One problem is that while President Obama saw the nuclear deal as an opportunity to bridge divides with Iran, both Russia and Iran saw the negotiation as an opportunity to advance an anti-American agenda. While President Obama and his negotiating team were hunting for compromises and mutually face-saving agreements. Russia was looking for ways to turn the deal into a formula for destabilizing the region at Washington’s expense. Thus Russia insisted at the 11th hour in the negotiations on the lifting of a conventional weapons export ban. And even as President Obama scrambled to dodge Congressional scrutiny of the deal, Iran unhelpfully insisted that U.S. domestic debate consisted a material breach of the deal and rattled its sabers at home.
Instead of seeing the deal as the start of a new era of cooperation, Russia and Iran, as the WSJ recently reported, immediately began planning Russia’s entry into the Syrian conflict—without, of course, telling their new friend and partner President Obama what they had in mind. These negotiations, which may even have been taking place while the nuclear deal was being hammered out, were advanced by General Soleimani’s visit to Moscow. In late August, rumors of a major Russian presence in Syria began making their way into the press; by early September, Western outlets confirmed the delivery of equipment and the presence of “advisors”. On September 27, with the Russian presence in Syria open knowledge, President Putin used his U.N. General Assembly speech to call for international support of Assad and a broad anti-ISIS coalition—but then turned around and struck seemingly every rebel group in Syria but ISIS. To add insult to injury, despite extensive U.S. efforts to set up military-to-military communications with Russia (in order to achieve “deconfliction”, i.e. avoid unintentional shooting), the Russians announced the timing of the first strikes by having a general stroll into the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and drop the news that they’d begin within an hour. This is the diplomatic equivalent of kicking sand in the face; it is a studied and deliberate insult. The attacks the general mentioned, presumably not coincidentally, hit U.S.-backed groups particularly hard.