Daniel W. Drezner

The Syria policy that dare not speak its name

Your humble blogger is on vacation at an undisclosed location, so blogging will provoke some nasty looks from my family be a bit lighter for the next ten days or so.  So, alas, I will miss a couple of news stories pointing how the ways in which the eurozone is screeed, at least a dozen heated ...

Your humble blogger is on vacation at an undisclosed location, so blogging will provoke some nasty looks from my family be a bit lighter for the next ten days or so.  So, alas, I will miss a couple of news stories pointing how the ways in which the eurozone is screeed, at least a dozen heated Israeli statements on Iran, at least two dozen op-eds calling for the United States to take action in Syria.  So, in other words, not much. 

Before I go, however, I went back and read this blog post of mine from six months ago about Syria -- in particular, this Dan Trombly quote

The much more unpleasant strategic reality is that, whether foreign forces intervene or not, the U.S. receives little reward from hastening Assad’s downfall. An embattled Assad imposes just the same limitations on Syrian and Iranian threats to U.S. interests. Resources will have to be diverted from the proxies Iran supports through Syria to Syria itself as Iran tries to maintain its host’s viability. The loss of Assad’s regime would mean a rapid retrenchment in Iranian support, for sure, but this would likely be replaced by a proxy campaign against Syria’s new government and its foreign backers, or a redeployment of IRGC/QF assets to other theaters, probably against the U.S (if not both). Given that rapidly overthrowing Assad without major overt military action from a broad coalition of forces is a pipe dream anyway, the United States should consider contingency plans in which it works through, rather than against, the specter of protracted civil war. To be able to bleed Iran in Syria would, relative to the risks involved, be a far more significant strategic opportunity against Iranian power relative to the investment and risk than would be a major overt campaign to overthrow Assad outright. The more blood and treasure Iran loses in Syria – even if Assad stays in power longer – the weaker Iran will be.

Your humble blogger is on vacation at an undisclosed location, so blogging will provoke some nasty looks from my family be a bit lighter for the next ten days or so.  So, alas, I will miss a couple of news stories pointing how the ways in which the eurozone is screeed, at least a dozen heated Israeli statements on Iran, at least two dozen op-eds calling for the United States to take action in Syria.  So, in other words, not much. 

Before I go, however, I went back and read this blog post of mine from six months ago about Syria — in particular, this Dan Trombly quote

The much more unpleasant strategic reality is that, whether foreign forces intervene or not, the U.S. receives little reward from hastening Assad’s downfall. An embattled Assad imposes just the same limitations on Syrian and Iranian threats to U.S. interests. Resources will have to be diverted from the proxies Iran supports through Syria to Syria itself as Iran tries to maintain its host’s viability. The loss of Assad’s regime would mean a rapid retrenchment in Iranian support, for sure, but this would likely be replaced by a proxy campaign against Syria’s new government and its foreign backers, or a redeployment of IRGC/QF assets to other theaters, probably against the U.S (if not both). Given that rapidly overthrowing Assad without major overt military action from a broad coalition of forces is a pipe dream anyway, the United States should consider contingency plans in which it works through, rather than against, the specter of protracted civil war. To be able to bleed Iran in Syria would, relative to the risks involved, be a far more significant strategic opportunity against Iranian power relative to the investment and risk than would be a major overt campaign to overthrow Assad outright. The more blood and treasure Iran loses in Syria – even if Assad stays in power longer – the weaker Iran will be.

Here’s my provocative question to readers:  official protestions aside, doesn’t this pretty much describe current U.S. policy towards Syria? 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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