It isn’t very often that you find your long held viewpoint validated in black and white by the opposition. And when it happens it is sweet indeed. I’ve argued for about five years that the Obama strategy in the Middle East, to the extent that it had a strategy at all, was to seek rapprochement with the mullahs of Tehran. This would enable the administration to deal with a single capital and it would allow them to jettison the fraught and ambiguous relationships we have with all manner of Sunni Arab states which are always one riot away from civil war.
As a unified field theory for Obama’s Middle East policy, it works very well. It explains our precipitate withdrawal from Iraq. It explains the lackadaisical attitude towards Afghanistan. It explains the hostility to Israel. It explains letting Assad carry out indiscriminate slaughter in Syria. It explains how Syria got to keep chemical weapons it was supposed to have surrendered. It explains the betrayal of the “rebels” we were backing to the benefit of Hezbollah and Iranian militias. It explains our sailors held captive by Iran. It explains the nuclear deal.
The Atlantic Council blog has a post by a guy named Frederic Hof
On March 28, 2012 President Obama conferred on Hof the rank of Ambassador in connection with his new duties as Special Adviser for transition in Syria. Hof was previously the Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, where he advised Special Envoy George Mitchell on the full range of Arab-Israeli peace issues falling under his purview and focusing on Syria-Israel and Israel-Lebanon matters. He joined the State Department in 2009 after serving as the President and CEO of AALC, limited company, an international business consulting and project finance firm formerly known as Armitage Associates LC.
On the whole, it is complimentary of how Trump’s foreign policy team handled Syria’s use of chemical weapons. But there is something interesting buried in it:
Senior officials of the previous administration have either endorsed the strike on Shayrat airbase or have maintained an appropriate silence. For the Obama administration, Syria was a public information challenge to be managed: not a fit subject for a national security strategy. True, Bashar al-Assad was a mass murderer who should step aside, respect chemical weapons red lines, and put an end to barrel bombs, torture, starvation, and sieges. But he was also the valued protégé of the partner (Iran) to a legacy-defining nuclear agreement. Therefore, he could really do as he wished: ideally without chemicals. He did exactly that, ultimately returning to the presumably forbidden and supposedly removed weapon.
What we’re seeing play out now is a realization by the White House that the Obama administration focus on ISIS was a smokescreen for allowing Iran to expand its influence and establish dominance over Iraq, Lebanon, and the portion of Syria… the best part… controlled by the Assad regime.
While a lot of people focused on the administration’s certification that Iran was compliant with the nuclear agreement, something that was pre-ordained as there was no evidence of material non-compliance, they missed Rex Tillerson clearly say that the administration is not going to permit Iran to carry on with its permission in one area while it acts as a rogue state in many other areas.