In the wake of President Obama’s speech yesterday at the U.N. General Assembly, there were reports of another chemical weapons attack near Damascus launched by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. If true, Assad is just drawing the logical conclusion from the president’s speech and the administration’s actions over the last several weeks. The policy of the Obama White House is to target Sunni extremism. That means that Assad and his partners in the Iranian resistance axis are virtually untouchable. Indeed, the administration advised Tehran before launching strikes on ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra Monday that the strikes would do no damage to the Assad regime assets.
Therefore, Assad sees not only that he’s in the clear, but also an opportunity to press his advantage: with a chemical weapons attack on rebel fighters, or civilians, he is saying that he, too, has joined the U.S.-led coalition against Sunni extremists. After all, as Assad sees it, what’s the difference between the missiles and rockets fired by the U.S. Air Force on ISIS and the barrel bombs that the Syrian Air Force drops on the Sunni opposition? As the Syrian media report, the Damascus regime and the Obama administration share the same enemy: terrorism—of the Sunni variety.
In his speech at the UN, the president said that ISIS “has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves.”
All true. I knew one of the “innocent human beings … beheaded” by ISIS. But in terms of casualty figures and sheer brutality, the Assad regime still sets the pace in the Levant, with more than 200,000 dead during the course of a three-and-a-half year civil war. So why did the White House spare Assad?
“There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil,” Obama said of ISIS. “The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”
True again, but over the last 35 years the Islamic Republic of Iran has killed thousands more Americans than ISIS has since it first appeared in its present incarnation less than two years ago. And yet instead of using or threatening to use force to deal with Iran, "America,” Obama said in his speech, “is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue."
The fact is that there is no humanitarian argument to be made for targeting ISIS while letting the Iranian axis get away with mass murder. No, Obama’s case is, he thinks, strategic. The U.S.-led campaign against ISIS is the test case for the new Middle East security “framework” that Obama has set out in several interviews and articles. As Obama told David Remnick in January, the issue to get an “equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.”
What Obama wants is to balance the Shiites against the Sunnis. They don’t have to love each other. They just need to stop fighting each other, directly or through proxies, and they’ll eventually come to recognize their common interests in regional stability.