The Middle East Mess

Syria and Iran

But no matter, monsters are always monstrous and we are all glad to see them go. The question, though, is: "monstrous" compared to which monsters in the region? In truth, we have two dangerous strategic enemies in the Middle East. They were not the dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia, or Libya—countries whose indigenous unrest we opportunistically piled on only when welcomed regime change seemed a foregone conclusion.

Yet when a million dissidents hit the streets in Spring 2009 in Iran, the president deliberately decried “meddling,” invoked the tired, half-century-old Mosaddeq talking point, and kept mum—worried that his much heralded “outreach” to Iran might be jeopardized. But, of course, it was anyway. The Obama multicultural magic did not affect the theocracy, which laughed at four serial deadlines to cease and desist work on their nuclear projects—“or else.” In terms of population, history, national wealth, past relations with the U.S., nuclear capability, levels of support for terrorism, and attitudes toward U.S. allies, especially Israel, Iran was far more dangerous than all the North African nations combined—and yet somehow was courted the most under the new reset Obama diplomacy.

The other anti-American twin was Syria, the subverter of Lebanon and Iraq, Iran’s key ally, Hezbollah’s next-door sponsor, and a supplier of Hamas. So prior presidents had wisely broken relations with the Assad regime. Obama, however, immediately restored them, and without preconditions. Hillary Clinton dubbed the psychopathic Assad a “reformer.” Whereas Gadhafi deserved bombs, we still haven’t quite broken diplomatic relations with Damascus. If Obama’s grand strategy was to start with small words against Mubarak, a little bombing now and then against Gadhafi, followed soon by real pressure on Syria and Iran—then there is a logic to it. But right now the message, fairly or not, is that to the degree a thug likes America, gives up or does not try to acquire nuclear weapons, or wants to triangulate with us, we want him gone; to the degree he is an anti-American thug, a front-line enemy of Israel, and builds reactors, we deem him more authentic and legitimate and therefore adopt a policy of non-interference—unless of course, the million in the street, without our encouragement, are a day or so away from toppling the regime.

This policy is especially odd, when, in relation to Iran and Syria, we have a chance to dovetail our interests with the Gulf oil producers who want Assad gone; when we have a chance to weaken the Shiite extremists in both Lebanon and Iraq by pressuring Assad; when we can encourage a falling out between the new Ottoman Turkey, Iran, and Syria, and when we can weaken Iran by chopping off its key Arab ally. Let us hope that Obama sees that in comparison to Iran and Syria, Libya was small potatoes, and mostly a Europe/Mediterranean distraction.