Recently, I was able to attend a legislative briefing hosted by the Endowment for Middle East Truth. The guests of the briefing were former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton and Freedom Scholar Michael Ledeen. Both of these experts on the Islamic Middle East gave some great insights into the situation in Iran, specifically regarding the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the continuing Iranian Nuclear Program. They also addressed the new crisis in Syria. Both men agreed that the situation in Syria cannot be properly addressed without understanding that there is a much bigger picture–and it starts with Tehran and the Islamic regime.
Bolton stated, “If you define the problem in Syria, you are defining it much too narrowly. The problem is with Iran and that is what this Administration has never understood.”
Perhaps there was some optimism with the hope that the newly elected (and more “moderate”) Iranian President Rouhani would bring some much-needed fundamental changes to Iran. However, according to Michael Ledeen nothing has changed and Rouhani has the same objective as past leaders. Furthermore, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is the final authority of the regime and he is still in power.
“It doesn’t matter who the person (President) is,” Ledeen said. “It is dealing with the system and the regime. The regime has certain core principles and they believe in those core principles. Their policy is to destroy the west, above all the United States.”
Rouhani has been committed to these policies from the beginning, even before he was elected. He served as chief nuclear negotiator from 2003-2005 and has been committed all along to their nuclear program.
There has also been a false sense of hope regarding the sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program. The sanctions have directly affected the economic situation in the country but have also negatively impacted the people in Iran who are against the regime. And according to Bolton, Iran will have resources to continue the nuclear program even throughout the on-going sanctions. Rouhani has created the image that Iran has been cooperative with the International Atomic Energy Agency. This perhaps is to help dial back the sanctions. Bolton doesn’t believe the sanctions have been effective but if the sanctions are to begin to be dialed back he believes it will be almost impossible to get them back up again.
As is, we have Iran fully committed to their nuclear program and the procurement of nuclear weapons under President Rouhani. However, we also have a situation in Syria under Bashar al-Assad with the accusation of the use of chemical weapons on his own people. What’s the connection? According to both Ledeen and Bolton both are intrinsically tied together.
Ledeen states, “If Assad falls, it’s a terrible blow to Iran just as if Khamenei falls it’s the end of Assad. Iran is the key to international terror.”
The actions taken against Syria by the United States will be a reflection to Iran as to how we will oppose them. A weak response will send the message that Syria may be able to continue chemical weapons with minimal cost. It will also send the message to Iran that they will be able to continue their nuclear program and Rouhani will likely be committed to gaining more relief from sanctions and strengthening the regime in Tehran.
So how should the United States respond to Syria? Bolton does not feel that we should get involved in Syria and “it is not in an American interest to use force”. However, both Ledeen and Bolton firmly stated that if the U.S. does respond with military action, a weak response would only confirm to both regimes that they can continue their policy of terror on their own people as well as on the western world.
“If you want to strike a blow at Assad”, Ledeen remarked, “strike it in Tehran and the best way to strike it is to threaten the regime and the best way to threaten the regime is to support the Iranian opposition.” Bolton also stated, “The problem with Syria is not about Syria. It is about Iran and as long as the regime stays in Iran we are going to have problems in Syria and Lebanon and lots of other places.”
According to Ledeen and Bolton, any response to Syria must first be carefully calculated with regards to Iran.