As I wrote earlier this week, much of the pretext for bombing Syria because of chemical weapons use is overshadowed by more fundamental motivations on the part of the Obama administration. Namely, to “send a message” to Iran – the idea being that if Assad can cross Obama’s red line without consequence then the Iranian regime will believe U.S. demands to not develop nuclear weapons aren’t backed up by military force.
There are all kinds of problems with this “credibility” line of thinking, not least of which is that the political science literature is pretty much in agreement that the credibility trope is overhyped at the very least. In addition, the consensus in the U.S. intelligence community is that Iran has not made the decision to develop nuclear weapons.
But more specifically: what kind of signals are the Iranians actually getting from Washington’s Syria policy?
In an interview earlier this week, former Iranian official Seyed Hossein Mousavian was asked that very question. First of all, he said, the Iranian regime doesn’t believe the real motivation for U.S. intervention is the use of chemical weapons, “because Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons with the support of the U.S. against Iran during the war, 1980 to 1988. One hundred thousand Iranians, they were killed or injured by chemical weapons where and when material and technology was provided by the U.S.”
When asked what the Iranians see instead as the real issue, Mousavian said, “They believe the U.S. is just after a regime change.”
Indeed, according to a meticulous report in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “believes that the U.S. government is bent on regime change in Iran, whether through internal collapse, democratic revolution, economic pressure, or military invasion.”
“To Khamenei, when it comes to nuclear weapons, the Iraqi and Libyan cases teach the same lesson,” writes Iranian journalist and political dissident Akbar Ganji. “Saddam and Qaddafi opened their facilities up to inspections by the West, ended up having no nuclear weapons, and were eventually attacked, deposed, and killed.”
If anything, the U.S.’s imminent bombing campaign of Syrian military assets (which will probably morph into regime change once started, just as in the case of the “limited” intervention in Libya) is sending the opposite signal Washington war hawks intend. These policies of aggression and successive regime changes in the Middle East are not likely to frighten Iran into compliance and docility. Instead, the message to Iran is clear: unless you have a nuclear deterrent, a U.S. war for regime change is inevitable.