Of course I loathe Assad. And of course I despise the Obamans for that phony red line and the subsequent retreat-and-bogus-Russian-deal. But just carrying out vengeance against Assad isn't good enough. It fails to address the central problem of our time: the global anti-American alliance.
There is no Syria any more, and the enemy forces on the Middle Eastern battlefield come from various jihadi groups, and three regimes: Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus. We have to defeat them all, and other members of the enemy alliance, including Cuba and North Korea. Nikki Haley has it right: "The truth is that Assad, Russia and Iran have no interest in peace."
Indeed, they are waging war, and the principal force driving that war is not Assad, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Khamenei's killers have been alongside Assad's from the very beginning, as the survival of the Syrian dictator is crucial to Iranian ambitions and quite likely also the survival of the Islamic Republic itself. Listen to Defense Secretary James Mattis a few days ago (from Reuters):
Asked about comments Mattis made in 2012 that the three primary threats the United States faced were "Iran, Iran, Iran," Mattis told reporters that Iran's behavior had not changed in the years since.
"At the time when I spoke about Iran I was a commander of US central command and that (Iran) was the primary exporter of terrorism, frankly, it was the primary state sponsor of terrorism and it continues that kind of behavior today," Mattis said.
True, and Mattis' characteristically strong language points the way to the best American action in the region, namely bringing down the Tehran regime. Lashing out at Assad isn't nearly good enough. After all, what strategic objective would we accomplish by smashing, even removing, Assad? The Iranian and Russian fighters would still be there, as would the Islamist forces. The demands on our military would dramatically expand. We do not want to occupy a significant land mass in what used to be called Syria, nor do we seem to have sorted out what we want to do with the Turks and the Kurds.
Punishing Assad would be satisfying, but we've got a big war to win. It's smarter and more effective to go after the regime in Tehran. Not militarily, but rather supporting the tens of millions of Iranians who detest the Khamenei regime. Call it political warfare, or subversion, or democratic revolution. It worked against the Soviet Empire, and there are good reasons to believe it would work in Iran as well. Most Iranians, suffering under the failed regime, want a freely chosen government that will address their problems instead of dispatching their husbands and sons sent to the battlefield.
Regime change in Iran would be devastating to Assad and Putin, and its positive effects would be felt in North Africa and our own hemisphere, striking at the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in Latin America. And it would remind the tyrants that America's greatest weapon is political. We are the most revolutionary country in the world, and we should act like it.
Dr. Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is also a contributing editor at National Review Online. Previously, he served as a consultant to the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Defense Department. He has also served as a special adviser to the Secretary of State. He holds a Ph.D. in modern European history and philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, and has taught at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Rome.
Dr. Ledeen regularly appears on Fox News, and on a variety of radio talk shows. He has been on PBS's NewsHour and CNN's Larry King Live, among others, and regularly contributes to the Wall Street Journal and to National Review Online. He has a blog on Pajamasmedia.com.
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