FREDERIC C. HOF
'The truth of the matter is not so attractive. The United States and its P5+1 partners elected to set aside raising slaughter in Syria and Tehran’s decisive role in facilitating with Iran to avoid complicating and perhaps undermining the nuclear negotiations.
Western leaders, beginning with President Obama, grasp with total clarity the fact that Assad’s scorched earth survival strategy that has made Syria safe for ISIL. They understand with certainty that every barrel bomb, every chemical attack, and every child starved to death is a recruitment lifeline to ISIL, both within Syria and around the world. They fully get it that Tehran’s unconditional support for Assad regime lawlessness highlights the operational bifurcation of Iran’s objectives toward ISIL: kill it in Iraq, where it presents a security threat to Iran and its Iraqi allies; keep it alive in Syria, where it remains Bashar al-Assad’s opponent of choice; their client’s potential ticket back to polite society.
To “sell” Syria to Iran would, therefore, be to deed much of the country to ISIL. Except when the regime finds itself sitting atop something ISIL wants—an oil field, an airbase, or a desert town filled with priceless antiquities—Assad and the pseudo-caliph find live-and-let-live far preferable to fighting each other. Instead, they focus their respective military energies on eliminating anyone offering an alternative to each. The caliph and Assad want to be the last two parties standing in Syria: Assad so he can confront the West with a “me or them” choice; the caliph so he can recruit around the world as the hero combatting the twin evils of Assad and Washington. The other big winner in such a scenario would be Iran: its ability to support Lebanon’s Hezbollah from a secure portion of Syria would be assured.
Unlike the canard that the United States is behind the creation of ISIL, the selling of Syria thesis is at least understandable if one appreciates the experiences and perspectives of those willing to reach such a profoundly negative conclusion. Syrians both inside Syria and around the world have felt totally abandoned by the West. They see a senior US official mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre by tweeting, with no sense of irony, “Remember—and never let it happen again.” They watch the Assad regime and Hezbollah do the political equivalent of a victory lap in celebration of what they think their Iranian masters have accomplished for their benefit.
Mr. Obama has a war to win against ISIL and a vote to win in the US Congress. The common denominator in surmounting both challenges is Iran: specifically, its support of ISIL-sustaining mass murder by the Assad regime. Throwing sand in the gears of Assad’s mass murder mechanisms is essential to winning the fight against ISIL. It may also persuade some fence-sitting Democrats in the US Senate that the administration is not credulous when it comes to Iran.'