Fall of Assad's Syria would be major strategic defeat for Iran

Clifford D. May:
It seems like only yesterday that Bashar al-Assad was being courted by progressive Western politicians even as he conspired with Iranian jihadists and Kremlin strongmen. And it was less than two years ago that Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue and Comandante of the Fashionistas, was celebrating First Lady Asma al-Assad as “a rose in the desert,” and a “thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement.”

The Syrian dictator has yet to be pried from power, but with the Kremlin sending warships for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens, it may not be long before the Assads are passe. That’s good news, isn’t it? In the Middle East, “yes” and “no” are rarely correct answers.

We can say this: Assad’s downfall would be strategically preferable to Assad’s survival. As US Central Command chief Gen. James N. Mattis told Congress last March, regime change in Syria would represent “the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years.”

Western-educated, English-speaking, outwardly secular Assad decided some time ago to serve as the ayatollahs’ satrap, helping them extend their power into the Arab and Sunni worlds, facilitating their plans for hegemony over the Middle East.

The collapse of the Assad regime would mark a serious setback for this project and a body blow as well to Hezbollah, Iran’s foreign legion and the strongest faction in Lebanon. By the same token, Assad’s survival would be a great victory for Iran and Hezbollah — and a great setback for Lebanon, the US and Israel.

It was not until eight months after anti-Assad protests broke out in January 2011 that President Obama called for the dictator to step down, willing the ends but not the means.

It was left to private groups to supply even the communications technology necessary for dissenters to organize against (and escape from) Assad’s forces. Today, the administration is assisting some rebel groups with communications, but the provision of weapons has been outsourced to Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Those three nations agree that Assad must go. But they want him replaced by Islamists, and so it is Islamist groups that they have been backing with what amounts to Washington’s tacit approval. As a result, Islamists have become dominant on the battlefield and within the newly established Syrian National Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces that Obama recently said he will recognize.
The chaos that would ensue from Assad's demise may also play into the hands of al Qaeda which likes to fish in troubled waters.  We could be trading one brand of religious bigots for another.  The prospect of a moderate secular government emerging are probably remote.  Since Obama has been leading from the caboose, he will have little say in the government set up after the fall.


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