America’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had some sobering words on the current state of play in Syria yesterday, as Haaretz reports:
“The prospects are right now that (Assad) is actually in a strengthened position than when we discussed this last year, by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons, as slow as that process has been,” said James Clapper, director of national intelligence.
The administration and its press acolytes did their best to spin the ugly meltdown of President Obama’s ill-considered and hastily abandoned airstrike proposal as a diplomatic victory, but around the world it was considered a major fiasco and raised deep doubts about the capability of this administration to manage American foreign policy with any kind of competence or credibility.And things aren’t looking any better as time goes by. The Syrians keep missing deadlines, walking back concessions, and generally delaying and obstructing. Clapper was only admitting the obvious when he told Congress yesterday that Assad had come out of the deal stronger.This would be a point of merely historical interest, except that Iran is carefully and closely watching how all this plays out. The lessons so far: The Obama approach offers Iran two bargain of the century opportunities. First, the Obama Administration is so desperate to avoid war that it will accept deals that probably no other American President would have entertained. And second, Iran has learned that the administration lacks the will to enforce the deals that it does make.The obvious strategy for Iran to take, based on these lessons:
a) Press ahead with a regional offensive, pushing in Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Provocative actions on the ground will not affect U.S. bargaining on the nuclear issue to a significant degree.
b) Negotiate hard for a deal that in essence allows you to edge closer to the nuclear threshold in exchange for tacit U.S. recognition of your gains on the ground—a “Fertile Crescent for nuclear threshold” deal.
c) Open as many commercial negotiations as possible to maximize the political forces that will tie the hands of the United States and its allies in responding to future provocative acts.
d) Exploit to the fullest the resulting tensions between the United States and its core allies in the region.
e) Sign the best nuclear deal possible with as much sanctions relief as you can get.
f) Consolidate your gains on the ground in the region, including economic benefits.
g) Almost immediately, begin to test the limits of your ability to cheat on the deal.The United States would benefit greatly from the right nuclear deal with Iran, and avoiding a war with Iran through a negotiated agreement is still the best U.S. strategy. But by failing to understand the linkage between the WMD issue and the regional balance of power, and by a series of almost non-stop policy failures and feckless moves in Syria, the White House is making it harder—not easier—to achieve that goal.