Dan Drezner Explains…

…the president’s strategy with respect to Syria:

To your humble blogger, this is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik policy towards Syria that’s been going on for the past two years. To recap, the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible. This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished…. at an appalling toll in lives lost.

This policy doesn’t require any course correction… so long as rebels are holding their own or winning. A faltering Assad simply forces Iran et al into doubling down and committing even more resources. A faltering rebel movement, on the other hand, does require some external support, lest the Iranians actually win the conflict. In a related matter, arming the rebels also prevents relations with U.S. allies in the region from fraying any further.

If you believe that there is a strategy, that’s a pretty compelling argument. It does, however, require you to believe that a lot of what the president has said over the last couple of years about Syria has been window-dressing and that the Russians will allow Assad to fall. I do agree, however, with the implied view of a strategic Iranian loss: at this point a strategic Iranian loss would be, in fact, a strategic gain for us.

FILED UNDER: Open Forum, , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. James Joyner says:

    Considering that this president doubled down on an Afghanistan strategy that he simply had to have known wouldn’t achieve its objectives, at a substantial cost in American blood and treasure, to avoid being painted at weak, I have no doubt that he’s capable of extreme cynicism. But I share your skepticism that there’s a strategy here more coherent than “well, we have to do something.”

  2. Matt Bernius says:

    What’s particularly scary about Drezner’s cynical read is how much Syria starts to look like Afghanistan. There are, of course, significant geographic differences that create some important differences.

    Still the idea of openly arming and supporting rebels in order to sustain a proxy war to destablize regional enemy powers without any real path to a stable future for the country in question feels very much like a case of “been there, done that, ended up paying for it for decades.”

  3. stonetools says:

    The threads are getting too many on this. I’ll say that “bleeding Iran” is one aspect of the White House strategy on Syria, but I think the immediate goal for the WH is getting Assad, Russia and Iran to the negotiating table. Right now they’re winning outright and have no incentive to go to Geneva.
    If we can get to Geneva, there’s a chance of a political settlement. No Geneva no settlement.This announcement is in support of that goal.

  4. steve says:

    Strikes me as Cold War style tactics if Drezner is correct. I think I am inclined to side with those who think this just trying to not look weak.


  5. Tano says:

    More to the point – it is not just ensnaring Iran and Hezbollah in a civil war, it is pitting those two against Al-Qaida.
    Is it cynical to maneuver your major adversaries into a war against each other? Or just smart?

  6. refn says:

    And don’t forget, the Federal Government has a long history of supplying terrorist groups like Al Qaeda with arms and training. This is par for the course.

  7. Tano says:

    @James Joyner:

    Considering that this president doubled down on an Afghanistan strategy that he simply had to have known wouldn’t achieve its objectives

    Why did he have to know that? Did Petraeus et.al. also know all along that it would never work?

    to avoid being painted at weak,

    well, I won’t deny that Obama (or any pol) would want to avoid that, but for what reason do you imply that this was the driving reason for the decision? Once again, did Petraeus et. al. also propose this simply to avoid seeming weak? Or is it possible, just maybe, that sometimes a political leader does things for rather straightforward reasons – because they think that the risk is worth taking given the possibility for a good outcome?

  8. David D. from Philly says:


    On this, we agree.

  9. glasnost says:

    I don’t agree with Dan Drezner. The Obama Administration is not that cynical about foreign policy.

    Look, this isn’t hard. They didn’t want to get involved, but they have correctly noted that if we don’t get involved, the situation continues to spiral further and further out of control. It’s doing that actively now, in a manner that promises to go well beyond Syria and into Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Egypt… Iran… the whole region could explode into cataclysmic internal bloodshed in about seven countries at once. That, in itself, is a world less safe for Americans.

    Every conceivable bad potential consequence of us getting involved, at least for the people in the country and or region, either has already happened or is already happening at a constantly accelerating pace.

    The only additional negative consequences for us is dollars – and selling the rebels weapons is not very expensive.

    They’re not intervening now for the explicit purpose of prolonging the war to bleed Iran militarily. They’re intervening now because no one is winning the war right now, meaning it continues to go on, and it continuing to go on is destabilizing about ten different countries in a serious way.

    Wars create terrorist groups, and terrorist groups create war. It’s a very bad cycle and the way to have less of one is to have less of the other. And when the participants of a war won’t stop on their own, someone has to win it. And however screwed up the Sunnis are, it’s impossible for the Alawaites to win without exterminating or emptying 80% of the Syrian population, whereas the reverse is not true.

    No one’s counting on Russia or Iran to stop supporting the Alawites. We’re counting on that support not being enough to keep Alawites in power.

  10. anjin-san says:

    to avoid being painted at weak

    Not sure I buy this. Go back and look at video of the Obama/McCain debate when they were talking about going after Bin Laden. Big bad John McCain was literally wringing his hands and carrying on about how we could not do anything to offend Pakistan.

    I was struck at the time by Obama’s demeanor, he actually looked quite fierce, and made it clear that if he had Bin Laden in his sights, he would take him down, and worry about who was offended later. Of course, this is exactly what happend. I don’t think this is a guy who worries too much about looking weak, because he’s not.