I don’t think it’s controversial to maintain that the U.S. is seeking to balance against Iran, and that overthrowing Assad might aid in this endeavor. But I think Samreen and Shamez are off the mark when they assert that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is driven by a desire to create a host of Saudi Arabia juniors. The U.S. would like to promote, first and foremost, regimes amenable to American interests, and if that condition is met, regimes that share American values. Assad’s regime presents a case in which his ouster would meet both criteria, namely, Iran would lose its only Arab ally, thereby weakening and limiting its power and influence, and the Syrian Army would cease massacring its own people. (I should note that this is what the U.S. hopes for—it may very well turn out that Bashar’s successor is pro-Iran and as every bit of a ruthless autocrat.)
My colleagues also point to the inconsistency in the United States’ treatment of Syria and Saudi Arabia as evidence of a U.S. preference for Sunni regimes. Both countries, they rightly point out, “are autocratic and oppressive dynasties that have come and stayed in power illegitimately.” Further, “Assad’s regime is gaining international ire for defending its rule with violence, yet it’s okay for the Saudis to march into the Shia-majority Bahrain to crush the protests and ensure the monarchy of the Sunni ruler.” It’s true— the United States is simultaneously allied with one illiberal regime and supporting the destruction of another. But as bad as it looks (and it does look bad), U.S. backing of Saudi Arabia makes a lot of sense, strategically. After all, Saudi Arabia has a lot of—you guessed it—oil. You know, the lifeblood on which our economy and military run. So long as the Kingdom provides oil plentifully, consistently, and at a reasonable price, the House of Saud is going to have a friend in the United States, barring an uprising of the sort seen in Egypt et al. in which it was obvious to policymakers in Washington that the status quo was unsustainable. Syria, on the other hand, is not an American ally. The U.S. rapprochement with Syria was a failure, and the U.S. looks forward to peeling Syria away from Iran’s orbit, regardless of its religious orientation.
Finally, Samreen and Shamez ask in their penultimate paragraph,
If this is about bringing down Assad’s tyranny, then why is it that we are on the same side as Al-Qaeda? Assad must be doing something right to gain the distrust of Al-Qaeda’s leadership, but then again why are we playing on the same side as the terrorist organization we are most against? Perhaps there is something bigger going on in Syria, something more like a Tsunami than a spring in which Shi’ism is meeting its decline. Iran is the only predominately Shia state in which Shia authority is still in power. Is the advocacy against Syria here to bring about the downfall of Shiism? And is it wise to remove a counterpoint to the growing Sunni extremism in the Arab world?
Sure, we’re on the same side as al-Qaeda in so far as we both desire Assad’s ouster. But it doesn’t follow from that that the United States and al-Qaeda are best buds, or that the ends the U.S. and al-Qaeda are seeking are equally justified. It simply means that both the U.S. and al-Qaeda, for their own, very different reasons, are seeking to topple a tyrannous Assad regime. And again, the U.S. doesn’t want Assad to leave power because of Shiism. Assad “must go” because upwards of 9,000 people have been killed—a number that will only continue to climb—and his removal offers a fortuitous opportunity to further isolate Iran.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist