The Difference Between Iran and Syria for President Obama

By Jeffrey Goldberg

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/12/the-difference-between-iran-and-syria-for-president-obama/266211/