There’s a lot of gallows humor in Washington as everyone processes the impact of the epic incompetence of the Obama administration in Syria. “Obama started out ‘leading from behind’ and has now gone to ‘following Russsia,’” one former State Department diplomat told me. “Somehow I don’t think this was what was envisioned would happen to the U.S. after we won the Cold War.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin is clearly in the driver’s seat of diplomacy over Syria. Fresh from his cheeky op-ed in the New York Times that belittled the U.S., he is busy pretending to be a peacemaker in Syria in order to protect his ally Bashar Assad.
Every day, Putin and Assad are ratcheting up the price of a face-saving deal with the U.S. over chemical weapons.
Putin is now demanding that any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment not to attack Syria. Assad says he won’t sit down at any negotiating table unless the U.S. stops supplying arms to the Syrian rebels — the first shipments to the rebels began only days ago because of the foot-dragging of the Obama administration.
Putin is also preparing his next move after Syria. In violation of international sanctions he is now offering the Islamic regime in Iran a sophisticated mobile anti-aircraft missile system, along with a second nuclear reactor. This will only help the Iranian nuclear-weapons program as it moves closer to completion.
But Iran would prefer to negotiate a deal with a weakened U.S. first. Famous for its ability to stall and drag out negotiations with the West over its nuclear program, Iran is now once again trying to divide the international community and achieve de facto acceptance of its nuclear ambitions.
Newly elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani will soon arrive in New York for the opening of the United Nations, trailing press leaks that he is ready to resume nuclear negotiations and forswearing the belligerant rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council says Rouhani’s smoother image and the Syrian mess give Iran on opportunity for “more maneuverability on the nuclear issue.”
Iran’s goal is to create a situation in which international sanctions against it are lifted in exchange for a largely meaningless agreement on its nuclear program. Just as few people now believe the U.S. will ever attack Syria over its use of chemical weapons, Iran sees a chance to dramatically minimize the chance that either the U.S. or Israel will attack its nuclear program. Syria gives it precisely that opportunity, and look for it to exploit that to the hilt.