As the U.S. considers what to do if Syria's president falls, a former director of the C.I.A. says the Obama administration should look to the lesson of Iraq. Gen. Michael Hayden, who was appointed to run the C.I.A. under President George W. Bush, writes on CNN's Opinion page that the mistaken approach post-Saddam Hussein is an important warning when it comes to Syria:
We should not allow the dramatic power of the most visible narrative, the struggle between oppressed and oppressor, to drown out the sad reality of another less noble story line - namely that this is still, at least for now, a sectarian conflict.
That this is the dominant narrative, the one that is most controlling and the one we should pay most attention to, is suggested by Vali Nasr's 2006 post mortem on Iraq. Nasr observed that we mistakenly "thought of politics as the relationship between individuals and the state" rather than recognizing "that people in the Middle East see politics also as the balance of power among communities."
We would do well to keep that in mind as the Syrian end game approaches. We should accelerate work to get the minorities into the game against the regime, hastening its end and broadening its opposition. The Christian and Kurdish communities have historic ties to the West that should play to our advantage in this.