Susan Glasser wonders whether “Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran comes at the cost of Syrian lives?” To me, her article suggests that the true cost of the deal to Syria will be Iranian victory.
According to Glasser, who cites a very plausible account from the New York Times, our pre-deal policy was shaped by the view of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough that the status quo in Syria could keep Iran pinned down for years. McDonough argued that a fight in Syria between Hezbollah and Al Qaeda would work to America’s advantage. Hence, the administration’s unwillingness to become meaningfully involved in the civil war.
The Obama-McDonough view presupposes something like a stalemate between Assad/Hezbollah/Iran and Al Qaeda-style Sunni jihadists. It also winks at mass carnage. For while in theory a stalemate could drive both sides to the negotiating table, this stalemate is something of a win-win for our two deadly adversaries.
It’s something of a win for Assad/Hezbollah/Iran because, although Assad remains at war and in some jeopardy, he nonetheless retains control of major parts of Syria. It’s something of a win for Al Qaeda-style Sunni jihadists because they exercise control in parts of the North, perhaps giving rise one day soon to something like an Al Qaeda-oriented state composed of chunks of Syria and chunks of Iraq.
Glasser suggests that Obama’s nuclear deal with the mullahs ensures a continuation of the administration’s policy of laissez-faire in Syria:
[The] six months of negotiation come just as Iran continues to fight next door in Syria on behalf of Assad—in a war that is increasingly going Assad’s way. Given that Obama has explicitly made nuclear diplomacy with Iran his top national security priority, it’s hardly a stretch to think that the president, already constrained by political opposition at home, won’t want to risk angering Iran by escalating the pressure against its proxy.
I would take the argument one step further and in a slightly different direction. Obama’s deal, and his overall quest for a rapprochement with Iran, will tilt the Syrian playing field further in Iran’s favor and quite possibly undermine McDonough’s vision of pinning Iran down in Syria for years.
Obama certainly will not want to anger Iran after a final deal is complete. He will want to stay on good terms to keep Iran from overtly violating the deal, and thereby humiliating him. In addition, an Iran free from the burden of sanctions might have extra clout in Syria
Iran’s victory might not be complete. Al Qaeda might keep its hold on parts of the country — no good thing for the U.S. But Iran would no longer be “pinned down” trying to keep Assad in power. Instead, the bloody anti-American tyrant would be re-entrenched.
But what, in Obama’s view, is wrong with this outcome? Why pin down a power with whom you have reached a “rapprochement”? Why worry about the reassertion of control by a Syrian dictator with whom you were always prepared to do business?
On November 6, Samantha Power tweeted out this message: “U.S. view on #Assad unchanged: a man who gasses his people, Scuds his people & terrorizes his people doesn’t deserve to govern those people.”
Poor Samantha. She doesn’t seem to realize that for Obama deserve’s got nothing to do with it.