The Conversation

If We're Not Prepared to Face Iran, War in Syria is Futile

I'm officially on vacation, but keeping an eye on U.S. reaction to events in Syria, which call to mind Marx's observation that history repeats itself "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." It is impossible to take seriously the sudden earnestness of a president who built his campaign on opposing what he called a "dumb war" in Iraq, or a Secretary of State who once schmoozed Bashar al-Assad like a teenage fan.

I could go on--Nancy Pelosi's farcical attempts to rehabilitate the Assad regime; the pretensions of a UN Ambassador who did nothing about Syria when she was head of the Atrocities Prevention Board, then found herself on vacation during a key UN Security Council meeting; the fact that the Obama administration has defied the UN and Congress on Syria after years of whining about George W. Bush's unilateralism, etc.

But it is also odd to see pundits, both conservative and (formerly anti-war) liberal, argue vehemently for some kind of intervention in Syria as if it would occur in a total vacuum. I'm on record in favor of a no-fly zone, with the caveat that "it is with Iran in mind that any action in Syria must be considered." Iran is the real, strategic enemy, and it makes no sense to attack Syria unless we are prepared for war with Iran.

Iran certainly sees things that way--or is, at least, trying to project the threat of war, saying for months that any intervention by the U.S. in Syria would be its own version of President Barack Obama's "red line" on chemical weapons. It is not clear if Iran has any more will or ability to deliver on its threat than Obama has shown on his, but it is an open warning on the table and must be taken as more than just propaganda.

In addition, Russia is probably not likely to respond directly, but certainly has no interest in seeing the Assad regime deposed, and might boost its support for Iran in response to U.S. intervention in Syria. Has the Obama administration even considered what that means for the looming danger of a nuclear Iran? Have the pundits thought about it, as they prescribe actions already overwhelmingly opposed by the public?

The time for action against Syria was years ago, when the regime was unsteady in the face of protests, before Al-Qaeda's jihadis became our effective allies and Iran became our on-the-ground enemy. Obama and the Democrats were too invested in their newly-restored diplomatic relations with Assad's "reformer" regime, too busy proving that genuflection--excuse me, "tough diplomacy"--was better than whatever Bush did.

But enough of arguments with history. Let's leave those to Obama and his hapless administration, glumly clinging to a shattered paradigm that never worked anyway. The reality is that Syria is a client state of Iran, which is expending blood and treasure to defend Assad, all while installing thousands of new centrifuges to accelerate uranium enrichment while Obama appeals to a supposedly "reformist" new president for talks.

The regime in Tehran is the problem, and the longer we wait to confront it, the more dangerous and deadly such confrontation becomes. At this late stage, little Obama can do in Syria will convince Iran that he is any more serious about nuclear red lines than chemical ones. Arming terrorists against Assad is not the answer. Unless we reorient our military and diplomatic strategies to face the Iranian challenge itself, we are lost.


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