Wow! What an amazing 30 days going from the “Guns of August” to the “Serenity of September!” Instead of discussing whether U.S. cruise missile attacks as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons against rebels on 21 August would deter their future use or lead to a wider regional conflict, I am wondering why Assad chose to give up his chemical weapons in response to a Russian/US brokered United Nations Resolution. Even more startling was Iran’s new President Russan Rouhani launching a “charm offensive” in the midst of Iran’s ally Syria bending to international pressure to give up its chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In interviews with several western journalists, Rouhani said Iran was enriching Uranium for legitimate energy purposes and not for weaponization. Relative to his predecessor, President Rouhani’s speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly was moderate and again eschewed the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Within a day of this speech, Secretary of State Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart to discuss lifting sanctions against Iran in return for verification that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program. Then prior to departing New York for Tehran, President Rouhani’s agreed to a 15 minute telephone conversation with President Obama – the first time the leaders of both countries have spoken since the Carter Administration in 1979 when the Shah was in power!
Hallelujah! Noble Peace Prizes for all our “friends” (i.e. Putin, Assad, and Rouhani).
So how did we get from the U.S. being backed into a trap between two bad choices of either not responding to Syria killing over 1,400 people with chemical weapons or launching an ineffective military response that the President said he would take only with the concurrence of the Congress? My guess is that Vladimir made Bashar an offer that he along with his Iranian and Hezbollah cronies couldn’t refuse. Since there is no way you can ever use chemical weapons again without the international community coming after you and your Alwite regime, why not give them up? Russia will broker the a deal with the UN that will keep the U.S. and Israel out of Syria’s internal affairs regarding the turn over the weapons. Russia will also stand firm against any international action to take down the Assad government. Rouhani and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah will endorse the deal and assure Assad they will help him win the civil war with the rebels so the “Assad Dynasty” can continue. Everybody wins: the U.S. gets Syria to give up its chemical weapons in response to a UN resolution without resorting to force; NATO doesn’t have to be concerned about supporting U.S. military action against Syria; Russia shows the world that it still matters while holding the line on the international community bringing about regime change; Iran keeps one of its few allies; Hezbollah retains its Syrian sanctuary; and Assad gets to stay in power – all because Syria agreed to turnover chemical weapons that it could never use again anyway!
OK, I suppose this could explain what is going on with Putin and Assad, but why is Iran overtly signaling at the same time its interest in discussing with the U.S. whether or not it will pursue nuclear weapons as Syria agrees to give up its chemical weapons? Rather than events in Syria driving what Iran is doing they are just serving to have a megaphone effect on what Iran is trying to achieve. I see Rouhani’s actions being part of an independent Iranian strategy to take advantage of the world stage provided by the annual opening of the UN General Assembly to change Iran’s standing in the world while protecting its nuclear weapons options. First there are the economic sanctions Rouhani needs to get relief from before they create an “Arab Spring effect” in Persian Iran. This means showing the world that he really does represent the moderate Iranians who legitimately elected him. Next there is the important message that unlike his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Rouhani Administration wants Iran accepted as a rational player by the international community. Then there is the potential that Iran is not as close to having a deliverable nuclear weapon as U.S. and Israeli intelligence believe them to be. Finally, the Iranian religious leadership may also be recalculating the value of having nuclear weapons (where could they be used, to what effect; would Iran’s Islamic Revolution survive the overwhelming retaliation in kind from their use; would U.S. containment of a nuclear Iran cripple Iran’s economy and regional influence?). No matter; what Rouhani did achieve at the UN is to buy Iran time to keep the U.S. and Israel from acting against its nuclear program while talking about talks. If sanctions are relaxed in order to reward Iran for being more moderate in tone without agreeing in a verifiable way to cease pursuing nuclear weapons then Rouhani will have accomplished a strategic success for the cost of being no more than polite and well behaved!
Of course, the serenity of September was violently pierced by a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard on September 16th that resulted in 13 dead and raised considerable concern about the “insider threat.” Then there was the Nairobi Westgate Mall seizure/hostage situation between 21 and 24 September that saw 68 killed by al Shabab terrorists bringing to life again the fears about how committed radical jihadists can wreck havoc in urban areas with nothing more than automatic rifles.
While Aaron Alexis had no terrorist connections, al Qaeda will recognize, that as with Major Hassan at Fort Hood, insiders can access secure military bases with weapons and “punish” those they see as responsible for killing their jihadist warriors. Even more chilling, the Nairobi Mall attack shows how local terrorists can make what is common place fearful to the point of negatively impacting quality of life and economic activity.
Perhaps law enforcement and intelligence assessments are correct that al Qaeda and its franchises like al Shabab or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are not capable of executing a Nairobi mall attack inside the U.S., but media headlines about the Washington Navy Yard shootings at least make me think otherwise.
That’s what I think; what do think?