At some point, being “modest” becomes the same thing as being inured to atrocities. President Bashar al-Assad’s helicopters continue to drop “barrel bombs” filled with shrapnel and chlorine. In recent attacks on the town of Marea, Islamic State forces have used skin-blistering mustard gas and deployed, over a few days, perhaps 50 suicide bombers. We have seen starvation sieges, and kidnappings, and beheadings, and more than 10,000 dead children. (…)
What explains Obama’s high tolerance for humiliation and mass atrocities in Syria? The Syrian regime is Iran’s proxy, propped up by billions of dollars each year. And Obama wanted nothing to interfere with the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran. He was, as Hof has said, “reluctant to offend the Iranians at this critical juncture.” So the effective concession of Syria as an Iranian zone of influence is just one more cost of the president’s legacy nuclear agreement.
Never mind that Iran will now have tens of billions of unfrozen assets to strengthen Assad’s struggling military. And never mind that Assad’s atrocities are one of the main recruiting tools for the Islamic State and other Sunni radicals. All of which is likely to extend a war that no one can win, which has incubated regional and global threats — and thrown a small body in a red T-shirt against a distant shore.