Has Obama changed his mind about Syria?

Those of us who aren’t in the flow of secret cables have to try to read the tea leaves instead, and these tea leaves suggest that the US and the Saudis have reached a meeting of the minds. The Saudis appear to have agreed to police the recipients of their aid much more effectively, taking US concerns about radical groups seriously. The US on the other hand is ready to do significantly more for groups that pass the stricter ‘moderation’ tests. If true, this isn’t just good news for the Syrian opposition. It is a sign that the Obama administration is paying closer attention to the loud chorus of voices from all sides of the Middle East warning that an effort to settle the nuclear issue with Iran that ignores Iran’s geopolitical surge across the Fertile Crescent will fail. Both Israelis and Arabs will sigh in relief if this is so; Sunni Arabs and Israelis have been united by the fear that in its rush to get a nuclear deal with Iran the Obama administration was ready to trade Arab land for Iranian nukes.

The opening of a rebel offensive in the southern front (where it can be supplied from friendly Jordan) and away from the chaos and infighting that dominates rebel held territory in the north, could be significant. Damascus is close to the southern front in the war. Anything that threatens Damascus can change the nature of the war and force Assad and his backers in Iran into a tight corner. It’s very early going yet, but if the administration is moving toward a more constructive policy, people should take note and give credit where credit is due. There have been false dawns before. But if these straws in the wind turn out to be the signs of real change, it may be that the White House at long last is moving toward a more grounded and realistic policy in its approach to the Middle East.

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