What does Syria want?
COURTNEY KEALY/Getty One way to divide the debate over the United States’ Middle East policy is between those who favor dealing with Iran and Syria, and those who don’t. The Iraq Study Group and others who favor engagement assume that Syria’s interests are in a stable Iraq. Syria has been so flooded with Iraqi refugees, ...
One way to divide the debate over the United States’ Middle East policy is between those who favor dealing with Iran and Syria, and those who don’t. The Iraq Study Group and others who favor engagement assume that Syria’s interests are in a stable Iraq. Syria has been so flooded with Iraqi refugees, they note, that it has put in place visa restrictions at odds with its professed pan-Arab ideology. On the opposite side of the argument, an Iraqi government spokesman recently accused Syria of responsibility for “50 percent” of the attacks going on in the country in claims that have been echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, of course, various Bush administration officials.
Supporters of engagement ask: why would the Syrian regime be stirring up trouble in Iraq if it was directly bearing some of the consequences? Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, may have provided a clue in an interview on Good Morning America yesterday when he said that his country is and wants to be “the main player in this issue.” Syria is desperate to be influential in the region, not just for the sake of Arabist pride, but also because the embattled regime’s survival is at stake. By contributing to problems, Syria can remain relevant by presenting itself as the only party who can solve them. It’s thus both arsonist and fire department, to paraphrase Bush administration official Michael Scott Doran.
Opponents of engagement should understand that Syria is not willing to give up its leverage in neighboring countries and distance itself from Iran, its increasingly erratic protector, for nothing. At a minimum, Syria hopes to avoid punishment for its alleged involvement in the assassination of Lebanese political figures and support for terrorism against Israel, it wants power in Lebanon, and it wants the Golan Heights back.
Those in favor of cutting a deal should be sure that the price is worth it, however. For now, with no sign of a rapprochement with the United States, fanning a fire in Iraq—or at least looking the other way—may continue to look like a plausible strategy to Syria.
More from Foreign Policy
Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak
Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.
Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage
The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.
The West’s False Choice in Ukraine
The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.
Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.