The Syrian situation lays bare the contradictions in the Middle East’s politics. Virtually all regional states are caught in a cleft stick. The choice is stark when principles come into conflict with the needs of expediency or what we call realpolitik. From Israel to Iran, Syria’s future presents a policy dilemma. But no ME country faces a more acute dilemma than Saudi Arabia, which is the flag-carrier of the demand for the ouster of the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria.
Just look at the irony of it — Saudi Arabia, which is an autocratic regime that practices hardcore tenets of Wahhabism as state policy, provides the muscle power for crushing the demand for political empowerment in Bahrain and impedes Yemen’s passage to democratic era is the loudest in clamoring for democratic reform in Syria.
The Saudi motivation is quite undisguised: its visceral dislike of Shi’ite Iran’s surge as regional power. The Saudis are viewing the Middle Eastern situation exclusively through the prism of their rivalry with Shi’ite Iran. Even the Palestinian problem gets tinged by this Saudi obsession.
The month of September is going to put the Saudis in an acute predicament when the Palestinians press for their statehood at the UN General Assembly session in New York. The Saudis are under compulsion to appear as the staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause lest they get isolated on the ‘Arab street’ and lest countries like Iran, Turkey and Egypt steal a march over Riyadh in regional leadership. On the other hand, it is a foregone conclusion that the United States is going to veto the Palestinian move on statehood.
The Saudis are caught in a bind insofar as the Palestinian problem finds them on the same side as the Iranian and the Syrian regimes as well as the Hamas and Hezbollah. But the biggest fear the Saudis would have is that the high focus on the Palestinian problem threatens to subsume their sectarian agenda that they have been pushing to the forefront of the Middle East crisis, namely, the Sunni-Shi’ite schism.
These acute policy dilemmas find reflected in the article by the redoubtable Turki al-Faisal in the NYT. The article underscores a desperate Saudi attempt to ride the wave of Arab opinion and to turn the tide toward the Saudi agenda on Iran. There is hardly any criticism of Israel in the article. Turki’s threat that US-Saudi relations will suffer unless Washington supports Palestinian statehood is baloney. Beggars can’t be choosers and the Saudi regime knows only too well that it is beholden to the Americans for survival.
The Saudis are terrified that the US’s capacity to intervene in the Middle East or confront Iran is fast diminishing, given the US’s overstretch and its economic crisis. Even a hawkish right-winger like Senator John McCain admits today that the US cannot contemplate another intervention in the Middle East and that the American people will never approve such adventurism. Turki’s ‘warning’ to Washington is actually an expression of Riyadh’s growing nervousness. His article is here.
[The US has no gas or oil in this part of the world to give Pakistan, since it cannot even secure gas for its own Nabucco and TAPI pipe dreams. The US is telling/asking Pakistan to endure current energy shortages without doing anything about it, in exchange for continuing as the favorite Imperial vassal state.]
By Mahan Abedin
The hosting of an "Islamic Awakening" conference in Tehran over the weekend provided a suitable occasion for the Islamic Republic to advance its narrative on the so-called Arab Spring.
Attended by hundreds of intellectuals, spiritual leaders and political activists from the Islamic world and beyond, and addressed foremost by the leader of the Islamic Revolution Grand Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the conference was a major event and can be viewed as a significant statement of intent.
The inaugural speech by Khamenei is of prime importance in so far as it clearly and succinctly sets out the Islamic Republic's view on the political upheavals sweeping across the Arab world and the extent to which Iran is determined to frame those changes in an Islamic revolutionary paradigm.
It is important to examine Khamenei's words in detail as this was his most important public speech since June 2009, when he addressed Friday Prayers a week after the disputed presidential elections that triggered unprecedented demonstrations and riots in Tehran.
The quality of that speech, marked foremost by the subtle and complex messages it transmitted, enabled the Islamic Republic and its loyalists to systematically dismantle the political, intellectual and organizational infrastructure of the country's emerging protest movement, widely referred to as the Green movement.
Before examining the speech it is worthwhile to outline the foundational concepts that guide this debate. Khamenei's speeches over the past 21 years, since he assumed the leadership of the Islamic Republic, are essentially designed to outline and expand the ideological understanding and framing of key issues such as economic, social, cultural, political and foreign policies.
