The Geneva talks on Iranian nukes have turned into a "pull my finger" charade. Iran says that it's only making electricity, not nuclear bombs. The U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are somehow all supposed to agree on reeling Iran in -- but let's face it: Russia and China are close Iranian allies and trading partners, while even Germany and France have significant geopolitical ties to Russia through, for example, the European defense conglomerate EADS and the Nord Stream pipeline running Russian gas into Europe. And Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman reportedly bragged to Russian journalists at the latest G-20 summit about Russian oligarchs' influence in Britain.
As with the Syrian conflict, America is wasting its time trying to "resolve" anything directly when it should be relying on regional power players who have actual economic leverage. America is almost entirely energy self-sufficient now, and has no real skin in this game. Its allies do, however -- and this is their fight.
Whether Team Obama currently recognizes this or not, America's primary strategic ally on the Iranian nuke issue, as well as on other issues in the region, is France. The only place Secretary of State John Kerry should be flying in that customized Boeing is to the Elysee Palace in Paris. Anything else is a waste of a carbon footprint -- at least on the Iran file. America would gain from focusing its security efforts in its own backyard (specifically on Mexico), and its economic efforts in emerging South America and Africa, where it should be jockeying for influence against China -- particularly in regions where Islamic terrorism risks thriving in the absence of stability. There's no point in simply duplicating what France can accomplish diplomatically on its own with Saudi Arabia vis-a-vis Iran. Pour any cash left over into domestic priorities. How about showing some leadership by appearing as though you actually know what you're doing strategically, for once. Ten flights to Paris would make more sense at this point than a single flight to some useless poseur summit.
France is the linchpin for resolution of the entire Iranian mess. Here's why.
Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have been at each other's throats since the Cold War era, and Saudis allied with the West against the Soviets. Now, Saudi Arabia is duking it out with Russia and Iran over oil and gas export markets. That's, in part, what Syria was about -- the Saudis (and Qataris) hoping for a regime change in Syria that would break the Russian-Iranian pipeline monopoly into Syria and Europe. Despite all prices being set by OPEC regardless of supplying nation, perhaps France nonetheless sees an opportunity for increased diplomatic and trade rapprochement with Saudi Arabia through supply diversification.
French President Francois Hollande has demonstrated unambiguous favoritism for the Saudis, both in his diplomatic focus and through French defense dealings. During the Syrian conflict, Hollande's position was in lock-step with the Saudis', however tempered by members of the French National Assembly.
Last month, Agence France-Presse reported that French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, during a visit to Jiddah, announced 2 billion euros in Saudi air-defense modernization contracts with French companies, plus another billion euros worth of naval overhaul work involving French defense contractors DCNS and Thales.
Hollande's position is an abrupt departure from that of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who enjoyed a love affair with Saudi frenemy, Qatar, culminating most publicly in buying the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team -- and importing David Beckham to win the national club championship.
It's quite likely that Hollande also understands that deliberately supporting the Saudis over Qatar is a blow to the Qatari-funded Muslim Brotherhood that has been raising hell in Egypt and across the Arab world. And perhaps, given the intelligence at his disposal, he also understands that a strong Saudi Arabia represents the best opposition to any Iranian nuclear ambitions. In fact, if there are any doubts about such a theory, the BBC has reported a NATO official saying that the Saudi-funded Pakistani nuclear program is set to send nukes to the Saudis if Iran goes transparently nuclear.
"Saudi Arabia vs. Iran" is the new "Iraq vs. Iran" match-up. Western-backed Saudi Arabia with nuclear potential would balance any threat presented by a Russia and China-backed nuclear Iran -- if only because nothing seems to cool the jets of big-mouthed hotheads more effectively than an existential threat of mutually-assured self-destruction, as we saw between the West and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Nowhere in this mess are any primary American interests -- at least none that can't be handled through allies with front-line interests like France. It's yet another reminder that the new world order is one of multipolarity: a 3-D game of chess played along X, Y and Z axes. An American foreign policy update to reflect this is long overdue.
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