Michael Doran 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Washington should formulate its Syria policy in relation to the region’s
foremost threat to US interests – Iran – rather than in the context of the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to a former Middle East director at
the US National Security Council.
Analysis: Iran sees ally Syria surrounded by US wolves
PLO official accuses Syria of crimes against humanity
Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said the Obama
administration “believed it was possible to woo or wean Syria from Iran, and
also that the Arab-Israeli peace process, and the Syrian-Israeli track in
particular, was the primary mechanism for weaning Syria from
Speaking Tuesday by phone from Washington, Doran said White House
policy toward the Bashar Assad regime should aim to weaken the Iranian axis
stretching from Tehran through Damascus to Hezbollah and Hamas, and not on
Syria’s effect on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“The primary driver
of Syrian foreign policy is not the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Arab-Israeli conflict is the arena, in my view, in which the Syrians influence
the Americans and the one they used to get legitimacy in international
politics,” he said.
“So they’re very interested in the Syrian- Israeli
process, but not at all in its outcome.”
Doran said the administration
hoped to pursue the Syrian-Israeli track in concert with Turkey. Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “no problems with neighbors” policy and the
White House’s “desire to reach out to Iran and Syria and reduce the American
profile, particularly the military one, in the region – as well as solve the
Arab-Israeli conflict – dovetailed perfectly with Erdogan.”
right at the heart of that, and I think that was a strategic miscalculation from
“I think the Obama administration was already going in the
Then the Arab Spring hit, and you’d have thought the
administration would have seen very quickly that Assad wasn’t good for anything.
I think it’s obvious to everyone now that he’s not going to make peace with
Israel. So that argument was off the table,” said Doran, the George W. Bush
administration’s senior NSC director for the Near East and Africa from 2005 to
“The other argument was ‘better the devil you know than the one you
don’t.’ But I think that argument is also off the table, because clearly he’s
the primary agent of instability in the region. But this connection between
Obama and Erdogan carries on.
“The result is that we have fallen short of
calling for Assad’s ouster, and that’s a policy that’s incomprehensible to me.
It seems all the strategic rationale, and all the moral rationale, point in the
same direction, and that’s for him to step down,” he said.
“It used to be
that in debates about Syria, it was the ‘crazy neocons’ against the realists.
And the realists would make the ‘devil you know’ argument.
But now it
seems the realist position is ‘This guy is going down.’ There are those who say
he could still pull through, but I don’t see how that would happen.
regime is going down. Like in Libya, it won’t go down quickly... It’s going to
be ugly, it’s going to be brutal.
If that’s correct and he’s sooner or
later going to fall, then the question for the US isn’t whether to support his
ouster but how to shape the environment as quickly as possible and in a way that
serves US strategic interests,” Doran said.
“It’s going to evolve toward
The regime has enough of a coercive apparatus and enough of a
social base to hang on. But it doesn’t have enough power to really discipline an
entire society the way it used to.”
The Syrian president “selectively
markets Syria’s role in a near-utopian fantasy that retains a headlock on
certain Western officials – a final and comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace – even
as he does whatever is required to keep that prospect as far away from
realization as possible,” Doran wrote last month in a policy paper co-written by
the Brookings Doha Center’s director Salman Shaikh.
“The regime exploited
the tactic of spreading unrest [and bludgeoning any slim prospects for peace at
the same time] on its borders in late spring and early summer, exporting the
instability within to its neighbors in Turkey, Lebanon and, most egregiously,
Israel [with the Nakba and Naksa day protests in the Golan].
question for Washington, then, is this: How can the United States compress the
timeline of collapse so as to minimize human suffering and ensure the speediest
rise of a new order hospitable to the United States?” they wrote.
so, Washington must first jettison the completely unsupportable pretense of a
regime-led transition toward democratic reform. This policy only encourages
Assad to think that he can ride out the protests. Instead, the United States
should be working assiduously to convince Assad to go, and to go soon.”