It’s about Iran. The bomb Syria crowd has been pretty open about this. And war opponents would be wise to pay more attention. Iran helps to explain why the Administration insists on going forward with a military action that is unlikely to make much of a difference in Syria itself (bear with me as I’m going to spend some time on context).
Iran is Key to Obama’s Case For Syria Strikes
“Iran is hoping you look the other way,” Secretary of State John Kerry bluntly told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. “Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention if not to put it to the test.”...
“Our refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitments, including the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” testified Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel....
“Iran will view us as a paper tiger” if we don’t act, warned Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Doing nothing “would guarantee … an emboldened Iran,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “It will also send a message to the world that there is no red line that they should fear crossing. So Iran will move forward toward nuclear weapons.”
A lack of international action to the chemical attack in Syria would risk sending Iran the wrong message over its nuclear program, France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned on Wednesday.(more below the fold)
There has been much discussion that the President has boxed himself in with his "redline" in Syria and indeed he is boxed by a redline but it is the one he has drawn in Iran. When you see Barbra Boxer agitating for military action you can bet that her pro-Israel stance is overriding her anti-war impulses.
We believe that Congress’ failure to grant the President this authority would be interpreted as a sign of American weakness, and cast doubt about whether America will act to carry out its commitments in the Middle East – including the President’s and Congress’ pledge to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.The President has done his best to stay out of a new war with Iran and more importantly to keep Israel from starting one but now he is confronted with having to provide Israel with reassurances that his "all options are on the table" stance toward Iran is for real.
Israel's state-run Army Radio was more explicit: "If Obama is hesitating on the matter of Syria," it said, "Then clearly on the question of attacking Iran, a move that is expected to be far more complicated, Obama will hesitate much more - and thus the chances Israel will have to act alone have increased."And Israel is not the only ally needing "reassurance". (From the same Reuter's piece)
If President Barack Obama has disappointed Syrian rebels by deferring to Congress before bombing Damascus, he has also dismayed the United States' two main allies in the Middle East.The Israeli's and Saudi's are playing a larger game here. Not only do they hope to keep Iran bogged down in a never ending conflict in Syria but more importantly they hope that "sending a message to Syria" will close the window that has opened for improved relations between the US and Iran with the election of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have little love for each other but both are pressing their mutual friend in the White House to hit President Bashar al-Assad hard. And both do so with one eye fixed firmly not on Syria but on their common adversary - Iran.
Saudi Arabia, like Israel heavily dependent on the United States for arms supplies, is engaged in a historic confrontation with Iran for regional influence - a contest shaped by their leading roles in the rival Sunni and Shi'ite branches of Islam.
Riyadh is a prime backer of Sunni rebels fighting Assad, whose Alawite minority is a Shi'ite offshoot. It sees toppling Assad as checking Iran's ambition not just in Syria but in other Arab states including the Gulf, where it mistrusts Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia itself and in neighboring Bahrain, Yemen and Iraq.
Saudi King Abdullah's wish for U.S. action against Iran was memorably contained in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, including one in which a Saudi envoy said the monarch wanted Washington to "cut off the head of the snake" to end Tehran's nuclear threat.
But that message may be clashing with a simultaneous effort by American officials to explore dialogue with Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in the latest expression of Washington’s long struggle to balance toughness with diplomacy in its relations with a longtime adversary.It is not in our interests to have a war with Iran over it's nuclear program. Yet bombing Syria increases that likelihood.
Two recent diplomatic ventures have raised speculation about a possible back channel between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, a high State Department official in President Obama’s first term who is now a senior envoy at the United Nations, visited Iran to meet with the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed possible reactions to an American airstrike in Syria.
At the same time, the sultan of Oman, who has often served as an intermediary between the United States and Iran, was in Tehran meeting with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“I am convinced that Rouhani and Zarif want to overcome the hostility between the U.S. and Iran, but a military strike on Syria could be a spoiler,” said Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator for Iran who is now a visiting scholar at Princeton University.However, working with Iran toward a diplomatic solution in Syria could build confidence toward a larger set of negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue and help stabilize Iraq.
Iran has already proposed a starting point for such diplomacy. From the European Council on Foreign Relations
Last autumn Tehran proposed a six-point peace plan to end the crisis. It called for an immediate end to hostilities, the lifting of sanctions, the release of political prisoners, a national dialogue, the formation of a transitional government, and elections (for a parliament, constituent assembly, and the presidency). However, the plan was rejected by the Syrian opposition outright, since it did not fulfill one of their key pre-conditions: the removal of Assad from power. In Munich in February, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, held talks with the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, to discuss a political solution to the Syrian crisis. On the regional level, Ahmadinejad’s visit to Saudi Arabia last year, Iran’s participation in the quadripartite talks in Cairo last autumn, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and, most recently, the visit by Salehi to Jordan are part of a diplomatic effort to prevent Tehran’s complete isolation and convey a strong message that any political resolution to the Syrian crisis cannot be attained without Iran’s active presence and participation in multilateral talks.It seems clear that neither Saudi Arabia or Israel want to see this rapprochement with Iran. if you oppose war in Syria and you really don't want war with Iran, it is vital to discuss the impact of US actions on relations with Iran and to move this question front and center. It will be more than a tragedy if the chance to reset relations with Iran is sqaundered in this fashion.