The Magazine

What Syria Policy?

Nov 7, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 08 • By LEE SMITH
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Nasrallah and Assad are finding themselves increasingly isolated. Indeed, something is amiss with the Iranian-backed militia when Nasrallah admonishes the Saudis not to believe the American story about the plot against Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington, and calls the Saudis “brothers.”

So, with Iran’s two key allies boxed in, why should the White House intervene? Perhaps the administration has reverted to a brand of realist foreign policy that would see American interests advanced in conflict consuming and containing both sides. What worked for Iran and Iraq in the ’80s might now be applicable to Syria’s nascent civil war.

The problem with this line of thinking is not just moral. It’s not just that both Iraq and Iran came out of their near-decade-long conflict wounded and more dangerous than before. It’s that the White House is not playing the regional board at all. It was good to hammer away at al Qaeda by killing Bin Laden, Rahman, and Awlaki and finally get Qaddafi. But these moves have been made in the absence of a larger strategy. Consider how Iran looks at the region: Even as it may be on the verge of losing its only Arab ally in Syria, the American withdrawal from Iraq has given Tehran a fresh horse to ride against the United States.

The rest of the Middle East understands that there are two magnetic poles shaping the region. The Saudi plot and the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq may have compelled the Obama administration to recognize that Tehran is one of those two poles. They are slower to realize that America is the other.

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