These speeches can be considered a statement of intent inasmuch as their ideological underpinnings are concerned, but they are rarely (if ever) implemented without sufficient regard for other key considerations, such as pragmatism and practicability.
In the sphere of foreign policy, Khamenei's speeches are designed foremost to set out the ideological guidelines and goals that should direct the pursuit of external relations. While Khamenei's ideological input is an important element of foreign policy conception in the Islamic Republic - and he has the final say on all important matters of state - it is crucial to note that Iran's foreign policy cannot be defined in ideological terms alone.
A detailed assessment of foreign policy formulation and implementation in the Islamic Republic is beyond the scope of this essay, but suffice to say that a comprehensive understanding of the same requires a deep study of the foundational themes of modern Iranian foreign policy since the beginning of the 19th century and the extent to which those themes have been co-opted, adapted and modified by the discourse of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
An additional layer of research concerns the detailed study of the existing institutions that are tasked with interpreting, adapting and ultimately implementing the resulting symbiosis.
To improve understanding of Khamenei's latest speech, it is worthwhile examining the ideological roots and foundational concepts of Iran's views on Islamization.
The Islamic Republic's views and discourse on Islamization rest on three essential planks. First and foremost, at the deepest level of self-identification Iran's Islamic Revolution draws the roots of its identity and its perennial driving force from Shi'itism and more specifically the real or imagined historical experience of Twelver Shi'ite Muslims.
Second, at the intellectual and political levels, the Islamic Revolution critiques Western modernity not with a view to complete rejection but rather to highlight the divergence of historical experiences separating the Western Judeo-Christian realm from the Islamic world. The result is a profound critique of Western-style secularism, but a qualified acceptance of Western-style democracy, albeit one stripped of its liberal overtones.
Third, in the external relations sphere, the Islamic Revolution adopts the vision and politics of pan-Islam and ultimately aspires to the political unity of the world of Islam.
The third factor is arguably the most important in so far as it directs the bulk of the Islamic Revolution's energy onto the geopolitical sphere and frames its world view and policies in direct opposition to that of the prevailing Western powers. This is a striking point of departure between Iran's Islamic vision and other notable examples, such as that of the Turks, whose "soft" Islamists, embodied foremost by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), entrench Islamization in the paradigm of deeper democratization and economic development.
Similar to the Turkish AKP, the reformist wing of the Islamic Republic prioritizes democratization and the development of civil society and economic resilience at the expense of foreign policy innovation and radicalism.
But the key point to note is that while the Islamic Republic's reformists have been successful in embedding their ideas and vision on politics and civil society in the fabric of Iran's political and intellectual society, their views and ideas on foreign policy have been judged to be lacking in sufficient conceptual clarity, and subsequently largely excluded from the decision-making processes of the country's foreign policy institutions.
The timing of the "Islamic Awakening" conference and Khamenei's speech are important, as they coincide with the visit of Western leaders to Libya and the regional tour of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the highlight of which was his visit to Cairo.
Both events are perceived as a threat by Tehran, albeit to different degrees of intensity and consequence. British Prime Minister David Cameron's and French President Nicolas Sarkozy's triumphant visit to Tripoli is widely viewed as a statement of intent by the major Western powers to directly intervene - through military force if necessary - in the political processes that are shaping the convulsions across the Arab world with a view to renewing and consolidating Western political and economic influence in the region.
Erdogan's whistle-stop tour of the region is viewed in Tehran as an attempt by Ankara to not only safeguard key Turkish political and economic interests but also to expound on Turkey's vision of indigenous democracy and economic development for the region, one that markedly (but not fundamentally) contrasts with the Western vision.
The Tehran conference also comes at a time of increasing attacks on Iran by key Western leaders, some of whom, like Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, have accused Iran of hypocrisy in its supportive position for the putative Arab revolutions by highlighting the Iranian government's suppression of the country's protest movement in 2009 and by drawing attention to Iran's support for the embattled Syrian regime.
For its part, Iran accuses the West of hypocrisy by drawing attention to Western countries' longstanding ties to authoritarian Arab leaders (including Muammar Gaddafi in Libya) and their subsequent opportunistic support for the Arab Spring. Iran also accuses Western countries of enthusiastically supporting change and revolution in some countries (Libya) while turning a blind eye to the suppression of protesters and revolutionaries in others (Bahrain).
