UPDATE: The final passage of this piece criticizes the “Shia fundamentalists who are holding Iran’s staged elections.” Early results from Tehran suggest that reformist candidate Hassan Rohani has achieved a stunning victory. Iran’s green movement, which was crushed in 2009, is apparently alive and well. The country’s conservative clerics are apparently unwilling to steal another election and risk another round of protests. The results reinforce the point at the end of the piece: we focus too much on the region’s fundamentalists and too little on its moderates.
Syria, of course, is not Iran. A peaceful protest movement has devolved into a sectarian civil war. Gen. Selim Idris, the Free Syrian Army commander who is receiving American small arms, is a moderate who taught at the Syrian Army’s Academy of Military Engineering for twenty years. Arming Idris now may be too little, too late. But as I argued in this February 2012 piece, the US should have supported moderate members of the Syrian opposition far sooner.
Posted on Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 9:20am.
For the last two years, there has been bitter debate in Washington over what the United States should do in Syria. Beneath the surface, though, there has been broad agreement on what should not happen: President Bashar al-Assad crushing the rebels, remaining in power and handing Tehran a strategic victory that boosts its influence across the region.
President Barack Obama’s decision to send small arms and ammunition to Syria’s rebels is a basic first step toward slowing Assad’s advance and Tehran’s rise. Fears of another Iraq are understandable. So is criticism that gradual assistance is too little too late. But along with the humanitarian argument for assistance there is a growing strategic justification for the United States to act.