Nancy LeTourneau, who has been writing for Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog on the weekends, gives us this important look at the second- and third-order positive effects of President Obama's diplomatic engagement with Iran.
As I wrote yesterday, I was particularly struck by President Obama’s description of his approach to the negotiations with Iran as a way to “find openings” that could lead to transformative change. I realized that I had missed how he talked about the same thing in an interview with David Remnick back in January 2014.
Obama, who has pressed Netanyahu to muster the political will to take risks on his own, thinks he can help “create a space”—that is the term around the White House—for forward movement on the Palestinian issue, whether he is around to see the result or not.
Right now it looks like the possibility of a space for movement on the Palestinian issue is not likely during President Obama’s term. But in what I think is the major news story from last week, we are already beginning to see the possibility of an opening when it comes to the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Creating space in Iran is starting to lead to possibilities in Syria. That's extremely important given the conflict there entering its sixth year. If there is a solution to Syria, it's going to involve Iran, at least in part.
It is hard for a lot of Americans to grasp what a huge realignment is happening here. The main Sunni/Shia battle lines in the Middle East have traditionally been drawn between Saudi Arabia (a leading member of GCC) and Iran. As such, Iran has typically supported the Alawite (a branch of Shia Islam) government of Assad, while Saudi Arabia has a history of funding Sunni terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Furthermore, as we saw in the response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons a couple of years ago, Putin has not only supported the Syrian dictator, he has tremendous power and influence over him. If all of these countries begin to see it in their interests to negotiate a consensus on how to end this civil war, that would be groundbreaking - not just for Syria - but for the Middle East as a whole. It is exactly what President Obama laid out as his vision for that region of the world when he talked to Remnick.
And even better, President Obama understand that consensus diplomacy not only creates leverage for dealing with America's enemies, but with America's allies as well.
To the extent that these realignments are successful, what they accomplish is to further alienate the extremists - be they the hardliners in Iran or terrorists like ISIS. As that happens, the pressure mounts on Prime Minister Netanyahu to decide whether he will join in the realignment or further alienate himself as an extremist.
People talk about how terrible Obama's foreign policy is, but that's because they're still measuring everything by the Bush yardstick. This is a whole new ballgame here.