The news that Iran is sending “hundreds” of members of its Revolutionary Guard Corps to Syria confirms long-circulating rumors that Iranian security personnel are aiding President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal campaign against his own people. Public confirmation of direct Iranian intervention in Syria’s civil war, however, should not substantially alter the United States’ policy toward that conflict. The complexities of Syria’s internal conflict and the international diplomacy surrounding it continue to call for a pragmatic approach that assesses the likely implications and possible risks of actions taken by the United States and its international partners.
Over the past year U.S. policy in Syria has focused on advancing American objectives through multiple paths. Together with partners like the United Kingdom, France, and Turkey, the United States has aimed to isolate and weaken the Assad regime through diplomatic and economic measures. The Obama administration has consistently worked with these partners to promote a political transition in Syria, but opposition from Russia and China has stymied international efforts. The United States has also increased its support for Syria’s opposition forces as well as offering support for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.
As these pragmatic efforts continue, the United States should begin planning for a post-Assad Syria that addresses major concerns, including ensuring a stable political transition, safeguarding Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, preventing an outbreak of major sectarian violence, thwarting the creation of a safe haven for terrorists, and ending the outflow of refugees and allowing for their safe return. An orderly plan to prevent the complete breakdown of security in Syria, devised in consultation and cooperation with America’s partners on Syria, will be necessary to prepare for the day after the fall of the Assad regime.
Confirmation of Iranian meddling in Syria is not reason to change the Obama administration’s current pragmatic approach to the conflict. It does, however, add an additional variable to the already complicated problem of a stable political transition in Syria. As a result, the United States should step up its ongoing efforts to chart a path to a stable post-Assad Syria in consultation and cooperation with key partners like the United Kingdom, France, and Turkey.
- Next Steps in Syria by Ken Sofer