Without a Major Shift in U.S. Policy, There’s Little Hope for Syria in 2018

Jan. 16 2018

Some Western commentators have concocted sanguine scenarios whereby either Iran or Russia will lose its resolve to continue expending blood and treasure propping up Bashar al-Assad’s rule, or will be motivated to reach some sort of compromise agreement regarding the country’s future in the interest of “stability.” Frederic Hof finds such scenarios highly unlikely:

Might ongoing instability in Iran persuade the Ayatollah Khamenei to cut losses in Syria? Probably not. If he decides to toss a bone to Iran’s public, it is not likely to be Syria. The jewel in the crown of Iranian regional policy under current management is Lebanon’s Hizballah, for which Syria is vital. Hizballah’s reliance on Syria for strategic depth and for a logistical link to its Iranian home base will not decrease. . . . [Furthermore], those often described as the Islamic Republic’s “moderates,” “pragmatists,” and even “reformers” have never downplayed the importance of Hizballah to the health and well-being of the operation for which they front.

Other observers profess to see hope in the prospect of Russia nudging Assad toward the exit. [But] there is scant evidence that [Vladimir Putin] has either the power or the will to compel any such thing.

The [Assad] regime itself evaluates power-sharing in a manner identical to any criminal enterprise: as a death warrant. Although Russian airpower has been important in stabilizing the regime militarily, it is Iran that is the key to Assad’s political survival. And if the malfeasance, corruption, and violence of the ruling entourage drive millions more Syrians in the direction of Turkey and Western Europe, so much the better from the Kremlin’s point of view. Indeed, the very prospect of mass migration will fuel Russian attempts to blackmail Europe into offering tribute to its Syrian client. . . .

If hope is to have any realistic role to play in Syria in 2018, the West at long last will have to see the Assad regime as the security threat it has always been. No, this is not a call for violent regime change. The starting point for Western self-defense in Syria is civilian protection. The Obama administration threw away [opportunities to protect civilians] quite gratuitously to appease Iran. A West [committed to] defending itself will, at the very least, get serious about determining ways and means to frustrate, complicate, punish, and block the collective-punishment actions of a Syrian regime for which no crime is so vile as to be avoided.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war

 

The Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy