Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Syria, Iran, and American Interests

by Elliott Abrams
March 26, 2011

Should the United States fear the downfall of the Assad regime in Syria?

As in the cases of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, we hear voices saying “watch out–the Brotherhood is coming. You’ll regret what you wished for.” I recall the same debate inside the U.S. Government in the 2003-5 period, when some officials, led by Gen. John Abizaid of CentCom, theorized that what would come after Assad would be worse for the United States.

This was a terribly mistaken view then and remains so now. Given that at that time Syria was doing all it could to pour jihadis into Iraq to kill Americans, it was in fact an astonishing and costly error in analysis.

This is true not only because the regime is especially bloody and vicious, as generations of mourners and political prisoners can testify. It is true also because of the regime’s affinity to Iran and Hezbollah.

The Syria/Iran/Hezbollah axis is a huge benefit to Iran and ending it would weaken Iran’s position greatly. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world and its land bridge to Hezbollah.  Recent reports of an Iranian naval facility in the Mediterranean reminded us of how valuable an asset Syria is today for Iran. If a Sunni-led Syria (and the country is 74 percent Sunni) ended the Assad regime’s romance with the ayatollahs, American interests in the entire Middle East would gain. Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon would diminish instantly and the opposition to Hezbollah—the March 14 movement, and Lebanon’s Sunni, Christian, and Druze communities—would grow stronger. Iran’s ability to threaten Israel would diminish if it lost what amounts to a land border with Israel through Lebanon’s Hezbollah-controlled south. Moreover, every time a Middle Eastern tyranny falls, and especially so in the case of the tyranny most closely linked to Iran, it makes Iran’s own terrorist regime seem more outdated and anomalous in a Middle East where democracy is spreading.

So the end of the Assad regime is very much in the interest of the United States. And as I argued in the Washington Post, the United States should be actively seeking to bring it about.

Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    This assumes that Iran will act in a way that we in the west consider “logical”. On the other hand Iran seems to be the only country in the region not experiencing a notable revolt . I don’t believe in “copycat” uprisings and it seems just as logical that Iran will pursue it’s Islamic Revolution at the expense of its Sunni “allies” in Syria .

  • Posted by Kholoud Mansour

    I am not certain if you would read or reply to my comments, but I think you’re very much simplifying the Middle East problem, by comparing Assad’s regime to the Qaddafi’s, or urging to end the Assad’s era and I would hereby like to clarify few points:
    Not giving in-depth analysis to the situation in general and to Syria in particular makes the whole argument looks as a shallow and biased as throwing propagandas and vague accusations which, if true, should be enhanced with proof and factual truth.
    With my due respect, it’s completely up to the Syrian citizens to decide their own destiny and to shape their future, whether to overthrow the regime, to revolute, to call for prompt reforms, or to live under “tyranny”. The US government game in pampering the regimes and governments, then filtrating them, became an old module to the US interference in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Syria is an essential and vital element for the US “legitimate” existence and frequent meddling in the Middle East; the US would have eliminated the Assad’s presidency or Iran’s regime ages ago if both countries are not achieving the US balance and legitimacy to the crisis management waving and fooling with the stick and carrot. Nevertheless, it doubtlessly proved that the US ruins any place once put its finger; Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and so on.
    I am not pro-Bash nor totally against him, I am aware of the endless deficiencies and problems that need to be resolved, and I am fully aware of the long reforms list that should be immediately implemented at all levels. However, my thoughts always go to my country as a nation, not as individuals. Before calling to end the regime, we need to think of the available alternatives, practical solutions, and achievable comprehensive agenda without being random as if revolutions are magical guaranteed recipes, and without throwing the countries in massive chaos that will take tens of decades to recover from.
    Apart from the conspiracy theory and accusation of being anti-Semitism, looking at many Arab leaders as war crimes, which might be true a great extent, excluding Israel from the same view and trial, doesn’t give the US any credit rather than revealing a big time of hypocrisy.
    Finally, thank you and certainly there’s still so many to reflect on regarding Syria

  • Posted by Donna Dallal-Ferne

    So when does the US decide that our “interests” are more than just oil fields, and Israel’s “security”? Our interests must be that all peoples everywhere are safe and free. Israel will never be secure as long as they insist on continuing the lie of their “democracy.” No other nation on this planet would ever get away with characterizing apartheid as democracy. Our interest in safe and free, does not mean supporting multiple wars all over the Arab world. It means, among other things, that we become an honest broker in the biggest war in the smallest region in the Middle East! May this Arab uprising be brief, and attended to with utmost respect and caution. Praise be to whomever receives praise that the commander in chief’s last name is not Bush!!!

  • Posted by Jad Malaeb

    Being part of the the March 14 movement, i take from your words a big promise specially when you said Hezbollah will fall instantly. However, i think that Hezbollah falling apart is a 10 year process if not more. These people are so connected to what they believe in, hense breaking their strength is an issue with no clear or obvious solution. we might think that they can be demolished through war but that didn’t happen when Israel attacked them in July 2007. Generalizing the Middle East revolutions in one category might fall as a biased theory. In Libeia, Egypt, Tunisia etc people broke down a regime that was never part of the Israeli, Iranian , Hezbollah, Syria quadrilateral ally. The Last have a big dream of demolishing Israel so their strength is disconnected from their countries’ citizens but it is completely dependent on their beliefs. This makes these countries’ regimes the hardest to break down. Time will prove this even though i wish they were the first to be broken down.

  • Posted by Jad Malaeb

    correction: i meant to say Syrian, Hezbollah, Iranian trilateral ally instead of adding Israel to it.

  • Posted by Kholoud Mansour

    Don’t you think that in the mid of those uprising and constant revolutions, the attention is held back away giving Isreal more chance to rebuild its settelment. Iraq, Afghanestan, Pakistan are no longer appealing for the media, for the International community, and even for people.
    PS. Why my comment is still awaiting moderation?

  • Posted by Reza Panah

    I think at the end of the day Iran is Israel’s only real ally in the area. The Palestinian issue could be resolved in the most amicable way by giving the Iranians a face saving way to resolve there nuclear standoff and project some form of regional influence, albeit a very limited influence in matters involving Shia social empowerment.

  • Posted by Haytham Tabesh - Lebanon

    I would like to post a new view here,
    1. how can we explain that Syria supplies Hizbullah with arms on one hand, and sened delegates to the US to ask for relaunching negotiations with Israel on the second hand?
    2. When the Assad regime continuously speaks out loud about resistance, why haven’t we seen any resistance movement in the Golan Heights ever since 1973? Why is it that it should always come from Lebanon or Palestinian territories?
    3. How can we explain the reports which mentioned that Assad has sent army officers to help the Qadafi regime survive and lead its forces on the ground after the Libyan army suffered various commanders move to the revolution side?

    there are many other questions to discuss about Syria playing evil in this region, but we can do with these now.
    Dear Khulood or others here any answers?

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