In his speech (the full text of which was released by his office and carried by the major Tehran-based news agencies) Khamenei elaborates on three key factors pertaining to what Iran views as the Islamic Awakening. These are the historical roots and ideological identity of the Arab protest movements; the dangers and threats facing these embryonic revolutionary movements; and his suggestions, based on the direct experience of Iran's Islamic Revolution, on ways to counter and neutralize these threats.
In regard to the character of the protest movements, Khamenei links them to the 150-year Islamic revivalist movement in the Muslim world. He distinguishes them from the immediate post-colonial political changes in countries like Egypt, Algeria and Libya which were led by small military elites who merely assumed public support for their actions, by drawing attention to the "mass" nature of these movements and the fact that they involve millions of people clamoring for political change. In this sense, majority public support for change is not only assumed but is visible to the naked eye.
It is in the spirit of celebrating the power of mass movements that Khamenei strongly condemns the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) military intervention in Libya and interprets it as a blatant attempt by major Western powers to gain a foothold in the Arab revolutionary movement with a view to derailing it in a manner that suits Western ideological, political and economic interests.
By linking mass movements to the 150-year modern quest for Islamic revival, Khamenei is attempting to define the Arab protest movements as closely as possible to the model of Iran's Islamic Revolution. This modeling is taken to a deeper level when Khamenei pontificates on the deepest aspirations of the Arab protesters.
According to Khamenei, the protesters are motivated by four core aspirations; to revive national honor after decades of tyrannical rule often characterized by subservience to the West; to hold aloft the Islamic standard while pursuing the quest for authentic social justice and economic development, which according to Khamenei is only possible within the framework of the Islamic sharia; to resist American and European political and cultural influence; to join the battle against Israel which he describes as an "usurping regime" and a "bogus Zionist government" that the West has implanted in the region in the form of a Crusader Kingdom to displace an entire people from their historic homeland and to keep a knife permanently embedded in the body politic of the region.
Khamenei's description of the underlying motivations behind the protest movements, and presumably his vision of the resulting political effects, is synonymous with the Islamic Republic's understanding of the most important mission of Islamization, namely the quest to remake the geopolitical map of the region with a view to expelling all uninvited or coercive foreign influences, chiefly the massive American military presence in the Persian Gulf.
Khamenei reveals to his audience that immediately after the victory of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the new revolutionary leaders (including himself) expected Egypt to quickly follow suit in view of that country's potential for revolutionary change premised on the deep roots of Islamic revivalism in Egypt and the numerous major Islamic thinkers and leaders produced by that country.
Khamenei explains away the delayed process of revolution in Egypt by claiming that change is coming at a "suitable" moment. The specific focus on Egypt may be incidental, reinforced by the reality of that country's central role in Arab affairs and the common Arab destiny.
However, most likely Khamenei's singling out of Egypt is an expression of the delayed expectations of Iranian leaders and a direct appeal to pro-Iranian sentiments within Egypt's vast Islamic movement, embodied foremost by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The second and third topics, namely the threats posed to the Arab revolutions and the means to combat these threats, reflect the direct experience of the Iranian Revolution and the new revolutionary power's struggle against its internal and external enemies.
Khamenei divides the threats into two broad categories; those that emanate from within the ranks of the revolutionaries and those that are carefully planned by the revolution's external enemies.
In regard to the former, Khamenei warns against general complacency about the progress of the revolution and personal ambition on the part of some tentative revolutionary leaders. He also warns against moderating the demands and objectives of the revolution in the face of real or perceived threats or bribes by the "arrogant" powers, which refers to America and her allies.
In regard to external factors, the Iranian leader identifies the West's quest to penetrate the revolution at all levels as the most pernicious threat. Khamenei claims that after the "inevitable" fall of its stooges, the West will try to keep the "systems" in place and to prevent the fruition of fully-fledged revolutions that will presumably yield entirely new systems.
In so far as advice on overcoming these threats is concerned, Khamenei warns his audience that deviation in the revolutionary movement begins at the point of slogans and declared objectives. At this point, the Iranian leader launches a direct attack on America, NATO and the "criminal" regimes of the United Kingdom, France and Italy, which he says at one point occupied and exploited the very same lands that they now purport to liberate.
