Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum has an interesting take on the situation with Syria. And that is to forget Syria and target the real threat in the Middle East – Iran. He rightly states that Syrian chemical weapons and their use pale in comparison to the danger and possible horror of Iranian nuclear weapons. He also points out a thought I have had all along, that being that while the deaths of 1,429 by chemical weapons is appalling, it is not worse than killing one hundred times that many through other means, including torture. Pipes sees three possible courses of action that can be taken and the benefits and consequences of each.
1. Knock off the Assad regime. Attractive in itself, especially because it takes out Tehran’s No. 1 ally and disrupts supply lines to Hizbullah, this scenario opens a can of worms: anarchy in Syria, foreign intervention by neighbors, the prospect of Al-Qaeda-connected Islamists taking over in Damascus, hostilities against Israel on the hitherto-quiet Golan Heights, and the dispersal of the regime’s chemical weapons to terrorist organizations. Overthrowing Bashar al-Assad threatens to recapitulate the elimination of long-standing dictators of Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011, leading to years, or even decades, of instability and violence. Worse yet, this outcome could rejuvenate the otherwise dying career of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the bully of Turkey, currently nearly overwhelmed by his missteps.
2. Bust the regime’s chops without overthrowing it – the Obama administration proposed approach. This scenario takes us no less into the unknown: evidence exists that the Assad regime does not worry about the U.S.-led “punishment” but already plans to use deploy chemicals again, perhaps against civilians, as does Tehran against American targets. Further, as I have pointed out, a limited strike can lead to “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.” This step risks almost as much as overthrowing Asad without the benefit of getting rid of him, making it the worst of these three options.
3. Do nothing. This scenario has several disadvantages: letting Bashar al-Assad get away with his chemical attack; eroding Obama’s credibility after his declaring the use of chemicals a “red line”; and strengthening the hardliners in Iran. But it has the even greater advantages of not further inflaming an already combustible war theater, maintaining the strategically beneficial stand-off between regime and rebels, and, most importantly, not distracting Washington from the really important country – Iran.
The United States has no real national security interest in Syria, but certainly a nuclear-capable Iran poses a threat to our interests that cannot be ignored. If our military is going to be sent into harm’s way in the Middle East, shouldn’t we be targeting the real threat to our country and not one that is being used by Obama as an opportunity to look tough? Obama’s red line that he denied drawing after he drew it reminds me of another president who wanted to look tough but appeared laughable instead. Who can forget Bill Clinton addressing the nation about Haiti and telling the Haitian dictator General Cedras that, “Your time is up. Leave now, or we will force you from power.” I fear that Obama will use authority he claims but does not really have to get us involved in a protracted war which will yield nothing benefitting the United States. Our soldiers will come home in flag-draped coffins while Obama plays the back nine and the left will happily support the Egotist In Chief because he has a D after his name. Meanwhile, Iran continues to add to its stockpile of enriched uranium and prepares to begin operations at a new facility that could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. And yet Obama considers Syria the country requiring our attention.