Another version of the “Gratitude Doctrine” is emerging in U.S. foreign policy circles, this time with regard to Syria. As Liz Sly of the Washington Post recently reported, the United States is increasingly viewed by Syria’s rebels “with suspicion and resentment for its failure to offer little more than verbal encouragement to the revolutionaries.” This has led some U.S. observers to argue that if Washington does not do more to help the Syrian opposition in its fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it runs the risk that any new government that comes to power in Damascus after Assad’s fall will shun the U.S., with grave implications for U.S. interests in the Middle East.
But if we examine the situation with the cold, steely-eyed gaze of a banker, unmoved by sentiment or emotion, the “gratitude” argument for more actively supporting the anti-Assad opposition doesn’t carry much weight. Because should they emerge victorious from the current civil war, the Syrian rebels are likely to take actions that will advance America’s interests in the region, regardless of whether or not they feel particularly beholden to Washington.
America’s prime geopolitical objective in Syria is to break once and for all the alliance between the Assad regime and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has allowed Tehran to extend its influence into Lebanon and, via Hezbollah, to threaten Israel itself. To this end, and despite the claims that Washington is “doing nothing” in Syria, the United States has been providing communications and logistical support to the opposition, while U.S. allies in the region have been providing them with funds and weaponry. But even if America did not lift a finger to help the rebels defeat Assad, any successor government in Damascus -- especially one that represented the interests of the country’s Sunni majority -- would move to terminate the alliance with Shiite Iran.