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Some Very Bad Recommendations for Syria and Iran Policy

Dov Zakheim seems not to notice where his proposal for directly arming Syrian rebels is heading:

The Syrian civil war calls for more drastic American action. After all, when rioters initially threw stones at Assad’s men, his forces responded by using light weapons against the demonstrators. When the rebels obtained light weapons, Assad’s military resorted to heavy weapons. As the rebels began to use mortars, the Syrian Army attacked with tanks. And so it has gone until now, when Assad has called in his air forces to bomb the opposition into oblivion. While there is no immediate need for American military intervention, the United States could certainly do more to strengthen the hand of the rebels. Washington could ship more, and more sophisticated, arms to the rebels via their allies, who certainly can afford to pay for American equipment.

As Zakheim has just shown, each time that the rebels have acquired more effective weapons, the regime has escalated its violence and unleashed even more of its forces on them. Zakheim’s recommendation is to provide more and more sophisticated weapons to the rebels. If Assad’s forces follow the same pattern, the response to this will be to launch even more destructive attacks on the rebels and their civilian population centers. The pattern of escalation to date suggests that providing ever-more advanced weapons to the rebels will eventually provoke the regime to resort to using the worst weapons in its arsenal, which are the very unconventional weapons that the U.S. presumably wants to keep from being used. If Obama meant what he said about a response to the use of chemical weapons, that could then trigger direct U.S. intervention. If Obama is no longer in office, Romney has said that he would be “open” to sending ground forces into Syria to secure Syria’s chemical weapons. Either way, what Zakheim presents as a limited form of involvement in Syria’s conflict could and probably would intensify that conflict, and it could lead to events that would draw the U.S. into the conflict.

Zakheim’s recommendation on Iran is similarly short-sighted:

To begin with, the Administration should not backslide on the question of Iran’s ability to enrich uranium. The original US position was that enrichment should terminate; any indication of a more pliable position simply reinforces the view in both Tehran and Jerusalem that Washington is not serious about stopping the Iranian program.

On the contrary, giving some ground on Iran’s ability to enrich is the only way that there will ever be a deal remotely acceptable to Iran. Completely ruling out the possibility that Iran will be allowed some enrichment tells the Iranians that the U.S. and Israel want to deprive Iran of a nuclear program no matter its purpose. This is the position the U.S. should take if it definitely wants to make a negotiated settlement impossible.

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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