William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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SYRIA CRISIS GROWS – AT 9:26 A.M. ET:  While President Obama leads from behind and prepares to slash the defense budget under Secretary of Defense-designate Chuck Hagel (choke), our enemies are getting stronger, positioning themselves for the years ahead.  From the Washington Post:

Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanese proxy, are building a network of militias inside Syria to preserve and protect their interests in the event that President Bashar al-Assad’s government falls or is forced to retreat from Damascus, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials.

The militias are fighting alongside Syrian government forces to keep Assad in power. But officials think Iran’s long-term goal is to have reliable operatives in Syria in case the country fractures into ethnic and sectarian enclaves.

A senior Obama administration official cited Iranian claims that Tehran was backing as many as 50,000 militiamen in Syria. “It’s a big operation,” the official said. “The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it’s important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on.”

Iran’s strategy, a senior Arab official agreed, has two tracks. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses.”

COMMENT:  There are also reports that the Iraqi government, no great friend of Washington, may allow some Iranian fighters into Iraq to help "stabilize" the country.  After all we've done to turn Iraq into a democracy, that's the thanks we get.  But most Muslim nations aren't exactly large on "thank you."

There are also other reports from solid sources that Iran is advising Egypt on how to build an internal security force loyal to Egyptian President Morsi.  Hamas, which rules Gaza, is also reported by Egyptian opposition sources to have sent as many as 7,000 fighters to Egypt, also to protect the increasingly unpopular Morsi.

American influence?  Declining rapidly.  Not helped by reports that we have to keep Navy ships in port because of budgetary concerns.

February 11, 2013