Inaction in Syria Means a Nuclear Iran More Likely
For more than a year, the international community has dithered and delayed action to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and there is no end in sight.
But the biggest beneficiary of the world’s inaction lies next door in Iran.
The Iranian regime has seen a world community unwilling and unable to stop a ruthless dictator from killing his own people. And Iran’s leaders have surely calculated that the world will never act to stop them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The reasons for the world’s inaction in Syria are myriad.
Major powers such as Russia and China would rather see Assad murder his own people than see Syria become a precedent for possible action against their autocratic regimes. The Arab League has grown weary of Western and military intervention after watching Libya descend into chaos.
Syria is a major player in the region, and there is fear of who (or what) would fill the void left by Assad. The West is also concerned about arming and aiding al- Qaida and other terrorist groups in Syria. Finally, the thought of Assad using chemical weapons (or those weapons falling into the wrong hands) has also delayed action.
But there are equally strong arguments for taking bolder action in Syria.
Among them, the need to protect the Syrian people in their struggle for freedom and democracy. The fact that the world’s past tolerance for Middle Eastern autocrats is directly responsible for the rise of terrorism and extremism in the region. And if Assad falls without our help, we may not have influence with the new Syrian government as it democratizes.
The situation in Syria is complex. But in the end, it should be easy for the world community to take decisive action to stop a despot from killing his own people.
It has not been. The Annan peace plan is going nowhere, and its best-case scenario is probably one where Assad remains in power. Russia and China continue to block any meaningful action at the UN. And the Arab states appear unwilling to take meaningful action to stop the slaughter.
This inaction is disastrous for the people of Syria. But it’s also disastrous for the world, because it will embolden Iran in its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
The inaction in Syria means the international community will never embrace meaningful sanctions on Iran. It practically guarantees that Iran will never negotiate in good faith with the world community. It means that regime change in Iran, our best hope for stopping a nuclear weapons program, is probably an unrealistic option at this point. And it means that Iran (rightly) believes there will never be international consensus for a military operation if all diplomatic efforts fail.
If the US can’t get international support to stop the bloodshed in Syria, it’s a guarantee we won’t be able to get international support for meaningful sanctions on Iran. Russia and China have publicly opposed stringent sanctions, and their position appears inflexible.
Furthermore, even our allies such as India and South Korea continue to purchase oil from Iran. Granted, sanctions were never likely to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Iran knows that truly multilateral sanctions will never materialize.
Critics of my argument will say that the US-European sanctions have forced Iran to the negotiating table. They would be wrong. While Iran may be at the negotiating table, it has no interest in doing any real negotiating. As it has done in the past, Iran will offer false or meaningless concessions in a bid to delay international action as it continues to develop its nuclear program. After seeing what’s happened in Syria, Iran knows there will be no consequences if negotiations fail. Iran will simply use negotiations and the promises of concessions as an excuse for Russia, China and some European powers to oppose further action against Iran.
The world’s inaction in Syria is also benefiting Tehran because it has demoralized democracy activists inside Iran. Regime change in Tehran is probably our best chance of avoiding a nuclear Iran. That’s why the world’s appalling response to the 2009 Green Revolution was one of the biggest foreign policy errors in recent memory. Had the Green Revolution succeeded, there’s a good chance the Iranian weapons program would now be defunct.
Instead, the mullahs continue to press ahead with the program.
And thanks to the world’s dithering on Syria, we’re unlikely to see any new democratic movement arise in the country. The Iranian regime has spent the past three years jailing and murdering prominent dissidents.
And now, after seeing the world fail to react to the 10,000 dead in Syria, the Iranian people know that the international community will not come to their aid if they rise up again.
All of this means that Iran will continue pressing ahead with its nuclear program. And it means that a military attack, which the international community fears so much, might unfortunately become the only realistic option for stopping the program. The international community continues to oppose any action on Iran without UN support. But because of its failure to achieve consensus on issues such as Syria, action outside of the UN appears more likely.
This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
The writer is a former White House staffer who is pursuing a PhD in political science.