Max Fisher worries that “it’s increasingly plausible that Iran will emerge as the big winner”:
How did it happen? The answer may be both simple and complex. For all the twists and turns in regional politics, sectarian divisions and even great-power politics, it might come down to something really simple: Iran just has a bigger stake in Syria than the U.S. does. …
A rebel-held Syria, whether those rebels were the Islamists favored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar or the moderates hoped for in Washington, would shut out Iran from its only major Arab ally and and make it much tougher for Iran to reach its proxies in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. It would leave Iran less able to reach the outside world or to threaten Israel, which Tehran sees, rightly or wrongly, as an imminent threat to Iranian security that must be deterred.
Martin Longman questions the framing:
This makes it appear like we are openly aligned with the rebels, but that is not the case.
We are formally opposed to the continued rule of the Assad regime, and we are working with some rebel groups, but we are just as opposed to some of the rebels (probably the majority of them) as we are to the Iran-backed regime. As [Liz Sly’s WaPo article] notes, the war in Syria has morphed into a sectarian conflict that pits Sunnis against Shiities and Alawites. It is neither advisable nor possible for us to take the side of the Sunnis in a sectarian religious war. That would pit us not only against Iran, but against Iraq. Plus, it’s the wrong thing to do. …
It is a gigantic failure of analysis to look at Syria as a proxy war between Iran and the United States of America. We would like to diminish Iran’s power and influence, it’s true. But not at the expense of taking sides in a sectarian fight where the most effective fighters on our side are indistinguishable from al-Qaeda.