Obama’s Iran Blind Spot

by Benjamin Weinthal

In response to President Obama’s Syria speech about a deal with Russia confiscating the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government announced an offer of S-300 air-defense missile systems to Syria’s main military supporter, the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Moreover, Putin seeks to assist Iran in building a second Bushehr  nuclear reactor.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin and Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani are slated to discuss on Friday “working together in the nuclear-energy sphere” and “questions of military technical cooperation.”

Put simply, Putin plans to continue to arm Iran’s regime and help build its illicit nuclear program while Iran continues to send weapons and troops to Syria.

All of this helps to explain the title of Eli Lake’s article today over at the Daily Beast: “Is Putin, a Big Assad Supplier, Seriously Going to Disarm Him?”

The use of military strikes to change the behavior of Assad (and Iran) might very well fizzle out in protracted negotiations. Even if an agreement is reached, it is worth paraphrasing Charles de Gaulle on the significance of enforcing a ban of Assad’s use of chemical warfare: Treaties are like flowers — they are ephemeral.

The Russia-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance obtained an enormous boost over the last two weeks by demonstrating its ability to out-strategize the Obama administration. Obama dealt with Iran as a kind of footnote in his speech (it was cited once), stating that failure to stand up to Syria will “embolden Assad’s ally, Iran.”

However, Obama’s bizarre idea of flexing U.S. power means postponing a vote on military strikes targeting Syria’s regime and out-sourcing the U.S anti-chemical-weapons policy to the Russians. Doesn’t Obama’s policy then actually contribute to emboldening Iran?

U.S allies in the Middle East — Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia — remain justifiably puzzled and disappointed by Obama’s erratic foreign policy. In a region where the departure point for strength emanates — it can be argued — from the famous The Good, the Bad and the Ugly line, “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk,” there is growing alienation among U.S allies over Obama’s failure to understand the need for raw power.

(On a side note, Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization to strike Syria was correct, but should have been sought last year when Assad first used chemical weapons.)

Obama missed an opportunity with his televised address to explain to the American public that Iran’s regime is Syria’s regime and Syria’s regime is Iran’s regime. Iran will interpret Obama’s soggy resistance to Syria as a green-light to complete its work on a nuclear-weapons device.

The other gaping hole in Obama’s speech was the lack of strong rhetoric about the pressing need for regime change in Syria. It is worth reading Tuft’s professor William C. Martel’s essay over at The National Interest on why regime change has to stay “on the table.” 

Obama’s anti-Assad policy has not been transformed into action. He rejects a no-fly zone; he has hardly delivered on his promise to provide arms to moderate rebels; he has shown no appetite over the last two years for building the organizational and political infrastructure of a pro-Western Syrian opposition. The failure to devote considerable energy to secular, moderate Syrian opposition groups and the president’s delay of military action will probably mean more support and growth for al-Qaeda-linked jihadists fighting to oust Assad’s regime.

Last night, President Obama needed to outline Iran’s role as the main sponsor of Assad and global terrorism — and the profound effects it has for U.S. national security. And he still does.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal









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