'Although Syria is not itself a significant oil producer, it lies adjacent to many of the major suppliers and has long served as a host for pipelines connecting the Gulf to the Mediterranean. More importantly, in recent years, is has assumed strategic importance as an ally of Iran and a conduit for Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. “Syria has a geopolitical importance out of all proportion to its relatively small population, area, resource base, and economic wealth because of formidable military power…and its location at the heart of the Middle East,” Alasdair Drysdale of the Australian National University wrote in the Oxford Companion to World Politics. “As a result, it plays a central role in most of the Middle East’s key disputes.”
This is the dilemma facing Obama today. If the United States cannot extricate himself from the geopolitical imperatives posed by Iran’s continuing threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the safety of Persian Gulf oil supplies, it cannot extricate itself from the turmoil in Syria. Because a failure to confront Assad’s excesses could be viewed as giving Iran and other outside powers a green light to meddle in the Syrian conflict, and could be seen by the Iranians as an indication that they can continue to stockpile enriched uranium with impunity, US leaders see no choice but to become involved in Syria.
Russian involvement in the Syrian imbroglio adds another dimension to America’s dilemma. Russia has long-established ties with the Syrian leadership, beginning with Assad’s predecessor, his father Hafiz, and retains a vital naval base at Tartous, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. More important than these strategic interests, however, is Moscow’s desire to curb America’s global activism. From Russia’s perspective, then, Syria is less important as a strategic asset in itself than as an arena in which to gain geopolitical advantage over the West. By the same token, a failure to contest Russia’s spoiler in Syria role could be interpreted as an invitation for Moscow to undertake other obstructionist endeavors'.
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