Syrian President Assad, Iranian President Ahmadinejad 311R.
(photo credit: Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters)
For more than a year, the international community has dithered and delayed
action to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and there is no end in sight.
the biggest beneficiary of the world’s inaction lies next door in
The Iranian regime has seen a world community unwilling and unable
to stop a ruthless dictator from killing his own people. And Iran’s leaders have
surely calculated that the world will never act to stop them from obtaining a
The reasons for the world’s inaction in Syria are
Major powers such as Russia and China would rather see Assad
murder his own people than see Syria become a precedent for possible action
against their autocratic regimes. The Arab League has grown weary of Western and
military intervention after watching Libya descend into chaos.
Syria is a
major player in the region, and there is fear of who (or what) would fill the
void left by Assad. The West is also concerned about arming and aiding al- Qaida
and other terrorist groups in Syria. Finally, the thought of Assad using
chemical weapons (or those weapons falling into the wrong hands) has also
But there are equally strong arguments for taking bolder
action in Syria.
Among them, the need to protect the Syrian people in
their struggle for freedom and democracy. The fact that the world’s past
tolerance for Middle Eastern autocrats is directly responsible for the rise of
terrorism and extremism in the region. And if Assad falls without our help, we
may not have influence with the new Syrian government as it
The situation in Syria is complex. But in the end, it
should be easy for the world community to take decisive action to stop a despot
from killing his own people.
It has not been. The Annan peace plan is
going nowhere, and its best-case scenario is probably one where Assad remains in
power. Russia and China continue to block any meaningful action at the UN. And
the Arab states appear unwilling to take meaningful action to stop the
This inaction is disastrous for the people of Syria. But it’s
also disastrous for the world, because it will embolden Iran in its pursuit of a
The inaction in Syria means the international community
will never embrace meaningful sanctions on Iran. It practically guarantees that
Iran will never negotiate in good faith with the world community. It means that
regime change in Iran, our best hope for stopping a nuclear weapons program, is
probably an unrealistic option at this point. And it means that Iran (rightly)
believes there will never be international consensus for a military operation if
all diplomatic efforts fail.
If the US can’t get international support to
stop the bloodshed in Syria, it’s a guarantee we won’t be able to get
international support for meaningful sanctions on Iran. Russia and China have
publicly opposed stringent sanctions, and their position appears
Furthermore, even our allies such as India and South Korea
continue to purchase oil from Iran. Granted, sanctions were never likely to stop
Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Iran
knows that truly multilateral sanctions will never materialize.
of my argument will say that the US-European sanctions have forced Iran to the
negotiating table. They would be wrong. While Iran may be at the negotiating
table, it has no interest in doing any real negotiating. As it has done in the
past, Iran will offer false or meaningless concessions in a bid to delay
international action as it continues to develop its nuclear program. After
seeing what’s happened in Syria, Iran knows there will be no consequences if
negotiations fail. Iran will simply use negotiations and the promises of
concessions as an excuse for Russia, China and some European powers to oppose
further action against Iran.
The world’s inaction in Syria is also
benefiting Tehran because it has demoralized democracy activists inside Iran.
Regime change in Tehran is probably our best chance of avoiding a nuclear Iran.
That’s why the world’s appalling response to the 2009 Green Revolution was one
of the biggest foreign policy errors in recent memory. Had the Green Revolution
succeeded, there’s a good chance the Iranian weapons program would now be
Instead, the mullahs continue to press ahead with the
And thanks to the world’s dithering on Syria, we’re unlikely to
see any new democratic movement arise in the country. The Iranian regime has
spent the past three years jailing and murdering prominent
And now, after seeing the world fail to react to the 10,000
dead in Syria, the Iranian people know that the international community will not
come to their aid if they rise up again.
All of this means that Iran will
continue pressing ahead with its nuclear program. And it means that a military
attack, which the international community fears so much, might unfortunately
become the only realistic option for stopping the program. The international
community continues to oppose any action on Iran without UN support. But because
of its failure to achieve consensus on issues such as Syria, action outside of
the UN appears more likely.The writer is a former White House staffer
who is pursuing a PhD in political science.