U.S. Allies and Syrians Deserve Better

by Benjamin Weinthal

The Turkey-Syria border — President Obama’s overtures to the Islamic Republic of Iran – the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism since its inception in 1979 – has created justifiable anxiety among U.S allies, ranging from Israel to the Gulf monarchies. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said prior to his departure for the U.S., “I will tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and onslaught of smiles,” a clear reference to the Iranian president’s efforts to charm the U.S. into giving him more time to advance his nuclear-weapons program.

Iran’s jingoistic and expansionist revolutionary Islamic ideology is not only an existential threat to Israel but a potential danger for the entire Middle East, particularly U.S. allies in the Gulf region. An overview of the media in the Gulf monarchies reveals serious worries about Obama’s rapprochement with Iran. After all, it is worth recalling the Saudi king’s recommendation to the U.S. on how to confront Iran’s illicit nuclear program: ”Cut off the head of the snake” by launching military strikes to knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Why does Iran, a country drowning in oil and gas reserves, need a nuclear program? The bogus explanation for civilian energy usage does not carry water. The U.S. allies in the Middle East – and in the wider international community – surely feel like they are trapped in the Groucho Marx school of foreign policy. The prominent Middle East historian Bernard Lewis applied Groucho’s famous line (“I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member”) to misguided foreign policy, saying, “A principle of Western foreign policies is that we do not worry about the friendship of any government that would seek our friendship. It’s only our enemies in whom we are interested.”

France’s president, François Hollande, likely internalized this message in late August after Obama pulled the plug on military strikes targeting Assad’s regime. According to media reports, after Obama punted the decision to Congress, Hollande was shocked and urged him to reconsider. Obama dismissed his plea.

Obama’s policies toward Iran, Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad, the North Korean regime, and Putin’s Russia do not bode well for the free democratic world.

Assad has continued with his conventional bombing campaign of his population. His allies Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese terrorist militia Hezbollah are gaining valuable political power. The massive flow of Syrian refugees from Assad’s savagery was visible in the Syrian border town of Jarabulus, where I was recently.

Malek, a 46-year-old Syrian refugee who worked as a farmer, is living with his family in a trash-infested lot in the town of Kilis. “When will our suffering end?,” he asked me. I paused and told him, “I do not have an answer to that question.” The refugee crisis could have been avoided had the West taken a hardline position at the outset of the conflict in 2011. Dithering and appeasement toward Assad failed to achieve any meaningful results (the West is not likely to confirm disposal of Assad’s chemical weapons during a full-blown war, if that ever seemed likely).

Act II of the Syrian crisis is now playing out with Iran. Will the Obama administration allow itself to get hoodwinked again?

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

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