by David P. Goldman

There is a strong analogy between today’s civil war in Syria and the 1936-1939 civil war in Spain, as my PJ Media colleague Barry Rubin argued recently. The analogy may be even stronger than he suggests. Spain became a proxy war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, and the West had no interest in the victory of either side. Syria is a proxy war between Sunnis and Shi’ites, and (to quote then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir’s delicious line) we want them both to win. The difference between Spain in 1936 and Syria in 2012, to be sure, is that the West had no means to discourage the Russians and the Germans, the strongest military powers on the European continent. All the contenders in the Syrian cock-pit are tenth-rate powers next to the United States. The correct response to Syria is to neutralize Iran. By “neutralize,” I mean a campaign of air attacks and ground sabotage to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program and some other offensive capabilities.

It is unseemly and stupid for Washington to remonstrate with the Russians for playing the spoiler in Syria, for example by providing the Assad regime with attack helicopters. The way to deal with this dog is to beat up the dog’s owner, namely Tehran. Washington’s pathetic display of solicitude towards a terrorist regime that uses negotiations to buy time for nuclear weapons development aggravates every other problem in the region, Syria above all.

The greatest strategic risk to the West in the Syrian conflict is the possibility that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards might intervene with the blessing of the beleaguered Assad regime and get control of the country’s chemical weapons stockpile, reportedly the world’s largest. That would change the strategic equation in the Middle East: Iran would have a WMD second-strike capability against Israel. That, as I wrote in this space March 30, is a central Israeli concern and a supporting motivation for an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program.

Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes cogently argues that America should “stay out of the Syrian morass” in a commentary today in the Washington Times, concluding that

…protracted conflict in Syria offers some geopolitical advantages:

It lessens the chances of Damascus from starting a war with Israel or re-occupying Lebanon.

It increases the chances that Iranians, living under the thumb of the mullahs who are Assad’s key ally, will draw inspiration from the Syrian uprising and likewise rebel against their rulers.

It inspires greater Sunni Arab anger at Tehran, especially as the Islamic Republic of Iran has been providing arms, finance, and technology to help repress Syrians.

It relieves the pressure on non-Muslims: indicative of the new thinking, Jordanian Salafi leader Abou Mohamad Tahawi recently stated that “The Alawi and Shi’i coalition is currently the biggest threat to Sunnis, even more than the Israelis.”

It foments Middle Eastern rage at Moscow and Beijing for supporting the Assad regime.

Pipes says better what I proposed (in the form of an interview with the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu) last February: America should place its own security interests before supposed humanitarian concerns. We can no more prevent sectarian and ethnic war in the Middle East than we can prevent lunar eclipses. We can do a great deal, however, to make sure that the such conflicts do not spill over into our garden, and to steer the ultimate outcome to our strategic advantage.

In the case of Syria, whatever happens in that miserable ethnic patchwork of a country, the changeling brat of colonial cartographers, makes little difference to us–unless, of course, Iran is able to use Syria’s WMD for its own purposes. Iran is the threat, not Syria. The scandal is that the administration has done nothing to neutralize the Iranian threat.

David P Goldman's book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion and economics, It's Not the End of the World - It's Just the End of You, also appeared this fall, from Van Praag Press. He writes a regular column in Asia Times, using the pen-name of Spengler. It has been suggested that he doesn't actually write these thought-provoking articles but is channeling the thoughts of Oswald Spengler, the 19th century German historian and philosopher.

This entry was posted on June 13th, 2012 on the Pajamas Media website.

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