from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Hezbollah, Syria, and the Brezhnev Doctrine

May 27, 2013

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

More on:

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions

During the Cold War the Soviets pronounced the "Brezhnev Doctrine," under which no state that was in the Soviet camp would be permitted to leave it. This is my topic in an article in the new edition of The Weekly Standard, entitled "The Brezhnev Doctrine, Iran-style." Now the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has enunciated his intentions with great clarity, as the New York Times reports:

 

The leader of the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah decisively committed his followers on Saturday to an all-out battle in Syria to defeat the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. He said the organization, founded to defend Lebanon and fight Israel, was entering “a completely new phase,” sending troops abroad to protect its interests.

 

Hezbollah is willing to fight to protect its interests; here is my sense of their view:

We cannot afford to lose this one. A Sunni government in Syria would align with Turkey or the Gulf Arabs or the West, or some combination of them, against us. The bridge between Iran and Hezbollah would be lost. Hezbollah would be badly weakened, thus weakening our ability to threaten Israel. Israel would be more likely to attack our nuclear sites for this very reason—because it would think Hezbollah and Iran are weaker. Our influence in Iraq would fall too. People would say the rise of Iranian and Shia influence in the region was now over. Hezbollah’s enemies in Lebanon, the Sunnis above all, would be energized. People would realize Russia is no match for the Americans. So we must win, and we will dedicate to winning any resources that are needed. As to the humanitarian toll, we don’t care about Sunnis in Syria, or about weakening Turkey or especially Jordan; in fact, those would be nice side benefits from the struggle in Syria. There is only one point here: Do we win or do we lose? We have decided to win.”

The key question now is whether we are willing to accept a Khamenei Doctrine, whereby no state that is part of the Iran/Hezbollah security system is permitted to leave it. Of course, the Brezhnev Doctrine was that of a global superpower armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons; the Khamenei Doctrine is that of a third world state, Iran, of only 75 million people and so far without a nuclear arsenal. And this is what makes the American   position to date so incomprehensible, and so dangerous. Nasrallah and Khamenei are taking a gamble based on their assessment of us--that we will do nothing even in the face of their sending expeditionary forces to Syria. So far they have been proved right. Will we really accept this action on their part, with its consequences throughout the Middle East?

Put another way, Nasrallah and Khamenei have decided to win. They understand the costs of losing, and the benefits of winning, and have made their decision. The United States has made no such decision and appears content to lose. In my article in the Standard I discuss the likely response to this argument--that "winning and losing have no meaning" in the context of Syria. That facile conclusion is an excuse for inaction while foreign troops, from Lebanon and Iran, bring victory for the Assad regime. If the United States allows this to happen, allows Hezbollah and Iran to win, our own credibility will have been shredded--with significant consequences throughout the world. It can only be hoped that Nasrallah’s clarity and his contempt for us will somehow awaken in the Obama administration an understanding of American interests and the need to defend them.

 

More on:

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions

Close