Most now assume that the defining foreign policy legacy of President Obama will be his Iran deal, which will seek to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and open the doors to Iran’s reintegration into the world economy and regional politics. I believe Obama and good sense will prevail over the Israel caucus in Congress, and as a result of the deal Americans will fairly soon come to see Iran both as a market for American goods and ideas and as a valuable ally against ISIS, the Sunni jihadist group that controls much of Iraq and Syria. There will of course be much debate and possibly a major political donnybrook in the months to come, and unexpected twists are always possible.
But what a surprise it would be if the principal legacy for Obama were not the opening to Iran, even if it were to fulfill all positive expectations, but a deepening cold war, potentially even hot war, with Russia. Everyone in Washington knows that Obama and his top aides have devoted 10 times more attention to Iran than to Russia, assuming perhaps that the logic of geopolitics would keep American-Russian relations on relatively even keel. But events have a way of surprising. Oh bitter irony were we to have peace with Iran, war with Russia. It could happen.
The Times ran a story on Monday about Ukrainian extreme rightists fighting with the Kiev government, a worrisome development for the latter because Right Sector units play such a key role in its military overall. The Ukrainian far right is tarred by association with neo-Nazism, mostly because its heroes fought with Nazi units against the Russians in World War II, and its banners and symbols clearly evoke Nazism. Several days ago, the Times ran a story about Chechen Islamists joining the Ukrainian forces because they wanted to fight Russians. (Chechen Islamism is the milieu that spawned the Boston Marathon bombers). There probably are perfectly understandable reasons for Chechen hatred of Russia, as there are for the widespread Ukrainian embrace of the Nazi side during World War II, (though few expressed this when retired Ohio auto worker John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian emigre and Nazi collaborator, was in the news). But it doesn’t mean we should be allied with such people.
Yet now, somehow, we are. For official Washington, the Ukrainian ally it has embraced is buttressed by a coalition of Islamic militants and neo-Nazis, along with the various elite ethnic Ukrainians who have learned that milking the increasingly lush Washington-Kiev connection can be lucrative. While Obama and John Kerry have turned their attentions elsewhere, the permanent national security state is steering America inexorably towards confrontation with Russia over an area of much moral ambiguity and no strategic significance to America.
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