Obama is Playing Texas Fold ‘Em
Barack Obama, Hassan Rouhani, Bashar Assad, Abdul Al-Sisi, Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, and Bibi Netanyahu walk into a casino… no punch-line here. Just a game of high-stakes, no limit global poker. Picture “Dogs Playing Poker,” except sitting at the table are the leaders of the U.S., Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, China, and Israel. For the most part, Russia and China are bankrolling the Iranians and Syrians (Russia) and the North Koreans (China), with the realization that, as the American chip stack is diminished, their stacks grow in comparison. The Israelis, on the other hand, are forced to show restraint and concern due to their proportionally small chip stack. As a result, Bibi has managed to play and win a few hands, but may not be able to play the larger hands that inevitably lie ahead.
President Obama has (in)famously stated “I don’t bluff” on numerous occasions; but he has a bad habit of tipping, and sometimes overplaying, his hand. Of course, Obama’s assertion is meant to assuage concerns held by both Israel and Sunni Gulf States about Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon. More specifically, the President has used this blanket statement to avoid setting clear red lines to pre-empt Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, or, in other words, to avoid being forced into action to stop this from happening.
Unfortunately for the Israelis, Sunni Arabs, and the rest of the world, the statement “I don’t bluff” includes the potential for a bluff itself. Contrary to global sentiment under President Bush, today’s players do not fear President Obama or the repercussions for acting contrary to U.S. interests. As a result, they feel secure and comfortable calling Obama’s bluff. After all, this is an Administration that speaks loudly and carries a toothpick. And the world’s most insidious regimes not only recognize that, but they have gone full-throttle in exposing it.
Since taking office, the Obama Administration has shown strategic ineptitude and feckless leadership, which has led to the erosion of American influence and deterrence. Recall April 2009, when then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned of “consequences” in the lead-up to a North Korean missile test. Not surprisingly, Kim Jong Un ignored the “warnings,” pushed in his stack of chips, and went through with the test. Other than the usual diplomatic bluster, the U.S. response was non-existent. Three years later, having previously had his bluff called, the President was baited into striking a deal to provide aid in exchange for a halt to North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. This time, it was the President who was suckered. Within months of receiving this aid, the North Koreans reneged on their agreement by resuming work on their nuclear reactor, and, ultimately, conducting advanced ballistic missiles tests.
To be fair, the threats and dictates of President Obama have worked in the past. Just ask Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian leader who folded after President Obama told him he had to go. However, before the Administration could fully celebrate Mubarak’s ouster and the subsequent addition of the Muslim Brotherhood to the poker table, the latter overplayed their first hand. In the end, the Egyptian military, having witnessed President Obama’s pattern of bluffing, bought into the game knowing full-well that the President’s threats would not amount to action. As a result, they continue to act with impunity while stealing chips from, and cashing checks written by, the U.S. Government.
And then there’s Syria. President Obama’s, excuse me, the “International community’s” red line was crossed earlier this spring, according to western intelligence agencies and eventually acknowledged by the U.S. government. As a result of that breach, the Obama Administration sought to do as little as possible, eventually agreeing to provide weapons and aid to the rebels. But such aid was, and continues to be, slowed or even delayed. Now, of course, we have last month’s attack that killed more than 1,400 people, and, again, we have an absence of action. “I don’t bluff”? Apparently they’ll see your raise, Mr. President, and call.
The most troubling aspect of President Obama’s passion for “Liar’s Poker” (to steal from Michael Lewis), is that, thus far, he has continued to fold every time the Iranians actually play a hand. In other words, while the Syrians and North Koreans have won small pots by calling the President’s bluff, we have ignored the most egregious actor at the end of the table who is continuously building its stack of chips.
The U.S. was silent during the Green Movement in 2009, and failed to take any action despite clear evidence linking the Iranians to a plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a popular Washington, D.C., restaurant. Now, having watched our chip stack slowly disintegrate, the Iranians have spotted our tell, and they realize that we will look for any excuse not to take action.
So forget about stopping Iran from acquiring the bomb. We have now proven that, even after using weapons of mass destruction, we will not move to punish those responsible. To put it bluntly, it would be a tragedy if Iran were to detonate a nuclear device in Israel, but Obama will hold no one responsible so long as all such weapons are then surrendered to the various powers (i.e. the Russians) that helped provide the weapons in the first place. If we have learned anything over the last few weeks, it’s that, despite his stern rhetoric, President Obama has proven that his policy is not “containment,” but actually “avoidance.” That sound we just heard was the Iranians pushing their chips into the pot… they’re all in.