Obama on Syria is Different Than Obama on Iran

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Jonathan Tobin writes in praise of my Bloomberg View column yesterday, in which I noted that the Obama Administration is rhetorically quite opposed to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's slaughter of his own citizens, but that it doesn't match the rhetoric with actions that would hasten Assad's departure. Tobin contrasts my understanding of Obama's inaction on Syria with my views on Administration policy toward Iran:

This is, after all, the same Jeffrey Goldberg who has consistently sought to assure friends of Israel that President Obama's stance on Iran is more than mere rhetoric though, in fact, it has consisted of little but a collection of ominous adverbs punctuated by defenses of engagement and diplomacy since he took office. Granted, the president has reluctantly embraced sanctions on Iran (though he was way behind France and Britain on this score), but it is fairly obvious that he did so only to maneuver Israel into a situation where it could not attack the Islamist regime on its own.

Goldberg rightly dismisses the notion that Obama's rhetoric about Syria consists of anything more than lip service, yet he believes Obama can be trusted to eventually escalate his stance on the Islamist ayatollahs from rhetoric to action. When people wonder why many in Israel have little faith in the president's word on Iran, especially once he gets the "flexibility" that a second term would provide, perhaps we should refer them to Goldberg's column on the administration's verbal offensive against Assad.

The reason I criticize Obama's Syria policy and don't criticize his Iran policy is that they are two different policies.  Obama, in my opinion, has been resolute in seeking crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime; he has supported many acts of subterfuge and sabotage against Iran's nuclear program; he has supported a strong Israeli defense and he has funded various anti-missile programs that directly aid Israel; and he has gone on record numerous times saying that he will not allow Iran to cross the nuclear threshold. The Syria policy flummoxes me, for the obvious reason that the downfall of the Assad regime would be very damaging to its Iranian ally. I hope Obama toughens his Syria policy. But what he's doing in Iran is different than what he's doing in Syria. If you don't believe me, ask the leadership of the Israeli defense establishment, many of whom believe Obama when he suggests he will stop Iran by force, if necessary, from developing nuclear weapons.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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