Opinion

Opinion

Supportive Syria magnifies Iran threat

February 4, 2012

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— Imperial regimes can crack when they are driven out of their major foreign outposts. The fall of the Berlin Wall did not just signal the liberation of Eastern Europe from Moscow. It prefigured the collapse of the Soviet Union itself just two years later.

The fall of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria could be similarly ominous for Iran. The alliance with Syria is the centerpiece of Iran’s expanding sphere of influence, a mini-Comintern that includes such clients as Iranian armed and directed Hezbollah, now the dominant power in Lebanon; and Hamas, which controls Gaza and threatens to take the rest of Palestine (the West Bank) from a feeble Fatah.

Additionally, Iran exerts growing pressure on Afghanistan to the east and growing influence in Iraq to the west. Tehran has even extended its horizon to Latin America, as symbolized by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s solidarity tour through Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Of all these clients, Syria is the most important. It’s the only Arab state openly allied with non-Arab Iran. This is significant because the Arabs see the Persians as having had centuries-old designs to dominate the Middle East. Indeed, Iranian arms and trainers, transshipped to Hezbollah through Syria, have given the Persians their first outpost on the Mediterranean in 2,300 years.

But the Arab-Iranian divide is not just national/ethnic. It is sectarian. The Arabs are overwhelmingly Sunni. Iran is Shiite. The Arab states fear Shiite Iran infiltrating the Sunni homeland through (apart from Iraq) Hezbollah in Lebanon, and through Syria, run by Assad’s Alawites, a heterodox offshoot of Shiism.

Which is why the fate of the Assad regime is geopolitically crucial. It is, of course, highly significant for reasons of democracy and human rights as well. Syrian Baathism, while not as capricious and deranged as the Saddam Hussein variant, runs a ruthless police state that once killed 20,000 in Hama, and has now killed more than 5,400 during the current uprising.

Human rights — decency — is reason enough to do everything we can to bring down Assad. But strategic opportunity compounds the urgency. With its archipelago of clients anchored by Syria, Iran is today the greatest regional threat — to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states terrified of Iranian nuclear hegemony; to traditional regimes menaced by Iranian jihadist subversion; to Israel, which the Islamic republic has pledged to annihilate; to America and the West, whom the mullahs have vowed to drive from the region.

No surprise that the Arab League, many of whose members are no tenderhearted humanitarians, is pressing hard for Assad’s departure. His fall would deprive Iran of an intra-Arab staging area and sever its corridor to the Mediterranean. Syria would return to the Sunni fold. Hezbollah, Tehran’s agent in Lebanon, could be next, withering on the vine without Syrian support and Iranian materiel. And Hamas would revert to Egyptian patronage.

At the end of this causal chain, Iran, shorn of key allies and already reeling from economic sanctions over its nuclear program, would be thrown back on its heels. The mullahs are already shaky enough to be making near-suicidal threats of blocking the Strait of Hormuz. The population they put down in the 2009 Green Revolution is still seething. The regime is particularly reviled by the young. And its increasing attempts to shore up Assad financially and militarily have only compounded anti-Iranian feeling in the region.

It’s not just the Sunni Arabs lining up against Assad. Turkey, after a recent flirtation with a Syrian-Iranian-Turkish entente, has turned firmly against Assad, seeing an opportunity to extend its influence, as in Ottoman days, as protector/master of the Sunni Arabs. The alignment of forces suggests a unique opportunity for the West to help finish the job.

How? First, a total boycott of Syria, beyond just oil and including a full arms embargo. Second, a flood of aid to the resistance (through Turkey, which harbors both rebel militias and the political opposition, or directly and clandestinely into Syria). Third, a Security Council resolution calling for the removal of the Assad regime. Russia, Assad’s last major outside ally, should be forced to either accede or incur the wrath of the Arab states with a veto.  

Force the issue. Draw bright lines. Make clear American solidarity with the Arab League against a hegemonic Iran and its tottering Syrian client. In diplomacy, one often has to choose between human rights and strategic advantage. This is a rare case where we can advance both — so long as we do not compromise with Russia or relent until Assad falls.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 2 months ago

Interesting how Chuck is only concerned with human rights when they are abused by someone who's not on his team.

Michael LoBurgio 3 years, 2 months ago

1st Iraq now Iran So, let's recap all the "good" that came from the invasion and occupation of Iraq, shall we?

  1. A genocide of the Iraqi people, with over 1 million dead.

  2. The complete destruction of the country's infrastructure, which afforded the country one of the highest standards of living in the Middle East before being bombed into ruin.

  3. The showering of the Iraqi people with depleted uranium weapons, leading to gross malformations of babies and massive jumps in incidents of cancer.

  4. Courtesy of "de-Baathification" putting Shiites in charge of the government formerly controlled by the Sunnis, creating an horrendous Sunni-Shiite schism which never existed under Saddam Hussein's regime.

  5. Leaving the country broke, decimated, and on the brink of sectarian civil war when the US troops left in December of last year.

