Yesterday while speaking to reporters about his ongoing efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry described his ideas for a possible solution to the conflict as a “puzzle” whose pieces “actually fit together like a mosaic.” The Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn makes it increasingly clear that this puzzle is virtually insoluble, but the mosaic metaphor seems an apt way to characterize Kerry’s approach to other contentious issues in the region. That was made clear by another shoe that Kerry let drop during the course of his remarks that, understandably, attracted more international attention than his latest ruminations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As the New York Times reports, Kerry’s bombshell about a decision to possibly involve Iran in the upcoming international talks about the future of Syria is an ominous sign of how important improving relations with the radical Tehran regime has become to Washington. Some have foolishly treated President Obama’s decision to embrace an effort to walk away from confrontation over Iran’s nuclear-weapons drive as a one-off policy. But it’s now apparent (if it wasn’t already) that the astonishingly weak deal Kerry cut in Geneva in November with the Iranians comports nicely with the administration’s decision to back down on the president’s previous determination to do something about Syria. If there’s any pattern here, it’s part of a mindset that regards opposition to the Islamist regime’s drive for regional hegemony as something that no longer interests the United States.
The talks to which Kerry may be inviting the ayatollahs’ representatives are not nearly as significant as the nuclear talks because they are based in a scenario that may have already been overtaken by events. As the Times notes:
Mr. Kerry said there would be limits on Iran’s involvement unless it accepted that the purpose of the conference should be to work out transitional arrangements for governing Syria if opponents of President Bashar al-Assad could persuade him to relinquish power. Iran has provided military and political support to Mr. Assad.
All of which means that the talks being held in Switzerland in the next week on this issue are pointless since Assad is in no danger of being pushed out of power by a fragmented opposition. Indeed, with the anti-Assad forces increasingly dominated by radical Islamists that Western foes of the tyrannical Damascus regime want no part of, the chances that either the U.S. or Western European nations will act to topple Assad are virtually nil.
As analysts like our Max Boot and Michael Rubin have repeatedly pointed out, it didn’t have to be this way. Had the U.S. acted decisively when the Arab Spring protests quickly led to an open rebellion against the Assad clan’s four-decade-long reign of terror, the chances that he might have been replaced by forces that the West could have lived with were far higher than they are today. But instead, all President Obama did was to vainly predict that Assad “must fall” and then sit back and watch as Tehran came to its Syrian ally’s rescue with an unlimited flow of aid and shock troops in the form of its Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries.
When Assad used chemical weapons against his own people last year in direct contravention to President Obama’s warning that such a crime would cross a “red line” that would trigger U.S. action, the administration was forced to threaten strikes against Syria. But faced with Russian and Iranian opposition as well as by his inability to rally either Congress or the American people behind a much-needed policy, Obama gave up. The result was a fig leaf of a diplomatic process that allowed the Russians to take charge of any chemical weapons Assad might surrender. But the big winners were both Assad and Iran since the bottom line of the negotiations was that they made Western intervention against a regime that had already killed more than 100,000 of its own people impossible.
Just as the Iranian nuclear deal has granted implicit Western recognition to Iran’s “right” to refine uranium, setting the stage for an eventual nuclear breakout by Tehran, so, too, has the deal over Syria ensured the survival of the ayatollahs’ main regional ally.
Even contemplating inviting Iran to participate in the talks about a theoretical replacement for Assad is yet another overt acknowledgement that the U.S. has abandoned a policy aimed at isolating this brutal regime, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, a threat to both Israel (at which it continues to spew anti-Semitic venom and threaten with annihilation) as well as to moderate Arab governments. Instead, the U.S. has chosen to try for a new détente with Iran. Though this decision was sold to Congress and the American people as a reaction to the election of the so-called “moderate” Hassan Rouhani to the largely symbolic post of president in 2013, the secret nuclear talks the administration conducted last year predated that faux election.
All the U.S. gains from this détente is an excuse for President Obama to slink ignominiously away from a confrontation with Iran over either its nukes or over Syria. But the reality of a situation in which an even more powerful Iran dominates Syria as well as Lebanon is one in which Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are clearly less safe even if one believes, based on no discernible evidence, that the U.S. is actually doing something to postpone the nuclear threat. This is a policy mosaic that has accomplished nothing but to make the Middle East an even more dangerous place than it had already become. But given the determination of Obama and Kerry to pursue it, it appears the only chance the mosaic will fall apart would be if Tehran’s rulers tire of stringing along the Americans and move quickly to go nuclear. While that potential should not be discounted, given Iran’s success in letting the administration give them what they want with no great effort or sacrifice on Tehran’s part, it would be a colossal mistake to rely on this dubious strategy.