“But what if the president-elect can save Syria from the calamity caused by the Obama administration’s inattention without explicitly seeking to change the regime?” Tanter asks. Pressuring countries with foreign fighters in Syria to get them to leave would be a good way to start. Aleppo is in the hands of the regime, so Russia has no incentive to support Assad, and may be amenable to a peaceful transition of power in Syria without him as president.
According to Tanter, it is Islamic Republic of Iran who is desperate to retain Assad. This is part of Tehran’s regional strategy since the Civil War began in 2011. Tanter says that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Quds Special Force Commander Qassem Suleimani convinced Russia to remain directly involved in the conflict. Therefore, Tanter concludes, Tehran, more so than Moscow, is the problem in Syria.
“Iran’s desperation stems from its own lack of domestic legitimacy. The Iranian people’s opposition to the clerical regime makes it necessary for Tehran to extend its hand beyond its borders. The goal is to reinforce an image of indispensability,” writes Tanter, who adds, “The alternative would be to redirect IRGC assets toward the goal of eliminating the domestic opposition. But Tehran knows this policy is a nonstarter: It would result in even greater opposition to the regime.”
In 2009, the crackdown on demonstrators in Iran severely affected the support for the unelected ayatollahs who rule Iran. Members of the leading opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) were targeted, whose presence in Iran is growing, while the populace turn against the regime.
Tanter writes about the Massacre 1988. The Supreme Leader ordered a fatwa, which resulted in the systematic executions of Iranian political prisoners, most of them affiliated with the MEK. Estimates a high as 30,000 people were hanged over the course of a summer. Still, the MEK survived the ordeal, and grows stronger.
Today, the MEK is part of an international network, and is the leading constituent in the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The MEK strongly supports the Syrian opposition. Those leaders regularly attend rallies of the NCRI in Paris and elsewhere.
Tanter asks us to, “Think of President Obama’s outreach to Tehran and turning his back on Israel with the vote on December 3 at the United Nations. Thus, there is good reason to believe Washington is withdrawing from the Middle East. That vacuum is bring filled by the Islamic State and related Islamist terror organizations like Jabhat al Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. It is noteworthy that President-elect Trump has a plan to destroy such terrorists, rather than simply going after their leadership with drone strikes as Obama has been doing.” He adds, “If Obama’s policies were to continue, it will be difficult for the Syrian opposition to survive Assad’s brutality. If Assad were deprived of foreign support, the opposition can recover and thrive. It earns legitimacy from patient suffering of its supporters. But its prospects would brighten if Iranian fighters were to be pressed by Russia and America to depart.”
President-elect Trump’s nominees have stated that it is a priority to end the efforts of Tehran to support Assad’s brutality, during congressional hearings. Tanter believes that it is unnecessary for Washington to become directly involved in ousting Assad from power. What is necessary is that the end of the Syrian Civil War be between the popular will of the Syrian people and the Assad regime, without the outside support of the militant mercenaries of Iran.
Facing no serious consequences from Western powers, because they are fixated on preserving the Iran nuclear deal, allows Iranian power to expand across the region. President-elect Trump has already stated that he will adopt a much more assertive policy toward the Islamic Republic. In so doing, Trump may encourage the democratic opposition to dictators not only in Syria but in Iran as well.
“In short, Trump can save Syria by getting Iranian fighters out. Then, America will truly demonstrate its greatness,” Tanter concludes.