I was pleasantly unsurprised to see that John Bolton is not among the Wilsonian hand-wringers who demand we do something in Syria. But I think even he is missing the real opportunity.
As Bolton suggests, our goal in Syria shouldn’t be to “stop the killing” (which is none of our business) or to try to promote democracy (which isn’t possible there in the foreseeable future). But it’s not just a sideshow. Our objective there should be to tie down Iran and poison its (and its proxies’) relations with the Arab public, the larger Islamic world, and nations in general. We want Syria to become Iran’s Vietnam, a conflict causing it no end of headaches but one it can’t easily get out of.
Bolton offers a “nightmare scenario” wherein “Iran would allow Assad to fall, losing its pawn, and in exchange Obama would agree to do even less than he is doing now to stop Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, allowing Iran to protect its queen.” Hey, anything’s possible, but the mullahs have an extremely strong interest in keeping Assad in charge at almost any price, as evidenced by their assignment of SS troops (a.k.a. Revolutionary Guard) to help crush the uprising in Syria. Instead of dithering, the administration should be pinning everything that happens in Syria on Iran: If there’s a civilian massacre, we need to demand an investigation into whether Iranian forces participated in it; if residential areas are shelled, we must demand to know whether the weaponry was shipped from Iran. The return address of every artillery shell is Tehran; the mullahs are responsible for every dead Syrian child.
It’s kind of like Jack Ryan’s approach to the IRA: “I’ll go home and call the TV stations, give ’em what they want. Let them take their cameras into my daughter’s hospital room. Put it on the evening news. I don’t give a s**t whether you did it or not, and neither will anyone else. But I will put such a stranglehold on your gun money you’ll be out in the street throwing rocks. I will f***ing destroy you. I will make it my mission in life.”