from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Syria, Iran, and American Interests

March 26, 2011

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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especially so in the case of the tyranny most closely linked to Iran, it makes Iran’s own terrorist regime seem more outdated and anomalous in a Middle East where democracy is spreading.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.

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