What Military Intervention in Syria Means for the US and Iran

by Farideh Farhi

Following declarations that the Obama administration could soon strike Syria, very little has been left unsaid. The fact that President Barack Obama has been a reluctant warrior lends weight to the justification of his attack, we are told. Surely a reluctant warrior would not use a humanitarian disaster as a cover. We should also know that given the “red line” he drew last year, America’s credibility is on the line. And of course we are reminded of the need for the US to be the protector of the global and civilized norm against the use of chemical weapons.

None of these arguments will convince the critics of military action.

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are hardly Dr. Strangeloves sitting on a bomb directed at Damascus, but the lack of clarity on what happens the day after seems reckless. If the Assad regime used chemicals weapons, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that half-hearted military action — designed to punish but not remove Assad from power — will encourage further use of the weapons and more devastation?

Yes, US credibility is on the line, but attaching credibility to martial muscle could entail the further loss of it in more important areas. The revelation that in the midst of a humanitarian crisis the political class in Washington seems focused on launching cruise missiles can itself reflect a serious lack of credibility and failure in global leadership; this one built upon moral and ideological bankruptcy.

There may be some people in Syria and elsewhere in the region who will cheer military action, but if the Obama administration is unable to use it to exhibit some sort of leadership and bring an end to Syria’s tragedy through a serious political process like in Egypt, the move will be despised by all sides.

It’s been suggested that Obama’s military action in Syria will pose a major dilemma for Iran’s new moderate government as it contemplates what to do in a domestic environment in which Iran’s hardliners will be pushing for a response. It won’t. Jasmin has already pointed to the mild reaction from Tehran. The reality is that Obama’s military action will make the Syria tragedy his and not Iran’s. And in Iran’s post-election environment, in which the country has moved towards national reconciliation — both among the elite and between the government and population — nothing suits the Islamic Republic better than divesting itself from this issue quietly.

The hardline argument for strongly supporting the Assad regime won in Tehran when his downfall was stated as Washington’s — as well as Riyadh’s and Tel Aviv’s — desired outcome in the name of weakening the Islamic Republic. But events in Syria are now well beyond the proxy war stage. They are out of control and have spilled into adjacent countries. Of course, Iran does not share borders with Syria. Rather and more importantly, the ideology that the Syrian tragedy has spawned with ample support from Saudi and Qatari funds — one that is anti-Shia, anti-Iran, anti-US and anti-Semite (even if it may not necessarily be virulently anti-Israel for now) — is more of a problem for whichever country ends up owning this issue. And owning it is exactly what the Obama administration is about to do, even if it acts in the name of credibility and/or punishment and reportedly only through a barrage of Tomahawks for a few days.

Farideh Farhi

Farideh Farhi is an Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She has taught comparative politics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, University of Hawai'i, University of Tehran, and Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran. Her publications include States and Urban-Based Revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua , Power and Change in Iran: Politics of Contention and Conciliation (co-edited with Dan Brumberg), and numerous articles and book chapters on comparative analyses of revolutions and Iranian politics. She has been a recipient of grants from the United States Institute of Peace and the Rockefeller Foundation and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She has also worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the International Crisis Group.



  1. U.S. credibility IS on the line, and it has been shocking to hear the Secretary of State accuse Syria of having committed a ‘moral obscenity’ and with such expression of outrage, and suggesting the investigation would be meaningless because the Syrian army had intentionally degraded the evidence, when the inspectors only just began their investigation on Monday, August 28th. As of today, August 28, the Doctors Without Borders website at https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=7033&cat=press-release states:

    “Over the last two days, the American, British, and other governments have referred to reports from several groups, including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), while stating that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was “undeniable” and designating the perpetrators.

    MSF today warned that its medical information could not be used as evidence to certify the precise origin of the exposure to a neurotoxic agent or to attribute responsibility.

    On August 24, MSF announced that three hospitals it supplies in Syria’s Damascus governorate had reportedly received 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms, of which 355 died. Although our information indicates mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent, MSF clearly stated that scientific confirmation of the toxic agent was required, and therefore called for an independent investigation to shed light on what would constitute, if confirmed, a massive and unacceptable violation of international humanitarian law.

    MSF also stated that in its role as an independent medical humanitarian organization, it was not in a position to determine responsibility for the event. Now that an investigation is underway by United Nations inspectors, MSF rejects that our statement be used as a substitute for the investigation or as a justification for military action. MSF’s sole purpose is to save lives, alleviate the suffering of populations torn by Syrian conflict, and bear witness when confronted with a critical event, in strict compliance with the principles of neutrality and impartiality.

    The latest massive influx of patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in Damascus governorate comes on top of an already catastrophic humanitarian situation facing the Syrian people, one characterized by extreme violence, displacement, the destruction of medical facilities, and severely limited or blocked humanitarian action.”

    Moreover, all published indicia to date point to the jihadists and/or their proxies as having been responsible for these deaths, though it is important to reserve judgment until the evidence has been fully vetted, and the investigation is complete and official findings published, since too much is still unknown.”

    One would expect some measure of rationality from our Government (rather than a bipolar or other psychopathic response) and a meaningful effort to reserve judgment, rather than risking a repeat of the same mistakes it committed with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. By drawing these redlines, and threatening military action in the next few weeks with itself and its allies on military alert, the Administration is boxing itself in. If it rushes to judgment and initiates a preemptive attack against Syria without UN sanction, it will be violating the UN Charter and international law, and will be committing yet another act of war without a sufficient ‘casus belli’, no matter how much Secretary Kerry bellows or the President feigns caution. If the Priesident decides to wait until the inspection has been completed, and it turns out that the jihadists and those nations aiding them were responsible, then he will risk looking foolish unless he takes action against them- though that would be a good enough reason to disarm the mercenaries and kick them out of Syria, and force the Syrian opposition to the negotiating table The only ones who seem to be benefitting right now are the Saudis, Israelis, and jihadists, and of course our military contractors, and energy companies with interests in the region. Is this what the Administration has been intending all along?

  2. Correction: the comment above was intended to say that the inspectors began their work on August 26th. Since then, the WSJ has reported that the US is not only discrediting the evidence at the scene, but privately urged the UN to remove its inspectors.

    Furthermore, other sources are now suggesting that the ‘evidence’ the US and UK claim to have but refuse to disclose, was fabricated in whole or in part by the Mossad.

    The story is becoming more and more astounding every day.

  3. If Aerica wants to go to war no one can check as the military establishment is very strong and business as usual kill people and earn money.
    efffffffnce idusry in america controls whitehouse i.e. Pentagone and i m shocked when I hear Hagel to support administration.
    ericans were never friend of human beings only were killer and will continue to kill till god send catastroph to America as there is no other alternative. Allah will ae to interfare diectly to save huma beings.

  4. There is a problem with the suppositions in the article, particularly that the administration are reluctant warriors and that these reluctant warriors will restrict themselves to limited punitive actions. Strategic analysis indicates that the purpose of this planned attack is to reverse the military gains of the Syrian army and degrade its air force and missile capabilities so that the proxy/foreign forces fighting against the government of Syria gain tactical advantages.
    All this will do is ensure the complete and total destruction of Syria by outside elements and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people whose only crime is resisting foreign intervention.

  5. Just like in Afghanistan where the Indian, Russian. and Chinese armies (all with nucs) sat by and watched while we risked our ass in another Vietnam. This syrian deal is in the backyard of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Pakistan – – let them deal with it.
    How’d we feel if the Red Chinese came over here and dealt with some issue in Panama or Belize?
    A civil war is a civil war, we had one and nobody put a knife to the throats of the Blues or Grays!

Comments are closed.