New York Times: The mullahs in Tehran, noted Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, were watching Mr. Obama’s every move in the Arab world. They would interpret a failure to back up his declaration that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had “lost the legitimacy to lead” as a sign of weakness — and perhaps as a signal that Mr. Obama was equally unwilling to back up his vow never to allow Iran to gain the ability to build a nuclear weapon.
“It shouldn’t be overstated that this was the deciding factor, or even a principal factor” in the decision to intervene in Libya, Benjamin J. Rhodes, a senior aide who joined in the meeting, said last week. But, he added, the effect on Iran was always included in the discussion. In this case, he said, “the ability to apply this kind of force in the region this quickly — even as we deal with other military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan — combined with the nature of this broad coalition sends a very strong message to Iran about our capabilities, militarily and diplomatically.”
That afternoon in the Situation Room vividly demonstrates a rarely stated fact about the administration’s responses to the uprisings sweeping the region: The Obama team holds no illusions about Colonel Qaddafi’s long-term importance. Libya is a sideshow. Containing Iran’s power remains their central goal in the Middle East. Every decision — from Libya to Yemen to Bahrain to Syria — is being examined under the prism of how it will affect what was, until mid-January, the dominating calculus in the Obama administration’s regional strategy: how to slow Iran’s nuclear progress, and speed the arrival of opportunities for a successful uprising there.
In fact, the Iran debate makes every such chess move in the region more complicated. At the end of this era of upheaval, which the White House considers as sweeping as the changes that transformed Europe after the Berlin Wall fell, success or failure may well be judged by the question of whether Iran realizes its ambitions to become the region’s most powerful force.