Kofi Annan has invited Iran to join the adult table at the Syria talks. This is the UN envoy's latest misstep, as he wades, haphazardly, into regional power politics.
The United States, her NATO allies, and Sunni Gulf Arabs are all equal parts opposed to the involvement of the Islamic Republic, for various reasons. However, the fact that Iran has proven a most tireless supporter of the current regime has led all parties to question the wisdom of any plan that banks on Tehran's commitment to peace, security and a post-Assad Syria.
With a tip of the hat to AP reporting, Karim Sadjapour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace suggested, "Inviting Iran to discuss how to best transition to a post-Assad Syria is akin to inviting vegetarians to a barbecue."
Put plainly, Iran cannot be part of any solution so long as the opposition sees the Islamic Republic as part of the problem. As well they should. Tehran has been supplying Assad's cronies with political and military support for years. But Annan should understand that the ongoing crisis in Syria isn't just a humanitarian priority.
It's a proxy war fought over Iranian influence. As I wrote in early June:
…The conversation that's happening in Washington about what to do with Syria doesn't have anything to do with a growing humanitarian crisis.
Make no mistake -- this is all about Assad's strategic relationship with Iran. Syria serves as international conveyor-belt for those tools of terror deployed by the Islamic Republic to its militant proxies in Gaza and southern Lebanon. The collapse of the Assad regime would critically undermine Iran's ability to threaten Israel's security.
As such, expect Annan's commitment to Iran, as "part of the solution in the Syrian crisis" to be ignored with the same alacrity all parties have chosen to disregard his six-point peace plan, that quickly fizzled earlier this year.
Make no mistake -- America and her allies (both Western and in the Gulf) are committed to removing the current regime. With Iran's assistance, Assad can hold on for a while, but he won't last forever.
The Syrian fulcrum isn't particularly difficult to grasp. The United States and her NATO partners want Assad gone -- his ouster would likely cut Tehran's supply lines of terror. It would also weaken Iran, the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions and the mullah's regional muscle. Already isolated internationally, the Iranian leadership would suddenly face a conspicuously less friendly neighborhood. Remember, the removal of the Alawite regime (through "kinetic" force, or diplomacy) would greatly benefit the Saudis --as the contending, Sunni hegemon and bitter rival of Iran.
I've written, ad nauseam, why I'm not inclined to advocate regime change in Syria. The opposition is shadowy (at best) and "the grass will surely prove greener…" theorizing is chronically short-sighted. To be perfectly honest -- and more than a little insensitive -- I'd suggest we respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria the way we respond to most other international distress signals: informed inaction.
Regardless, Annan should understand that rousing commitments to our collective humanitarian conscience don't mean squat when it comes to the situation in Syria. This is international relations by means of blunt force trauma. Adding Iran to the mix will only retard the inevitable outcome.
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