The fact that Cliff knows there are true democrats in the Syrian mix does not make them representative of the Syrian mainstream — no more than Egypt’s outlier democrats can camouflage the predominance of that country’s Islamists. To say Islamists are merely “in the mix” in the Syrian opposition is like saying there might be a spendthrift or two in the Greek government. Of course Cliff is right that no outcome is “certain” before it happens. But Syria is a 74 percent Sunni Muslim country, and the Islamist influence is patent. If real democrats were a force in the opposition, Sheikh Qaradawi would not be a powerful influence over it, and al-Qaeda’s presence would not be felt, much less welcomed. We’ve already seen this show play out in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. With the Brotherhood long entrenched at the front of Assad’s opposition, and with the Obama administration and the McCain wing effectively endorsing the Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council, there is no more doubt about who would be running post-Assad Syria than there is about who would win if the New York Giants played your local high-school football squad.
Obviously, Cliff and other interventionists who care passionately about American national security do not want to help deliver Syria into the Brotherhood’s clutches. They relieve themselves of grappling with this foreseeable consequence of their policy preference, however, by rationalizing that “Iran is the single most important strategic threat facing the U.S. — hands down.” Since “Iran’s most important ally and asset” is the Assad regime, the reasoning goes, ousting Assad is an imperative, regardless of what replaces him.
With great respect, this line of thinking fails to appreciate that threat environments are not static. It is not 2001 anymore. As I’ve argued before
, Iran did pose a singular threat back then. Now, it has an able competitor in the struggle against the West. It is in our interest that both of them be taken down several notches — especially if they’re willing to do it to each other.
No one appreciates more than I do that Iran remains a paramount threat. Indeed, it is odd to find Cliff suggesting that I have aligned myself with Ayatollah Khamenei when, as he knows, no one this side of Michael Ledeen has been more insistent than I have that Iran is a dangerous, incorrigible enemy of the United States. And unlike Michael, I’ve been resigned to the inevitability that it will take military force to eradicate the current regime: I don’t believe sanctions will ever be sufficient (certainly not with Russia and China committed to undermining their effectiveness); I’m not convinced that moral and logistical support for the regime’s opponents would result in the mullahs’ toppling; and, contrary to most of my friends on the national-security right, I have no great hope that whatever came after the mullahs would be pro-American — just that it would be unlikely to adopt the current dictators’ “Death to America” foreign policy. That’s why I support destroying the regime that has been at war with us for 30 years and promptly leaving — it’s for the Iranians to sort it out. I think we should have done that over a decade ago, when Iran collaborated in the 9/11 attack, if not in 1996, when they murdered 19 members of our air force at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. I would not have sat on my hands and prayed for sanctions to work while the mullahs killed our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for ten years.
In Cliff’s view, Iran’s being “within a hair’s breadth of obtaining nuclear weapons” dwarfs all other considerations. I disagree. I’ve never thought the nukes were the biggest problem when it came to Iran — they are just another very powerful reason to do what needs to be done. But what would make me more fearful than Iranian nukes would be if Iran were within a hair’s breadth of infiltrating the counsels of our government’s policies, of dramatically influencing our government’s counterterrorism protocols, and of abrading the constitutional liberties of the American people. Fortunately, Iran is not in that position. Ominously, though, the Muslim Brotherhood is not just within a hair’s breadth — it is inside the wire. Unlike Iran, our Sunni supremacist enemies have spent the last 60 years building a significant infrastructure inside our country. They have made significant inroads in our institutions — particularly, academe, finance, media, the law, and the think tanks.