The fact that Cliff knows there are true democrats in the Syrian mix does not make them representative of the Syrian mainstream — no more than Egypt’s outlier democrats can camouflage the predominance of that country’s Islamists. To say Islamists are merely “in the mix” in the Syrian opposition is like saying there might be a spendthrift or two in the Greek government. Of course Cliff is right that no outcome is “certain” before it happens. But Syria is a 74 percent Sunni Muslim country, and the Islamist influence is patent. If real democrats were a force in the opposition, Sheikh Qaradawi would not be a powerful influence over it, and al-Qaeda’s presence would not be felt, much less welcomed. We’ve already seen this show play out in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. With the Brotherhood long entrenched at the front of Assad’s opposition, and with the Obama administration and the McCain wing effectively endorsing the Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council, there is no more doubt about who would be running post-Assad Syria than there is about who would win if the New York Giants played your local high-school football squad.
Obviously, Cliff and other interventionists who care passionately about American national security do not want to help deliver Syria into the Brotherhood’s clutches. They relieve themselves of grappling with this foreseeable consequence of their policy preference, however, by rationalizing that “Iran is the single most important strategic threat facing the U.S. — hands down.” Since “Iran’s most important ally and asset” is the Assad regime, the reasoning goes, ousting Assad is an imperative, regardless of what replaces him.
With great respect, this line of thinking fails to appreciate that threat environments are not static. It is not 2001 anymore. As I’ve argued before, Iran did pose a singular threat back then. Now, it has an able competitor in the struggle against the West. It is in our interest that both of them be taken down several notches — especially if they’re willing to do it to each other.