Condoleeza Rice misses something important:
Karl Marx once called on workers of the world to unite across national boundaries. He told them that they had more in common with each other than with the ruling classes that oppressed them in the name of nationalism. Marx exhorted workers to throw off the “false consciousness” of national identity.
Today’s Karl Marx is Iran. It envisions the spread of its influence among Shiites, uniting them under the theocratic flag of Tehran — destroying the integrity of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon.
What Rice doesn’t bother mentioning here is that the appeal of local nationalism was consistently stronger than socialist and communist appeals. The connection with Iran is not a very useful one, but the Iranian government faces similar limitations in its attempts to wield influence in the region. Iran can exploit sectarian fault lines, but it can’t suppress or override local allegiances. Just as the Soviets could not “digest” eastern Europe because of local national identities and anti-Russian nationalism, Iran will be limited in the influence it can have in Arab countries. What the Iranian government envisions and what it can accomplish are two different things.
Insofar as Syria’s conflict has become the focus of regional sectarian rivalries, the U.S. would be adding to the region’s instability by throwing additional support behind Saudi and Qatari-backed forces in Syria. If the interests of these regional powers aren’t identical to ours, as Rice admits, why should the U.S. want to aid them in promoting their interests? Rice claims to be concerned about the “breakdown of the Middle East state system,” but further internationalizing the conflict is more likely to jeopardize that system than the relatively limited role that the U.S. has in Syria now. If the danger is that “artificial” states might fly apart, why advocate for a more direct military role that would make the collapse of Syria more likely? There continues to be a mismatch between what interventionists claim to fear from a Syrian conflict and the policies they recommend. In virtually every case, the dangers they cite as reasons to intervene are the very things that interventionist policies would exacerbate.