Here’s advice to the members of the United States Congress as they are asked to endorse an American-led attack on the government of Syria: Start your analysis by establishing priorities. In terms of the danger it poses, the Syrian regime’s chemical arsenal pales compared to the nuclear weapons now under construction in Iran.
With that in mind, consider the options in Syria:
1. Knocking off the Assad regime: This would an attractive option for the United States, because it takes out Tehran’s number-one ally, and disrupts supply lines to Hezbollah, the Iranian-funded terrorist group based in Lebanon. But this scenario also opens a can of worms: anarchy in Syria, foreign intervention by neighbors, the prospect of al-Qaeda-connected Islamists taking over in Damascus, hostilities against Israel on the hitherto-quiet Golan Heights, and the dispersal of the regime’s chemical weapons to terrorist organizations. Overthrowing Bashar al-Assad threatens to produce the same result as the elimination of long-standing dictators in Iraq and Libya: years, or even decades, of instability and violence.
2. Bust the regime’s chops without overthrowing it — the Obama administration’s proposed approach. This scenario takes us no less into the unknown. The available evidence suggests that the Assad regime does not worry about any U.S.-led “punishment,” and that it already plans to deploy chemical weapons again, perhaps against civilians. Moreover, a limited strike could lead to violence against Israel, an activation of sleeper cells in Western countries, or heightened Syrian dependence on Tehran. Surviving the strikes also permits Assad to boast that he defeated the United States. In sum, this option risks almost as much as overthrowing Assad, but without the benefit of getting rid of him, making it the worst of the three options.
3. Do nothing. This scenario has several disadvantages: letting Bashar al-Assad get away with his chemical attacks; eroding Obama’s credibility after his declaring the use of chemicals to be a “red line”; and strengthening the hardliners in Iran. But it has the even greater advantages of not further inflaming an already combustible war theater, maintaining the strategically beneficial stand-off between regime and rebels, and, most importantly, not distracting Washington from the really important threat — Iran.
By all accounts, the mullahs in Tehran are getting closer to the point where they can order nuclear bombs to be made and readied for use. Unlike the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, this prospect is a matter of the most direct and vital personal concern to the West.
By comparison, the methods by which Syrians kill each other is a decidedly less vital matter for Congress. While the Saudi foreign minister and the Arab League haughtily demand that “the international community” do its duty and stop the bloodshed in Syria, this American suggests that Sunni Muslims who wish to protect their kin in Syria do so with their own plentiful petrodollars and large armies.
In this light, I recommend that Congress reject the sideshow proffered by the administration and instead pass a resolution permitting the use of force against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum and author of three books on Syria. © 2013 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.