The Pros and Cons of Attacking Syria
|David P. Goldman|
Kudos to Michael Ledeen for explaining that the road to Damascus starts in Tehran. As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu explained on Aug. 25, "Assad's regime isn't acting alone. Iran, and Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, are there on the ground playing an active role assisting Syria. In fact, Assad's regime has become a full Iranian client and Syria has become Iran's testing ground. … Iran is watching and it wants to see what will be the reaction to the use of chemical weapons."
We are at war with Iran, and I have little to add to Michael's excellent summary. As he reiterates, we have been at war with Iran for decades. The only distinction is that Iran knows this and the Obama administration pretends it's not happening. Because the American public is disgusted with the miserable return on our investment of 5,000 lives, 50,000 casualties, and $1 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans are too timid to push for decisive military action to stop Iran's nuclear program — although air strikes rather than ground troops would be required.
I made a similar case on March 29:
It's pointless to take potshots at Obama for failing to act on Syria. What we should say is this: "Iran is the main source of instability in the Middle East. Iran's intervention in Syria has turned the country into a slaughterhouse. By showing weakness to Iran, the Obama administration encourages its murderous activities elsewhere in the region."I also recommend Ed "Give War a Chance" Luttwak's Aug. 25 op-ed in the New York Times, "In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins." Victory for Assad would be victory for Iran. "And if the rebels win, " Luttwak wrote, "moderate Sunnis would be politically marginalized under fundamentalist rulers." The whole region is paralyzed and ripe for destabilization. Saudi subsidies are keeping Egypt from starving, literally. "Turkey has large and restless minority populations that don't trust their own government, which itself does not trust its own army. The result has been paralysis instead of power, leaving Mr. Erdogan an impotent spectator of the civil war on his doorstep." I would add that Turkey also is at economic free-fall with its stock market down by 40% in dollar terms since April.
Luttwak argues that the U.S. should favor "an indefinite draw." Here I disagree: the chemical attack shows how easily Iran can manipulate events in Syria to suit its strategic objectives. The best solution is Yugoslav-style partition: an Alawite redoubt in the Northwest including Latakia (where Russia has its naval station), and a Sunni protectorate in the rest of the country, except for an autonomous zone for Syria's Kurds. Everyone wins except the Turks, who understandably abhor the idea of an independent Kurdish entity. Someone has to lose, though. What has Turkey done for us lately?
Obama probably will choose the worst of all possible alternatives. Daniel Pipes warns that this course of action "will also entail real dangers. Bashar al-Assad's notorious incompetence means his response cannot be anticipated. Western strikes could, among other possibilities, inadvertently lead to increased regime attacks on civilians, violence against Israel, an activation of sleeper cells in Western countries, or heightened dependence on Tehran. Surviving the strikes also permits Assad to boast that he defeated the United States. In other words, the imminent attack entails few potential benefits but many potential drawbacks. As such, it neatly encapsulates the Obama administration's failed foreign policy."
If the problems of the Middle East look intractable now, consider what they will look like if Iran can promote mass murder from under a nuclear umbrella. The hour is late. If we Republicans can't summon the courage to advance fundamental American national security issues in the midst of crisis, we will deserve the voters' contempt.
Mr. Goldman, president of Macrostrategy LLC, is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and the London Center for Policy Research. He is the author of How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) and the essay collection It's Not the End of the World, It's Just the End of You: The Great Extinction of the Nations.
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