Iran or Cuba or Venezuela

And more importantly, he has drawn down in Iraq slightly, only to escalate the Afghan War, committing more soldiers and money to a mission that many now regard as doomed in the way Vietnam was doomed.

So, after a year and half of this presidency, I am convinced that Barack Obama will not be a transformational president.

Things can change of course, but unless a cataclysm natural or otherwise forces him to change course, at best Obama will be as conventional a president as Harry Truman or maybe Bill Clinton was. And I am not interested in staying up late to read obscure articles, gleam facts from foreign journals and read footnotes and a gazillion of political blogs for the purpose of commenting on the actions of a conventional American president. It’s been done. It is being done and one more voice will not change the course of this presidency.

So sayonara friends…

Roger Cohen wrote today in the NY Times about an ordinary Israel, as opposed to an exceptional Israel.

I found this column significant in many ways. It captured something that had been the subtext of almost every international discussion of Israel and its actions beyond its legal borders in the last few years.

 As human beings, we usually have clearly defined perceptions of ourselves. In most cases, we are unaware or choose to be unaware of how we are perceived by the world around us. So unfortunately, we end up interacting with the world on the basis of how we see ourselves or how we wish to be seen. Nations do the same. They have national narratives that are sometimes manufactured for social cohesion, sometimes over-idealized versions of real events, sometimes just plain bogus. And unfortunately any external messages directed at them have to get through the thick fabricated glass windows.

Israel, Roger Cohen says in his piece “does not see itself as normal. Rather it lives in a perpetual state of exceptionalism”. So it can have nuclear weapons while demanding that the US help prevent Iran from getting them. It can refrain from signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) while demanding that NPT signatories like Iran live up to their obligations. Basic notions such as fairness do not factor in these types of talks because there is the view of “we are rational, THEY are not!” and therefore it follows that “we can be allowed to do things THEY can never be forgiven for doing.”  Now, Israel unlike many other nations on this earth was born out of a tragedy. A great tragedy. But as Cohen rightfully observes, that does not mean it should refrain from  ”deal[ing] with the world as it is, however discomfiting, not the world of yesterday.”

As Cohen quotes in the piece, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has often said that the only way to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons is “for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons as opposed to strengthened .” So what if the US as part of its Iran Strategy tried to convince Israel to go the way of South Africa and get rid of its nuclear weapons as a way of persuading the iranians that their security will not be compromised by not developing a bomb?

The Israelis would never agree to it, of course, but let’s imagine that they did for a second.
Because one important way and I believe the most important way to look at this Iran Nukes conundrum is through the lens of regional control and regional security. Israel has been the “Big Boy” of the Middle-East for the past forty years or so. Egypt reared its head for a bit in the days of Nasser and Sadat. But they were quickly smacked in the Six-Day War and in the Yom Kippur War. They then decided it was best to sign a peace treaty, get a Nobel Peace Prize for Sadat in the bargain and move on. Then Iraq rose slightly with a little help from the Reagan and George H. Bush administrations. They quickly lost their power when Saddam picked a fight with the Ayatollas to start the 8-year long Iran-Iraq war that drained them financially and otherwise. The American invasion of 2003 took care of whatever power was not erased by the UN sanctions that preceded it. The Gulf states (Bahrain, Koweit, Qatar, UAE, Oman) have as much military strength as five African bees.  Yet Israel with a lot of US financial and military help has remained strong.

So now the Iranians look to be on the rise again, paranoid and fearful. They do have valid reasons to be fearful. From Tehran, the Mullahs look to the east and they see NATO troops in Afghanistan (including nuclear armed nations like the US and the UK) and further east, they see Pakistanis with nukes. Indians with nukes. Further west, they see Israelis with nukes. In addition to being in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has a presence in the Gulf States. If you couple this with the constant threats of bombardments as enunciated by both US and Israeli officials, it is no wonder the Iranians want to get nuclear weapons as a way of preventing an externally-imposed regime change.

Some will argue that Iran is not governed by “rational leaders” and therefore cannot be held to the same standard as other nations. I disagree. And I am not alone in this view. Many decades of Iranian peaceful co-existence with its neighbours back me up on this. So does the NY Times’ Roger Cohen in the piece I quoted at the start of this post. “Iran makes rational decisions,” he writes. “Rather than invoking the Holocaust — a distraction — Israel should view Iran coolly [and] understand the hesitancy of Tehran’s nuclear brinksmanship.”

So in many ways, the road towards Obama’s nuclear-free world and therefrore a nuclear-free Middle-East, goes through Tehran as much as it goes through Tel Aviv.