Washington's grand strategy for a "Greater Central Asia" under its control once centered on Afghanistan and India. Its disastrous Afghan War has, however, blown a hole through its plans; so, too, has its obsession with creating energy routes that bypass Iran (and Russia), which looks increasingly irrational to much of the rest of Eurasia. The only version of a Silk Road that the Obama administration has been able to devise has been war-related: the Northern Distribution Network, a logistical marathon of routes crisscrossing Central Asia for bringing military supplies into Afghanistan without relying fully on an increasingly unreliable Pakistan.
Needless to say, in the long term, Moscow will do anything to prevent a U.S./NATO presence in Central Asia. As with Moscow, so with Beijing, which regards Central Asia as a strategic rearguard area when it comes to its energy supply and a place for economic expansion as well. The two will coordinate their policies aimed at leaving Washington in the lurch through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That's also how Beijing plans to channel its solution for eternally war-torn Afghanistan and so secure its long-term investments in mineral and energy exploitation. Ultimately, both Russia and China want post-2014 Afghanistan to be stabilized by the United Nations.
The ancient Silk Road was humanity's first globalization highway centered on trade. Now, China in particular is pushing for its own ambitious version of a new Silk Road focused on tapping into energy -- oil and natural gas -- from Myanmar to Iran and Russia. It would, in the end, link no less than 17 countries via more than 8,000 kilometers of high-speed rail (on top of the 8,000 kilometers already built inside China). For Washington, this means one thing: an evolving Tehran-Beijing axis bent on ensuring that the U.S. strategic target of isolating Iran and forcing regime change on that country will be ever just out of reach.
Obama in Tehran?
So what remains of the initial Obama drive to reach out to Iran with an "engagement that is honed and grounded in mutual respect"? Not much, it seems.
Blame it -- once again -- on the Pentagon, for which Iran will remain a number one "threat," a necessary enemy. Blame it on a bipartisan elite in Washington, supported by ranks of pundits and think tanks, who won't let go of enmity against Iran and fear campaigns about its bomb. And blame it on an Israel still determined to force the U.S. into an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities that it desires. In the meantime, the U.S. military build-up in the Persian Gulf, already at staggering levels, goes on.
Somebody, it seems, has yet to break the news to Washington: we are in an increasingly multipolar world in which Eurasian powers Russia and China, and regional power Iran, simply won't subscribe to its scenarios. When it comes to the New Silk Road(s) linking South Asia, Central Asia, Southwest Asia, and China, whatever Washington's dreams may be, they will be shaped and constructed by Eurasian powers, not by the United States.
As for an Obama 2.0 "Nixon in China" moment transplanted to Tehran? Stranger things have happened on this planet. But under the present circumstances, don't hold your breath.