Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Iran in Syria
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – President Obama’s over-arching foreign policy goal is to extricate the country from Afghanistan, and not get his administration pulled into another war where U.S. national interests are not directly involved. He did manage to end U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq, but critics say he over-learned the lesson of there, which is why he’s reluctant to intervene in Syria. Iraq, which was a bulwark against Iran, is now its virtual ally. Meanwhile Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis continue to fight. The upshot is that the civil war in Iraq, the civil war in Syria, and Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon are increasing Iran’s hegemony over the region.
The Iranians learned the value of surrogates from the Vietnam War where North Vietnam was supplied by the Soviet Union and from the Soviet-Afghan War where Mujahedeen rebels were supplied by the United States. Now Iran, through its support of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, has created multi-country surrogates that oppose the interests of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East.
All this has created a conundrum for Obama. Originally, it was thought the Syrian rebels were too weak and too disunited to prevail. Then, the pendulum began to swing, and al-Qaeda fighters joined the rebels. Atrocities from both sides ensued, and refugees began pouring over the Turkish and Jordanian borders. Now, there is news that the Russian government is delivering 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 20 million rounds of ammunition to Assad, and that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist organization has gotten more actively involved in Syria, sending fighters across the border to assist the Assad regime
Pressure has mounted for the U.S., its allies, and the U.N. to at least alleviate the humanitarian crisis. But Obama is not about to allow any aid to reach al-Qaeda fighters. Meanwhile, Israel will not stand by while arch-enemy Hezbollah intervenes in Syria. Add to this the big-picture problem of Iran. Iran’s nuclear program combined with its increasing influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon is making that country ever more powerful.
As a result, staying out of Syria completely is not feasible politically or substantively for the United States. The Syrian fighters say they are at a huge disadvantage against the Assad regime, and have been pressing the Obama administration to deliver more lethal weaponry, namely shoulder fired missiles, but the administration has so far refused fearing that these weapons could end up in the wrong hands. Instead, it is supplying non-lethal aid, materials that aid in war making but are not directly involved in the killing, a distinction without much of a difference except for those on the receiving end.
Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., was just in Syria over Memorial Day weekend meeting with rebel groups, and he continues to press the administration for more assistance. But between Obama’s resistance and the wariness of the American public to get drawn into the conflict, it’s unlikely the administration will respond with anything nearly as robust as what the Russians are supplying.
Meanwhile, the convening of an international peace conference sponsored by the U.S. and Russia was touted as a major breakthrough by Secretary of State John Kerry. It’s still on the drawing board, but no date has been set, and it’s unlikely anything will get underway before July, if then. Various factions in the uprising are arguing among themselves about whether to attend, and who should attend, revealing how fractured the opposition is as it attempts to go up against a still amazingly unified Assad government.
In the end, U.S. arms are unlikely to be delivered to the rebels, and the peace conference is likely to fail. But an Assad victory would be a victory for Iran, and that is unacceptable. This leaves the possibility of a U.S.-sponsored no-fly zone over Syria, which would even the odds for the rebels, who have no air force. Further, the U.S. is undoubtedly engaging in extensive covert activity to undermine and discredit al-Qaeda fighters in the eyes of the other rebels. But if these efforts are not implemented or they fail, the objective will remain: Assad, Iranian influence, and Hezbollah fighters must be removed from Syria – one way or another.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND