If you are looking for the silver lining (very, very hard) on Syria, you might take faith in the notion that the U.S. administration will now be more mindful of other suspect deals and its critics will be ready to challenge the administration to stick to its long-held position. Mike Singh, for example, argues: “For the Obama administration, Syria must serve as a wake-up call as the administration enters a more serious phase of nuclear diplomacy with Iran. The White House has — quite inadvertently — partnered with Congress to forge a policy combining heavy pressure and repeated outreach that may now have Iran considering changing course.”
I would dearly like to believe this is so. But we’ve seen no evidence that the administration is willing to admit the Syria deal is a mirage. Tehran, meanwhile, is licking its lips, ready to maneuver into a deal that spares President Obama the burden of undertaking the military option while allowing Iran to quietly proceed on the road to a nuclear weapons capability.
Singh contends that “Even if Assad gives up his chemical weapons against all expectations, his prospects for not only surviving the uprising but strengthening his grip on power” have increased. Quite so, and the lesson has not been lost on Iran. The mullahs figure that any flimsy arrangement can be used to demoralize foes and enhance the regime’s status.
The administration seems all too aware that its move hasn’t mollified the Israelis (regardless of U.S. assurances) or U.S. critics. Secretary of State John Kerry repeats that the Syrian deal is “not a game,” as if denying reality will halt the Syrians’ delays, excuses and subterfuge.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said aloud what many sober U.S. analysts believe, namely that the United States will do whatever it must to defuse the necessity of U.S. military action. From the left-leaning Ha’aretz:
Whatever the ultimate outcome of the deal hashed out between Russia and the U.S. to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons, events of the past two weeks have diluted the credibility of an American military threat against Iran, a sine qua non, in Netanyahu’s eyes at least, to convincing Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons program. . . . It’s not so much American naiveté as a willing suspension of disbelief, for the sake of keeping American troops at home, its airplanes on the ground and its Tomahawk missiles in their pressurized canisters.
Conservatives who have seen rogue states manipulate the West before now fear the worst. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it: “The danger for world order is that Iran is already close to a nuclear breakout capacity when it will be able to finish a device in a matter of weeks, without technically testing or possessing a bomb. The mullahs could also easily pull the North Korean trick of dismantling one facility while secretly running another one. They have systematically lied about their nuclear program for years.” In the case of Iran, the danger is much greater given that the Obama administration is a willing participant in the mullahs’ diplomatic charade.
In short, Syria showed that the only real red line — the only truly “unacceptable” action in the Obama administration — is the timely, forceful deployment of military power to secure a defined U.S. objective. If that means entering into a ridiculously unenforceable deal and pretending we have not essentially accepted Iran as a nuclear power (if it doesn’t flaunt it), then this administration is happy to play along.