Commentary Magazine


Obama’s White Flag On Assad a Gift for Iran

As anyone who has heard President Obama discuss his opposition to more sanctions being placed on Iran knows, the White House is deeply disturbed at the notion of the United States doing anything to disturb those who run the Islamist regime. Thus, the news that the United States is signaling what may be the formal end of its opposition to Bashar Assad’s rule over Syria must be seen in the context of a general American push for détente with that dictator’s allies in Tehran. This is bad news for the people of Syria who are seeking an alternative to Assad’s murderous rule–other, that is, than the ISIS terrorists. But it is very good news for the Iranians who are pleased about the way the rise of ISIS has led to a de facto alliance on the ground between the U.S. and Iran’s allies Assad and Hezbollah in the effort to fight ISIS. This has led not only to a tacit green light for Assad to go on killing Syrians but also for negotiations that seemed fated to grant a Western seal of approval for Iran’s aspiration to become a threshold nuclear power.

It must be acknowledged that at this point the United States has no good options open to it on Syria. If the U.S. had acted swiftly to aid moderate opponents to the Assad regime after the Arab Spring protests began, it might have been possible to topple Assad, something that would have been a telling blow to Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony. But President Obama was characteristically unable to make a decision about what to do about it for years despite continually running his mouth about how Assad had to go. By the time he was ready to strike—after Assad crossed a “red line” enunciated by the president about his use of chemical weapons against his own people—the moderate option looked less attractive. The president quickly backed down and punted the task of cleaning up the chemical weapons to Assad’s Russian ally.

Even worse, after Obama’s precipitate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and inaction on Syria led to the rise of ISIS terrorists, Washington seemed more interested in using this crisis as an excuse to make common cause with Iran than in actually fighting the Islamist group. Thus, while U.S. air attacks on ISIS have barely made a dent in the terrorists’ grip on control of much of Syria and Iraq, the administration is signaling enthusiasm for Russian and United Nations-sponsored diplomatic events that will effectively doom a framework agreed to by the West last year in Geneva by which Assad would be forced to yield power.

The administration will defend this switch as something that will aid the effort to end a war that has killed hundreds of thousands. They also justify the tacit alliance with Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah on the Syrian battlefield as the only possible option available to those who wish to combat ISIS. At this point with non-Islamist Syrian rebels effectively marginalized and the battlefield dominated by the Iran/Hezbollah/Assad alliance and their ISIS foes, forcing Assad out may no longer be an option.

But the chain of events that led to this American move to allow Assad to survive despite his crimes must now be viewed from a different perspective than merely one of Obama’s Hamlet routine on difficult issues.

The decision to gradually back away from the president’s campaign pledge to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program and to engage in negotiations aimed at granting Tehran absolution for its ambitions will, if it results in an agreement, at best make Iran a threshold nuclear power. A weak nuclear deal will further buttress Iran’s hopes for regional hegemony by which it will further threaten moderate regimes and strengthen its Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist allies.

It’s not clear yet whether the Iranians will ever sign a nuclear agreement with the U.S. or if, instead, it will continue to run out the clock on the talks. That’s something that the president’s zeal for a deal may permit because he refuses to admit failure or pressure the Iranians as Congress would like him to do by toughening sanctions in the event the talks collapse.

But what we do know now is that this administration’s Syria policy must now be viewed through the prism of its infatuation with the idea of, as the president put it last month, letting “Iran get right with the world.”

Options for getting rid of the butcher Assad may be few these days. But the American white flag acknowledging his continued reign of terror is more than merely an admission that he can’t be pushed out of Damascus. It must now be understood as part of a comprehensive policy that is aimed at appeasing Iran. That presents a danger not only to the oppressed people of Syria but to every other nation in the region, including both moderate Arabs and Israel, who are targets of Iran’s predatory ambition.

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