September 20, 2013

The president on Syria managed to get himself off the hook by asking the Congress to delay a vote on the use of force and then putting our trust in oh-so-trustworthy Vladimir Putin. This act of political self-interest has had three troubling consequences already.

Kerry makes the case for action in Syria
Secretary of State John F. Kerry (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

First, according to a number of reports, Bashar al-Assad is now transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah ahead of the inspectors, exactly what proponents of military action were worried would occur if the U.S. did not act swiftly and militarily:

The terror group Hezbollah has assumed control of at least a portion of Syria’s chemical weapons cache, according to a Syrian military commander, multiple lawmakers, and rebel leaders.

A portion of Syrian President Bashar al Assad regime’s chemical weapons supply has fallen into the hands of Hezbollah, which has been fighting on Assad’s behalf, according to these multiple sources.

Second, the handwriting is now on the wall for a similar phony deal with Iran. The New York Times reports:

 Amid news that Mr. Obama had reached out to the newly elected Iranian leader, Hassan Rouhani, with a private letter, and renewed discussion in Washington of negotiations that could lift sanctions against Iran, Mr. Netanyahu’s office dismissed as “media spin” a flurry of statements by Mr. Rouhani about the goals of his nation’s nuclear program and his willingness to engage in diplomacy . . .

Netanyahu’s words were most likely meant for the ears of the members of Congress, so they will not let Obama get carried away by Rouhani’s overtures,” Ron Ben-Yishai, a respected journalist, wrote in an analysis published on Ynet, an Israeli news site. “The Israelis are also telling their American counterparts that just like in the case of the Syrian crisis, a credible military threat is needed in order to get results on the diplomatic track.”

Indeed, that is what pro-Israel American groups fear.

The American Israeli Political Affairs Committee sent out an email today, echoing a bipartisan letter sent in August by 76 senators. AIPAC tells pro-Israel advocates in an issue memo that sanctions should be suspended only if Iran suspends its nuclear activities:

Iran must comply with UNSC resolutions that demand it suspend all enrichment and heavy water activity.  Iran must immediately stop the installation of additional centrifuges. From May to August, Iran installed as many as 2,000 new centrifuges, including hundreds of advanced models.  Iran must cease production of uranium enriched to the 20-percent level and begin sending previously enriched material to a third country.  Iran must cease development of the heavy water reactor under construction in Arak. Iran must allow international inspectors to access the Parchin military facility where nuclear explosive testing is believed to have been carried out. Iran cannot be allowed to use negotiations as a stalling technique while pushing forward with its nuclear program.

“If Iran fails to act,” AIPAC argues, “sanctions must be increased.” The only reasonable chance of this occurring is via congressional pressure on the White House to restrain President Obama for doing precisely what he did in Syria.

And third in the list of horrors is the boost American reticence has given to al-Qaeda linked rebels. The Post reports: “Al-Qaeda-linked militants seized a key northern Syrian town from rebels on Wednesday, as mounting friction between anti-­government extremists and more moderate, Western-backed opposition factions erupted into all-out conflict.” Opponents of U.S. action claimed our intervention would strengthen jihadists; in fact, our failure to act has done so. (“Islamic State’s offensive comes after a lull in activity for the group as it lay low, fearing that it could be targeted in U.S. airstrikes. Any possible U.S. airstrikes on targets in Syria have been put on hold as world powers negotiate over the fate of the country’s chemical weapons program.”)

Just as conservative hawks claimed, Obama’s retreat on Syria has facilitated Hezbollah’s access to chemical weapons, set the stage for an Iran debacle and boosted al-Qaeda rebels. Those who railed against U.S. action and the White House who predicted some of these horrors if we did act have some explaining to do. But that is cold comfort to Israel, the rest of the Middle East and the United States. We have lost control  of events and the administration seems bent on repeating its error in Iran.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.