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Biden Adopts Obama’s Syrian Playbook in Ukraine

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Home | Ziva DahlTags: syria | obama administration

Biden Adopts Obama’s Syrian Playbook in Ukraine

a profile of biden shaking his finger at putin in front of a ukraine flag

Is Biden’s tough talk against Putin just for show? (Peter Kováč | Dreamstime)

Ziva DahlBy Ziva DahlThursday, 21 April 2022 12:00 PMCurrent | Bio | Archive

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President Biden refused to arm Ukraine in the weeks before the Russian invasion and has been slow-walking weapons deliveries since the war began, unwilling to provide key defensive and offensive armament to the embattled nation even after it has stalled the Russian advance on Kyiv.

All of which prompted a frustrated President Volodymyr Zelensky to ask, “What are they waiting for?”

Biden’s policy seems intended to help Ukraine just enough to look good, but not enough for a Ukrainian victory.https://0689b21c949d7e23e65d45f4f84c7ee7.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Why?

In the midst of a military campaign to decapitate the Ukrainian government, Putin demanded sweeping written guarantees that Russian trade with Iran would not be affected by U.S. sanctions.

The State Department quickly assured Moscow: “We would of course not sanction Russian participation in nuclear projects that are part of resuming full implementation of the [Iran deal].”

Under the proposed new Iran deal, Moscow would collaborate with Iran on nuclear and scientific projects. Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear power supplier and uranium producer, would profit from a $10 billion contract to expand Tehran’s Bushehr nuclear plant and work on the Fordow underground nuclear facility. And, of course, Putin will cash in by supplying arms to Iran. Russia received its written guarantees.

Why did Biden quickly give Putin an economic lifeline?

According to Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the key to understanding America’s actions in Ukraine lies in the Obama/Biden Iran deals.

Biden’s Iran negotiating team, led by Robert Malley, an Obama holdover, intends to strike a new deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran replicating the same goals underpinning Obama’s now defunct 2015 agreement: Recognize Iran’s “equities” in the region, empower the fundamentalist terror state as America’s strategic partner and weaken America’s traditional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, allowing the U.S. to leave the region.

In 2019, Malley wrote that Obama was a “gradualist” who presided over “an experiment that got suspended halfway through. … When it came to … the Middle East, Obama’s presidency was premised on the belief that someone else would pick up where he left off.”

The similarities between the U.S. foreign policy chess game with Russia preceding the 2015 Iran deal and during current Iran negotiations are astounding. Obama used Syria as a pawn in his strategy to get his Iran deal, and Biden is using Ukraine in his effort to finalize a second agreement with Tehran, which would be endangered without Moscow’s support as a party to the Vienna negotiations.

Ukraine matters to Russia. Mr. Putin regards Ukrainians and Russians as one people, part of historic Russia, and wants to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence. He views Ukraine’s alignment with the West as a direct challenge to Russia’s survival.

Syria also mattered to Russia. Putin hoped to restore the Soviet-era naval presence to project power in the eastern Mediterranean and in the Middle East.

Syria played an important role in achieving Obama’s 2015 Iran deal.

Iran viewed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a strategic ally, backing him in 2011 in the war between the Syrian government and anti-government rebel groups.

Ayatollah Khamenei is creating an Iranian sphere of influence with land, air and naval bases stretching from Tehran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, facilitating movement of Iranian-backed fighters and weapons to more easily attack Western allies in the region.

Getting involved in a civil war in Syria would endanger prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran, something President Obama was obsessively focused on consummating. Therefore Obama, eager to curry favor with his future ally in Tehran, deliberately refused to take unilateral action to remove Assad from power.

To minimize domestic and international criticism, he camouflaged his behavior with public declarations that the Syrian dictator had “lost his legitimacy” and must go and a spin campaign of echo chamber obfuscation by White House aides like Ben Rhodes.

In 2013, President Obama declared that if Syria used chemical weapons, that would be a “red line” requiring a U.S. military response. But when Assad did so, Obama chose not to act, instead inviting Russia into Syria to dismantle Assad’s stockpile.

Russia never fully eliminated Assad’s capability, but it kept Washington’s non-intervention policy intact and gained an enhanced role in Syria, something it desired.

Obama publicly moralized about the terrible loss of human life; but as Ben Rhodes acknowledged, the Iran agreement took precedence over Syria: “If the U.S. had intervened more forcefully in Syria, it would have dominated Obama’s second term and the [Iran nuclear deal] would have been impossible to achieve.”

In a moment of candor in a New Republicinterview, Obama intimated that if the tens of thousands being killed in the Congo was not a pressing U.S. national interest, neither were the tens of thousands being killed in Syria.

Putin understood his value to Obama in Syria. In 2014, he invaded and annexed Crimea. Obama complained, but did nothing consequential, just as Putin expected.

In 2015, Obama officially got his deal with Tehran.

With Assad and Iran in danger of actually losing the war, the Russian military assumed a more active role in helping the Syrian dictator crush his enemies, aggressively bombing opposition-held areas, indiscriminately slaughtering many thousands of civilians. As payment, in 2017 Moscow secured its desired strategic Mediterranean naval base in Tartus.

Obama’s plans for the Middle East were temporarily reversed during the Trump administration when President Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal and imposed severe sanctions on Tehran. However, immediately upon assuming office, President Biden terminated many of his more stringent sanctions and also waived his sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany which provided an alternative route to using Ukraine to keep Russian gas flowing to Europe.

In a January 19 press conference, our president said he believed Russia would win if it invaded Ukraine and appeared to give his approval for a “minor incursion.”

Assessing Biden’s behavior and cognizant that the Vienna negotiations with Iran were reaching final stages, Putin decided to act in Ukraine. Russia attacked and news reports of its targeted bombings of civilians and civilian infrastructure have caused an international outcry.

It’s just been reported that the former head of Russian forces in Syria, a general known for his brutality against civilians, has now been appointed to lead the attack against Ukraine. The “butcher of Syria” will likely become the “butcher of Ukraine.”

In Ukraine, the Biden administration has adopted Obama’s Syrian playbook, calling for Russian regime change and threatening war crimes trials, but clearly unwilling to alienate Moscow, currently its go-between negotiating with Iran on America’s behalf.

Just as with Obama in Syria, the half-measures and moral posturing of the Biden administration regarding Ukraine are tools to protect and promote a second and more radical deal to empower Iran, for which Biden seems willing to sacrifice thousands of Ukrainian lives.

Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Ziva writes and lectures about U.S.-Israel relations, U.S. foreign policy, Israel, Zionism, Antisemitism and BDS on college campuses. Her articles have appeared in such publications as The Hill, New York Daily News, New York Observer, The Washington Times, American Spectator, American Thinker and Jerusalem Post. Read Ziva Dahl’s Reports