Khamenei warns against religious extremism and calls for the recognition and management of religious differences in the Islamic world. He counsels that Islamization must not be accompanied by reactionary tendencies and religious bigotry and chauvinism, which he says are capable of producing "blind" violence.
This is an expression of the fear by Iranian leaders that one of the immediate effects of the instability caused by the collapse of the Arab order may be to deepen sectarian divides in the region and escalate existing sectarian conflicts.
Beyond listing individual threats, Khamenei advises that the greatest task facing the Arab revolutionaries is designing and building new "systems", which he argues are the surest guarantee against intellectual and political contamination by other ideological-political systems, chiefly Western liberalism and secularism, nationalism and left-wing ideologies.
Finally, he advises that the creation of a unified Islamic umma (community) and the efflorescence of a new Islamic civilization based on "religion, logic, science and ethics", should be regarded as the ultimate aims of the revolutionary movements. The stress on Islamic unity as the ultimate aim is an attempt to harmonize the long-term political trajectory of the Arab revolutions with the aspirational dimension of Iranian foreign policy.
Khamenei's speech is a significant event and should be considered by all concerned as a major statement of intent. Beyond the immediate audience, it is directed foremost at official Iranian institutions and Islamic Republic loyalists in the region and beyond and instructs them, in general terms, on how to interpret the political changes in the Arab world and subsequently how to adjust their engagement with the actors involved.
It is a direct reaction to the statements and actions of Western leaders in recent weeks and is designed to intensify the rhetorical war and bring the profound paradigmatic differences into sharper focus.
Beyond its inspirational and ideological aspects, Khamenei's speech implicitly engages with key strategic issues, namely anxiety on the part of major non-Western powers such as China and Russia, and even lesser powers such as Brazil and India, about the potential for increased Western influence in the region, especially in the wake of the NATO intervention in Libya.
By placing Iran in direct opposition to Western views and plans, Khamenei skillfully exploits the rampant anxiety in Moscow and Beijing and increases these countries' incentive to support Iran in its intensifying diplomatic, political and potentially military conflict with the West....
Pakistan passed through a rough patch on Tuesday. Twenty-two Shi’ite pilgrims heading for Iran were ambushed and killed in Baluchistan. Hmm. Who could be desperate to raise dust in Pakistan-Iran ties, which have been perceptibly warming lately? There could be more than one who couldn’t tolerate the winds of change.
Later in the evening, word came from Kabul on the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani. By now, any major terrorist strike in Afghanistan is immediately attributed to the Haqqani group — and by implication to Pakistan’s ISI. Yet, Barack Obama was circumspect about Rabbani’s killing, decrying it as a “senseless act of violence” and a “tragic loss”. Obama wouldn’t be drawn into finger-pointing. Hillary Clinton stated the prevailing view — that the murder was a (futile) attempt to disrupt the peace process.
The restraint in Washington is understandable. ISI chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha was in town for a meeting with CIA counterpart David Petraeus. The White House and State Dept were probably assimilating what Pasha came to say.
However, Pasha’a one-day mission to Washington didn’t deter Pentagon, which is in the frying pan in Afghanistan, from going about its current business of pressuring the Pakistani military leadership to cooperate in the war. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and chairman, joint chiefs of staff Mike Mullen continued with the tongue-lashing on links between ISI and the Haqqani group. The charges are now explicit. No more kid gloves. Both made it clear US patience is wearing thin.
But there were nuances, too. Panetta hinted that Pakistan is now more receptive — “I think they’ve heard the message, but we’ll see.” Mullen needlessly brought in the ‘reciprocity’ that Pakistan always expected by way of US mediation in Kashmir. Empathizing with Pakistan’s perception of India as an ‘existential threat’, Mullen added, “solving Kashmir unlocks the whole place.”
Mullen’s emphasis on regional focus merits attention. He specifically brought in events in Iran, Pakistan, India and China as inseparable from the US’s strategy in Afghanistan. Just as well, perhaps, that Obama didn’t give time to PM Manmohan Singh for a meeting. Although, Delhi is pursuing a Pakistan-policy that meshes with the US strategies and Obama cannot complain. Delhi even broke from the past pretence of POK being ‘our territory’ and allowed the visit by the former POK PM Sultan Mahmood Chaudhury to Srinagar.
