For the generals of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), anti-Americanism is an indispensable component of their worldview. And yet, to the surprise of many, top IRGC commanders have so far been amenable to the idea of a Donald Trump presidency. It appears that they are following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lead and are hoping for an American self-extrication from the Middle East in the next administration.
The first big test will be on the question of Syria and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, with whom Iran’s history is considerably more complicated than many realize. If Trump decides to cut a deal with Russia and Iran over Syria, he will find he has more leverage on the question of Assad’s future than many might recognize.
A FRIENDLY IRAN?
For now, Trump’s Syria policy remains something of an enigma. But there is an air of exuberance in Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran. On November 14, for example, Assad said that Trump might be a “natural ally” in the fight against terrorism. By extension, as Assad put it, that would put Trump on the same side as Iran and Russia, the biggest protectors of Assad’s regime.
Assad’s hopes are not entirely unfounded. Trump has shown an inclination toward simplistic policy views, and like the Syrian and Russian governments, he has lumped the multifarious Syrian opposition together with the Islamic State (ISIS). In that equation, he sees Assad as the lesser evil.
This is music to the ears of Khameini and Putin. It might open the prospect for a deal with Russia and Iran as a way of ending the Syrian war. If so, it would be a conclusion that keeps the Assad regime, or at least a good part of it, in power. It is therefore unsurprising—but still striking—that the Iranians have been more cautiously open-minded about Trump than several close U.S. allies have been.
Iran’s generals took their cue from statements by Russia’
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