The Difference Between Iran and Syria for President Obama

From a Goldblog reader:

I saw you on Meet the Press on Sunday, where you were very harsh about the Obama Administration's policy on Syria. You definitely seem to think they haven't done enough (I agree) to stop Assad from doing what he's doing. On the other hand, I remember you saying over and over that you think Obama will deal with Iran's nuclear issue, including the use of force if necessary. Doesn't Syria show you that he's going to appease Iran?

Well, no. What Syria shows me is that Obama isn't doing enough in Syria. The president is seized by the issue of Iran because it is developing, he believes, a nuclear capacity. He knows, for reasons readers of Goldblog understand already, what a nuclear Iran would mean for the Middle East, for America's allies in the Middle East, and for his campaign against nuclear proliferation. He takes Iran more seriously as a threat to American national security interests than he does Syria. One issue doesn't necessarily inform the other. I, of course, think that earlier, bolder intervention in the Syrian conflict (more support earlier for the rebels, for instance) would not have only been wise from a humanitarian perspective; America has an Iran-related national security interest in breaking apart the Iran-Syria axis. But the Administration did not move in this direction. So be it. But I still don't know why inaction on Syria would axiomatically translate into inaction on Iran.

Here's an alternative explanation for Obama's hesitancy in Syria -- perhaps he understands that he may eventually have to strike Iran, and he doesn't want the U.S. entangled unncessarily in Syria. I've always suspected that one of the reasons he was so eager to depart Iraq, and is so eager to leave Afghanistan, is that he believes Iran to be the paramount issue, and so wanted to clear the decks. Better not to have America burdened and exposed in these places if he's going to make a move against the Iranian nuclear program.

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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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