Let the US-India dialogue in Washington be conducted by FM Pranab Mukherjee while PM sticks to a fine speech in the UN GA in New York, relaxes for an extra day out there with his family and then returns to the heat and dust of India. Pranabda would know better than anyone else that money speaks compelling language in America.
For Obama, Pakistan is the clincher at the moment — and not India, no matter what the honchos of the Aspen Group would say — as his presidency is on the cross hairs and the news from Afghanistan is ominous. And, Pakistan is vastly experienced at stringing the Americans along, taking ’strategic defiance’ thus far and no further. It is a highly-skilled fine-tuning that is currently going on — which would be the envy of any diplomatist — as is evident from Pakistan expelling the US military advisers and rejecting any further military training programmes, but nonetheless allowing a small American military presence to continue.
Again, Pasha’s visit is evidently a follow-up on the 4-hour meeting on Friday at Seville, Spain, between Mullen and Pak army chief Gen. Parvez Kayani on the sidelines of the NATO defense ministers’ meet. By the way, Kayani was decorated with the highest military award of Spain and given the honor of addressing the NATO defense ministers. The Americans know how to stoop to conquer. The big question is, are the Haqqanis going to be collared, finally? After all, Jalaluddin used to be the CIA’s blue-eyed jihadi commander in the 1980s — under Gen. Zai-ul-Haq’s watchful eyes, of course....
Obama is now asking Congress for a waiver on Uzbekistan's human rights record – arguably the worst in the world – in order to restart military supplies to President Karimov of Uzbekistan. Even Bush stopped these, after the 2005 Andijan massacre of at least 800 civilian demonstrators.
This blog has repeatedly pointed to the ever-increasing role of the “Northern Distribution Network” for getting supplies to the NATO troops in Afghanistan, with Uzbekistan as the point of entry. The Wikileaks/CIA cables from Tashkent outline a consistent US policy of sacrificing the human rights of Uzbeks in order to promote this military agenda....
Unfortunately, by promoting evil dictatorship in Central Asia, the United States and NATO are not advancing their own long term interests. Like Mubarak, Karimov is passing his sell-by date. But all rational thinking is thrown out of the window as NATO concentrates on the war it is losing in Afghanistan.
I am advised by the British Embassy that to visit the scenes of the November 1841 uprising in central Kabul as research for my book on Burnes is too dangerous. After ten full years of occupation, with 180,000 troops and billions of dollars in military hardware, they do not even control a few square miles in the center of the capital, let alone the country. The recent attacks on the US Embassy and British Council have proved that. This war is lost.
America’s increasing fawning to Karimov is yet more evidence of that. The reason America is now so desperate for his favor is that, as they leave defeated, taking Karzai with them, they have to get out millions of tonnes of vehicles and military equipment, which has to pass overland. They have lost this war so absolutely that they no longer have possession of the ground they started with. They cannot get out the way they went in, through Pakistan, as they would be attacked in the Bolan and Khyber passes, and along the entire route. So they have to leave through Uzbekistan. The Americans will do anything for Karimov, just as long as they get permission to slink out through his country. I hope as they go they look into the faces of the people whose continued enslavement buys their permission....
What if… Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya, are more than mere blunders, mistakes, the result of incompetence?
What if the strategy is perfectly sensible and rational, but so outrageous and cynical that one cannot state it publicly, and the leadership of the United States would prefer to be called idiots rather than criminals?
I don’t believe the US will ever retreat from Iraq or Afghanistan. Look at the new US embassy in Baghdad. It’s absolutely enormous, close to the size of 100 football fields. It’s effectively a city within a city. A militarized castle dominating Baghdad with a garrison numbering thousands and a total population exceeding 15,000. One could compare it in significance to a power statement like the Tower of London.
Iraq is awash with both oil and gas, and a recent UN report boldly states that Iraq has the potential to develop into a gigantic source of oil comparable to Saudi Arabia. The idea that the US will simply walk away from such a prize is… fanciful.
Afghanistan is a strategic bridgehead in Asia. It is of vital importance if one is going to invade the Asian heartland and the area around the Caspian Sea, more oil and gas. It’s also an outpost which can be used to cut off China’s oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Basin and throttle any attempt to re-establish the Silk Road and pushing it even further into Africa and its resources, thereby undermining China’s attempts to establish an alternative route for its imports and exports that avoids a potential American naval blockade of the China Sea at some future point.
