Home/Daniel Larison/Attacking Syria Makes War with Iran More Likely

Attacking Syria Makes War with Iran More Likely

There have been countless bad op-eds and editorials claiming that “failure” to attack Syria has undesirable implications for Iran and the nuclear issue. Benny Morris joins the crowd:

But Obama’s Saturday announcement sent a contrary signal: Clearly, he and America are irresolute and hesitant about launching a short, limited strike against Assad’s government, and they can be expected to be much more irresolute and hesitant when it comes to tackling the far greater threat posed by Iran’s nuclear project.

It is a mistake to assume that the U.S. response to events in Syria tells us anything about how it will treat Iran in the future. Oddly enough, administration officials have spent the last week encouraging members of Congress to accept this mistaken view in order to bludgeon them into supporting the attack on Syria. During their appearances before Senate and House committees this week, Kerry and Hagel have been endorsing the erroneous belief that “inaction” (a.k.a., not attacking another country) in the Syrian case will make Iran think that (very bad) U.S. policy of “prevention” regarding nuclear weapons is one they can safely ignore. Many Syria hawks have long tried to use hostility to Iran to push the debate over intervention in Syria in their direction, and the administration has lately been joining in with gusto. It remains to be seen whether members of Congress will be won over by such a transparently weak argument, but it just underscores that for most Syria hawks Iran has been and will continue to be the reason they are so insistent on intervention.

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that attacking Iran’s ally would increase Tehran’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, or that an illegal and unilateral attack on Syria would undermine both negotiations with and international support for sanctions on Iran. While pretending that this attack makes Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons less likely, they are supporting action that will make it more so. Unfortunately, because I fear the U.S. will attack Iran in an attempt to prevent that outcome, this means that war with Iran also becomes more likely. Of course, for some Syria/Iran hawks, that conflict is what they want, but I suspect many of them simply haven’t thought things through very well. Open conflict with Iran because of an attack on Syria is also a possibility, since Iranian hard-liners also seem to think they have to maintain their own “credibility” by standing by the Syrian government “until the end.”

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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