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Is the Syria Mission All About Iran?


Ever since Obama called for “limited” strikes against Syria earlier this week, one question has trumped all others: What, exactly, is the purpose of this mission? To help answer that question, a new piece in the NYT sheds some light on the administration’s goals:

The goal of the cruise missile strikes the United States is planning to carry out in Syria is to restore the smudged “red line” that President Obama drew a year ago against the use of poison gas.

If carried out effectively, the strikes may also send a signal to Iran that the White House is prepared to back up its words, no small consideration for an administration that has proclaimed that the use of military force remains an option if the leadership in Iran insists on fielding a nuclear weapon.

Although the piece is light on direct quotes from administration officials, it appears that the White House is telling reporters that the purpose of the pending Syria attack is simply about restoring credibility—especially credibility with respect to Iran—and indicating that the US is also willing to attack Iran if it crosses any US “red lines” in its nuclear program.

This is interesting, in that it appears to mean that President Obama has abandoned his long-held view that the conflict in Syria has nothing to do with the US-Iranian nuclear standoff. But it’s troubling in that, of all the justifications for the use of force, “restoring credibility” is about the lamest. Unless the attacks are going to be in far greater force than we have been led to expect, they will not do all that much to restore credibility. More importantly, the cause of that loss of credibility in this case goes far, far beyond the question of whether the US will use force when its “red lines” are crossed. The Obama administration’s credibility in Syria hasn’t sunk because of the red line comment; it has sunk because the statements that “Assad must go”, coming more than once from top members of the administration, turned out to be hollow: there was no plan to make sure that he would go, and no action came when he didn’t go.

A spasm of bombing in Syria that is unrelated to a broader plan for ending the conflict and changing the regime there won’t restore this Administration’s credibility on the Syria issue. As always, let’s hope that there are things going on behind the scenes that we haven’t read about in the newspapers—but based on the the facts available to the public at this time it appears that the United States is about to bomb Syria without really knowing what it hopes to accomplish. Clausewitz would not be pleased.

[Obama photo courtesy Getty Images. Assad photo courtesy Wikimedia.]

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  • USNK2

    Before posting this, Mr. Mead should have waited for Sec. Kerry’s speech, just now concluded.

  • jeburke

    I’ve tried hard for four years to be fair to Obama, to be open to arguments supporting his stewardship of foreign affairs, and to give him credit where due. But honestly, the fumbling and bumbling over Libya, Egypt, Iran and now Syria, on top of the abysmal failure of his Russia policy and his serial dithering about Afghanistan lead me to conclude that he is an inept fool — and far to self-important to have learned from mistakes and matured through experience. Unfortunately for us and the world, Obama’s fecklessness is not even balanced by strong, serious high officials at State, Defense or CIA, where Obama has installed two fading politicians and a White House aide.

    When even members of the British Parliament think it’s not a problem to thumb a collective nose at the leader of their nation’s most critical ally, you know we’ve sunk to a depth never before plumbed, not by Carter, not by Bush 43, not ever.

    • Boritz

      Good points. The only real question is whether the greater damage is being done by the loss of respect from our enemies or loss of respect from our allies. Time will tell.

    • Corlyss

      I think you have a theme there, J: an utter lack of seriousness.

    • bpuharic

      The clown brigade continues.

      Fresh from the longest war in US history that gained us nothing, the American right is here to tell us what wonderful insight they have into dynamic situations we do not, nor can not, control.

      The right went to war in Afghanistan then lied us into a murderous and expensive war in Iraq for nothing except dead soldiers and 2 trillion in defense contractor welfare.

      The right has presided over economic collapse at home and the destruction of our credibility in the Arab world via a decade of war

      But thank god they’re here to tell us about Obama’s ‘fecklessness’.

      You can’t make this stuff up.

      • jeburke

        Listen up. “The right” didn’t go to war in Afghanistan. The nation did, with ample justification and a near unanimous vote in Congress. Eight years on, one of Obama’s first big decisions was to escalate that war. So this proves you can make this stuff up because you’re making up your own recent history.

        As for Bush’s failures and mistakes, whatever they were, it hardly makes repeating them fine. One might occasionally hope for the President to have learned something from them beyond using them for political advantage.

        • bpuharic

          Ah. 8 years. Golly. Conservatives ran the war for 8 years.

          And Bush’s mistakes were those of conservative ‘nation building’ neocons. They failed in Afghanistan which is WHY we were STILL there after 8 years.

          And if you’d hoped that someone might learn something

          why not start with yourself?

          • jeburke

            You seem to think that everything that happened for the past four years and seven months doesn’t count. Just for the record, do you or do you not support Obama’s imminent, absurd attack on Syria?

          • bpuharic

            What I find funny is the right wing hysteria that WEHAVETODOSOMETHINGOMGWEHAVETODOSOEMTHING

            Then when action MAY…repeat…MAY be imminent, then the drum beat goes to


          • Jack Klompus

            Good lord you are a shrill, insufferable nitwit.

          • bpuharic

            Hmmm….no one’s ever compared me to Rush (PBUH) before…


  • Corlyss

    “If carried out effectively, the strikes may also send a signal to Iran that the White House is prepared to back up its words”
    More drivel from the NYT Obama Cheering Squad.

    No rational person would postulate such a possibility given the many whiffs Dear Leader has had at 1) Iran policy, 2) Mideast policy, 3) Foreign Policy in general. They still don’t get it over there in La La Land: 1) the man is not a deep thinker; 2) he has ad-hocked 99% of his foreign policy decisions; 3) his only aim in FP was to be the not-Bush, which never was a strategy, it was only a tactic to gull the gullible into thinking he was a different Democrat; 4) he’s weak and passive by nature; 5) his closest advisors are total incompetents in FP because the Daley Machine didn’t deal in foreign policy.

    • bpuharic

      Perhaps if he presided over flag draped coffins at Dover, like the previous conservative administration did, you’d have more respect?

  • Marty Keller

    The incompetence noted by commenters below is universal: not just foreign policy but domestic as well. As Paul Johnson so devastatingly demonstrated in his book Intellectuals, too many of us continue to try to bend humanity to fit our theories. The result is always misery and violence.

    • bpuharic

      The right has given us 30 years of supply side mythology, financial collapse, decades of growing inequality, economic stagnation for the middle class

      but by god they’re here to tell us about incompetence. THey’re the laboratory test case for the idea. Too bad they never look in a mirror

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I see the NY Times is grasping at straws, to try to justify Obama’s attempt at face saving. Contemptible

  • Arkeygeezer

    I am opposed to any action in Syrea. I think the USA should withdraw from the middle east and only support two groups: Israel and the Kurds.

    Let the rest of them kill themselves, gas themselves, or nuke themselves!

    Bring back the U.S. troops to the USA for defensive purposes.

    If Obama, Kerry or anybody else wants to be the first boots on the beach, I might change my mind.

  • Ooga Booga

    Restoring credibility is hardly a lame argument, as long as we’re prepared to do what it takes to get that credibility restored.

    Another way to look at it is this: Of course Obama backed himself into a corner with his “red lines” but do you really want to live in a world where the U.S. president answers the question “what would it take to get you involved” with “no matter what they do, we will do nothing?”

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