Recently, I wrote on these pages that a remarkable turnaround was taking place in the President's fortunes. It's an impressive display of rising from the depths of falling popularity last fall, and it is starting to be felt in many areas, with major impacts on the future of energy.
At his lowest point, the U.S. President was widely regarded as a lame duck, shedding influence and power, and on a down-hill slide.
This was followed by a number of embarrassments, with one of the worst coming from Russia, when it chose to provide sanctuary to Edward Snowden who revealed that the U.S. was hacking the strategic communications of its closest allies.
More damaging, the revelation came at the worst possible time for the U.S., seriously discrediting its campaign to enlist allies against alleged Russian and Chinese hackers.
This was followed by another embarrassment where the U.S. utterly failed to prevent U.S. allies from joining the Chinese-sponsored Asian infrastructure bank. It seemed that the doomsayers were proving correct about America's decline and fall.
Since then, Obama has been on a roll, with victories in Congressional trade agreements and at the Supreme Court with decisions that removed legal and constitutional challenges to the President's health program, and gay marriage.
Following hot upon these achievements were the successful negotiations with Cuba and Iran, that went far beyond expectation, climaxing with the signing of the historic Iran nuclear agreement.
Even more surprising was the President's ability to marginalize the powerful lobbies and opponents of these agreements, including hard-liners in the U.S., Iran, Israel, and the Gulf Kingdoms.
Not Your Father's Sanctions
In the past, the effectiveness of sanctions was often questioned because of the difficulty of tracking compliance. The result was that targeted countries easily hid and continued banned activities. The sanctions golden rule: if you can't track them, you can't enforce them.
But current sanctions are nothing like they were in the past. The difference is that technology has lifted surveillance to unprecedented levels. What with spy satellites, drones, and sophisticated listening devices, the U.S. now has the capacity to pierce nearly every form of communication and transaction. That is the secret weapon which enables the west to impose iron bound constraints that can level just about any economy.
Whether the participants in the recent negotiations will comply with the terms of their agreements, only the future can tell. But there's little question that none would have come to the table without the sanctions.
Recall also that only first stage sanctions had been imposed on Cuba, Iran, and Russia, with each nation clearly warned that far worse lay in store if targeted activities continued.
The message was hardly lost on the ever pragmatic President Putin, who despite brave words of resistance, suddenly saw that it was to his country's benefit to cooperate with the U.S. and its allies, particularly in the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and the ongoing war in Syria and Iraq.
Nor was the message lost on China either, who also suddenly found it in their interest to stop island building in the South China Sea, and began negotiations with its neighbors over territorial claims, as urged by the U.S. and its allies in the region. China 'acting poor' when Russia recently came calling for financial help also smacked of western influence.
Contrary to their rhetoric, Iran and Russia were deeply chastened by sanctions, even more so by the oil price collapse, and have agreed to major concessions. It's no accident that both countries are also becoming ever more important in the world's anti-terrorism campaign, an effort clearly being coordinated with the U.S.