  6. Making Shiite-ruled Iran the greatest benefactor of the US invasion and occupation.

  7. Oh, I forgot: a couple of US oil corporations did wind up with oil development deals from the new Iraqi government.

http://whatreallyhappened.com/

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 2 months ago

"4. Courtesy of "de-Baathification" putting Shiites in charge of the government formerly controlled by the Sunnis, creating an horrendous Sunni-Shiite schism which never existed under Saddam Hussein's regime. "

While I agree with most of your post, to be accurate, the schism was there before the invasion. But the invasion most certainly didn't eliminate it. To the contrary, it created the conditions for the all-out civil war that has waned but never ended over the last couple of years, and could escalate worse than ever at any time.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 2 months ago

Compare that with what was going on under Saddam. 1. Invasion of Kuwait. 2. War with Iran. 3. Gassing the Kurds. 4. Firing scud missiles into Israel. 5. Sons raping women randomly. 6. Total dictatorship.

The war with Iran produced a million dead. The missiles into Israel was an attempt at expanding hostilities. The gassing of the Kurds is easily defined as ethnic genocide.

The problem is that our choices were bad and very bad. And since I don't possess a working crystal ball, I have no idea what would have happened had we done nothing. Maybe Saddam would have killed millions more or maybe he would have quietly gone off into the sunset. Perhaps he would have developed nuclear weapons and attached one onto a scud missile, setting off a nuclear exchange that would kill tens of millions. Maybe he would have sought sanctuary in a friendly country and sipped a pina colada by the poolside. But looking at what happened prior to us going into Iraq and comparing it with what happened after we went in, you see a pattern of bad and more bad.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 2 months ago

There's an assumption in your post that Saddam Hussein came to power and ruled in a vacuum. To the contrary, he was often a tool of US foreign policy, and was most certainly a tool of the powerful elites in Saudia Arabia and other Gulf States. His single gravest mistake in their eyes was not that he was a tyrant, but rather that he began being a tyrant for his benefit rather than theirs.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 2 months ago

But your analysis has a large assumption in it as well. U.S. foreign policy frequently tries to balance certain interests. After the Iranian revolution, the U.S. tried to balance Iran's growing power in the region by propping up other leaders in other countries. Some would become reliable allies of the U.S. while some would go on to become tyrants such as Saddam. Your assumption is that we knew or should have known what Saddam might turn into. The same of course is true for our support of a little known band of freedom fighters in Afghanistan who were giving a mighty big bloody nose to our enemy, the Soviet Union. Should we have known they would become Al Qaeda? With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see what we should have done, what we should have done differently, when we should have minded our own business. I wish I had some of that hindsight, but I don't. U.S. history has seen repeated instances of us muddling along making the best decisions at any given time, only to see with hindsight that we probably should have gone down another road. And that's the history of most countries.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 2 months ago

In almost every instance, minding our own business is the best policy for the great majority of Americans.

But just as when the US and Britain propped up the tyrant Shah of Iran, which then allowed the rise of the Ayatollahs, foreign policy rarely has the best interests of the average person in mind.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 2 months ago

I'm currently reading a good book I would recommend, "In The Garden Of Beasts" by Erik Larson. It's a biography of the American Ambassador to Germany in 1933. It was Ambassador Dodd's first year and it coincided with Hitler's first year. Knowing all we know now about Hitler and the events to come, it's amazing to me how skilled statesmen, leaders of countries, religious leaders, business leaders all miscalculated the coming events. There were many who warned of what they saw. Some were dismissed as naysayers. Many, many others saw no problems on the horizon. Many Jews living in Germany thought this little tyrant will be deposed in short order. FDR seemed to care more about Germany's debt to U.S. banks. Soon, those would become the least of their concerns. Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing. But neither you nor I, nor our leaders possess any. I give them less credit when they stumble into success and I attribute less fault when the bumble their way into tragedy.

weeslicket 3 years, 2 months ago

from mr. krauthammer: How? First, a total boycott of Syria, beyond just oil and including a full arms embargo. Second, a flood of aid to the resistance (through Turkey, which harbors both rebel militias and the political opposition, or directly and clandestinely into Syria). Third, a Security Council resolution calling for the removal of the Assad regime. Russia, Assad’s last major outside ally, should be forced to either accede or incur the wrath of the Arab states with a veto.

OMG. did ck just go all softpowerobama on us? boycotts, foreign aid, AND the u.n.? gollywhompers.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 2 months ago

Assad seems to have his back against the wall right about now. Having seen how things went down in Libya, he must be pretty worried. Things haven't gone any better for other regional leaders deposed in this "Arab Spring".
One must wonder what would be his response had he been in possession of nuclear weapons. Would he have tried using them to deflect attention away from his own brutal actions? Would that have led a another major regional confrontation?
Maybe now would be a good time to assess Israel's attack on Syria's nuclear program. Is the region more or less safe with Assad not in possession of nuclear weapons? And if the U.S. or Israel should strike Iran's nuclear facilities, will we look back at that in a few years and be thankful it was done?

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