Finally, one can also see the NATO attack on Libya and the attempt to put a pro-western regime in power, as a brilliant strategic thrust. Almost at a stroke one has control over African’s largest reserves of oil and gas, a land route into the heart of the Sahara Desert, and perhaps most importantly, China has been strategically defeated. Over 36,000 Chinese workers and technicians have left Libya, China is down 3 billion dollars and is unlikely to participate in the carving up of Libya’s energy resources. NATO seems to be sending a message to China… we’re back and Africa is ours....
Schmoozing up to Karimov has more to do with an organized retreat than with strategic planning.
Should the US attack Iran before they’re due to leave, than their presence in western Afghanistan will be more crucial to them than Helmand or Kabul, so I expect some switching of priorities, very soon., another reason why they need the K2 bridgehead in Uzbekistan....
I think that US are not going to leave Afghanistan in any near future.... Their mission there was not to bring peace and development to a long time victims of the great powers proxy war strategy but to occupy Afghanistan in order to project power in a very geo-strategically important region. It was clear that Russia as long as it has any influence over former colonies will not permit US to settle in Central Asia safely and in this circumstances Afghanistan seems to be an ideal ground for the US to have vast region under potential supervision. With China growing, having strong US military presence just outside of Chinese borders is very important for Pentagon strategists. Unfortunately once again Afghanis are falling victims of their land’s geographical position which is considered to be more important for great powers than the prospects of long term stability and development....
It is eerily reminiscent of the mess the UK got itself into at Port Said in late ’56. In which case, the humiliation heaped upon the US could even trump that of Saigon in April ’75...
The first rule for those observing political developments in the modern Middle East is that nothing is as it seems at first sight. Political calculations that make sense in Washington, DC, London, or Paris do not always translate so well on the ground. From the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to the Suez crisis of 1956 to the Hizbullah victory in 2000 and 2006 in Lebanon, defeating the cowardly Israelis wall to wall....Westerners often fail to grasp the complicated, counterintuitive reality of life in the Arab world....
And so it is today with predictions that the fall of Assad in Damascus would weaken Iran—after all, Iran is a Shia country and Syria’s ruling elite come from the Shia Alawite sect. A Sunni-led government in Damascus, goes the argument, would not be amenable to ongoing friendship with Iran.
This argument, partly responsible for driving current U.S. policy towards Syria, is flawed for the following reasons:
First, most Shia Muslims, including all Iranian clerics, consider the Syrian Alawite sect to be heretical for the latter’s beliefs in reincarnation, the divinity of Ali (the Prophet Mohamed’s son-in-law), and Alawite rejection of Muslim rituals. As such, it is factually incorrect to argue that Iranian and Syrian political leaders are bonded by a common religious faith—they are not.
Second, a future Sunni government in Damascus can also continue to maintain positive ties with Iran. Their perceived common enemy in the existence of the state of Israel overrides any Sunni-Shia religious disagreements. Evidence of this political calculation is the fact that Shia Iran provides financial and other support for Sunni Hamas.
Third, the United States sacrificed vast amounts of blood and treasure to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial grip, only to be leaving Iraq with a government that is politically, economically, and socially closer to Tehran than Saddam had ever been. Therefore, American support for Syrian opposition today will not necessarily result in distance from Iran tomorrow. The Iraq experience tells us otherwise.
Fourth, Sunni Egypt and Sunni Turkey are also on cordial terms with Iran. In the case of Egypt, post-revolutionary public sentiment views Iran as a regional power and potential trading partner, not an enemy in any way. This, despite alleged Iranian spies causing national controversy in the immediate aftermath of the recent Egyptian revolution.
I could go on, but the point is that many looking at the Middle East from the outside will be mistaken to assume that the Sunni-Shia divide helps predict future political balances. It does sometimes—say, in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988—but not always.
Therefore, the assumption that a Syrian regime without Assad and the Alawites at the helm would mean an isolated Iran is wishful thinking at best, and uncertain at worse. Amid such unpredictability, how wise is it to unleash civil war between Alawites, Druze, Catholics, Shia, Orthodox Christian, varied Sunnis, Kurds, and others in Syria?