Frederic C. Hof writes: When Syria’s Bashar al-Assad decided, in March 2011, that peaceful protest should be put down with lethal violence, he signed death warrants for over 200,000 Syrians. He set in motion a process that would stampede 3.5 million people out of the country, drive another 7 million from their homes within Syria, and incarcerate tens of thousands under conditions featuring torture, starvation, and sexual abuse. His over-the-top repression, replete with strong sectarian overtones, helped to resurrect al-Qaeda in Iraq from the dead and brought it to Syria in the forms of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) and the Nusra Front. In all of this, Assad has had the unflinching and regime-saving support of Iran, which views him as an irreplaceable asset fully in the service of Hezbollah: Iran’s Lebanese missile and rocket pressure point on Israel.
Yes, Iran’s support of Assad has been “disruptive.” Tehran has helped to create the signature humanitarian abomination of the twenty-first century. The costs to the people of Syria have been unspeakable. The prices being paid by Syria’s neighbors — all friends of the United States — are dangerously out of control. Iran’s supporting role in this travesty has also burdened a humane and thoughtful US president with the prospect of a legacy tarnished forever with a Levantine Rwanda: in this case a multi-year program of mass murder whose Iranian facet may account in large measure for the failure of that president to stop or at least mitigate the slaughter.
Evidently, the Obama administration believes that “calling out” Iran and counseling it on the merits of “constructive engagement in the region” are all that can reasonably be expected of the United States so long as nuclear discussions are ongoing. Presumably, the throwing of a spanner into the Assad regime’s ability to unload barrel bombs and chlorine canisters onto residential neighborhoods with absolute impunity would upset Iran, perhaps inspiring the Supreme Leader to abandon the nuclear talks and opt instead for a new wave of economic sanctions while oil prices plunge. Seen from this don’t-rock-the-boat-with-Tehran point of view, the suffering of Syrians merits a “call out” and nothing more. [Continue reading…]