The bombshell revelation of the President’s secret letter to Ayatollah Khamenei confirms something that many Middle East watchers have been thinking for a while now: that the President is willing to suborn every other American consideration in the Middle East for the prospect of a grand bargain with Iran.The letter, details of which were leaked to the Wall Street Journal yesterday, and which Khamenei reportedly did not answer, contained promises to cooperate on ISIS if the nuclear deal is signed, as well as this stunner of an assurance on Syria:
Mr. Obama’s letter also sought to assuage Iran’s concerns about the future of its close ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to another person briefed on the letter. It states that the U.S.’s military operations inside Syria aren’t targeted at Mr. Assad or his security forces.
A deal with the Mullahs is Obama’s chief concern—it certainly trumps making common cause with the Sunni states over regional unrest or defeating ISIS. Our allies in the Middle East will certainly treat it as such. It’s no secret that Israel and Saudi Arabia believe their interests and America’s have diverged, but this is starker confirmation than they (or for that matter, we) expected. It will reverberate in Riyadh, Jerusalem, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi for a long time, even more so because these allies had to learn about it from the press. Sloppy and unfortunate.As for what this all means more broadly, we refer you to but one passage from the latest essay by own Adam Garfinkle:
Some have argued that the Administration’s reluctance to attack Assad regime targets is related to its sharp focus on getting an acceptable deal with the Iranians over the nuclear portfolio. Some have argued that Obama thinks of his effort to bring Iran in from the cold as comparable to Nixon’s China coup in 1972. According to this analysis, Iran is the key that can save the Administration’s reputation in foreign policy for all time. If he pulls this off, so the argument goes, all else will be forgotten if not forgiven.Maybe. I remain skeptical that this President, this White House, this Administration, is capable of that scale of strategic thinking. I suspect the decision-making process is more compartmentalized and incrementalist by nature, which also seems to be the conclusion of insider memoirs by Bob Gates and Leon Panetta. But I agree—and here I am at one with both Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu, it seems—that the outcome of the engagement with Iran is vastly more important than Da’ash or Syria or the future of Iraq.Even if I am mistaken, and the Administration really does think as grandly as some claim, I am skeptical that it is going about its Big Idea in a competent fashion. The way to get the Iranians to bend is not to give them a pass on their regional mischief, but rather to stuff it back in their faces until it hurts. Western liberals think that good will extended will engender good will returned, concessions extended will evoke concessions returned, friendship proposed will render friendship accepted. That sort of thing works well at suburban country clubs and at EU-based soirees. It doesn’t work with Iranian mullahs (or Chinese Communists or Russian kleptocrats, and I could go on). Displays of liberal reasonableness are very likely to be taken in Tehran as signs of weakness and lack of resolve. Maybe the Iranians have already decided to make a deal; after all, they showed no signs of relenting in the Iran-Iraq War until they suddenly did, remaining blood-on-the-saddle types to the very end in order to gain the best possible terms. But if not, one can easily imagine a situation where we sit down expecting the Iranians to reciprocate our generosity in order to close the deal, and they expect more U.S. concessions to follow the ones already offered—at which point they may pocket the concessions and propose an extension.