Syria Agreement Makes For Unstable Alliances

As Syria turns over its "initial declaration" of chemical weapons, President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin have become partners with the U.S., argues Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. Host Scott Simon talks to Goldberg about the foreign affairs strategy with Syria.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Yesterday, Syria sent the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons an initial declaration, detailing its trove of chemical weapons. The declaration is now being reviewed by that organization's verification division. The U.S.-Russian agreement reached last weekend calls for inspectors to be on the ground in Syria by November, and all chemical weapons to be removed from the country or destroyed by the middle of next year.

Jeffrey Goldberg has written for Bloomberg that though the Obama administration has assailed the Assad regime for using chemical weapons, this agreement makes them and Russia's president Putin partners with the U.S. Jeffrey Goldberg, who also writes for The Atlantic and covered the Middle East for The New Yorker, joins us in our studios.

Thanks so much for being with us.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Thank you.

SIMON: Are there drawbacks to this kind of partnership?

GOLDBERG: Are there drawbacks to partnering with Bashar al-Assad? None that I can think of, Scott.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: None that I can - of course, there are practical drawbacks. Which is to say when you partner or with a lying terrorist, it's not a stable relationship. They're not really good at stable relationships except with other lying terrorists. And there are profound moral consequences to this. And you know, you don't envy Barack Obama in this situation because he doesn't want to be a partner - in a perverse way, partner - with this terrible man and this terrible regime. On the other hand, if you can remove the chemical weapons from Syria, and that's an enormous if, who wouldn't jump at that chance?

So we're in really, really gray area. Put aside the issue of what the Obama administration wanted originally, which was to get rid of Assad, least this is some sort of forward motion.

SIMON: Does this agreement strengthened Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin in the world community and domestically - even if they won't have to worry about that quite so much right now?

GOLDBERG: The agreement certainly helps Assad and certainly helps Putin. It helps Assad because now we're talking about removing one of his weapons systems rather than removing him from power. Of course, they could stretch this process out over months or years. For Putin, look, Putin is the president of a pretty weak country that used to be an enormous player in the Middle East but hasn't been for a long time. This is a moment when they have been able to assert their rights in the Middle East, to meddle in the Middle East, to protect client states in the Middle East.

And so, this has a lot of American allies nervous. And one of the most telling things about the last couple of weeks is the number of businesses and sovereign wealth funds in the Persian Gulf who are thinking about or actually making huge business deals with the Russians. Why? Because they think Russia is on the way in and the U.S. might be on its way out.

SIMON: I have another on-the-other-hand that may have presented itself this week. A lot of people said if the president doesn't enforce what he said would happen, if Syria crossed the red line and used chemical weapons, then Iran would think that the United States was insincere and would develop a nuclear - continued to develop a nuclear weapon system. This week, the new Iranian president says: We're not interested in nuclear weapons; I want to shake President Obama's hand. Does it suggest that the administration has done something right?

GOLDBERG: I think that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And in Syria, you saw Assad fear an American strike and make a deal that he probably would not have made otherwise. In Iran, you see after four years of Obama's threats, and more than the threats to use military force, or the threat to keep the option of force on the table, you have four years of very, very hard edge sanctions imposed by the about administration on Iran.

And so, I think that they're taking Obama fairly seriously. We'll see what happens down the road, if they continue to take it seriously. But the credibility issue is not quite, at the moment at least, what some people thought it would be.

SIMON: Jeffrey Goldberg who writes for The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Bloomberg among other publications, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

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