Since last summer, the Obama administration has moved closer towards military cooperation with the Iranian regime, to prop up the Iraqi government and to fight Islamist rebels in Syria. In a bizarre paradox, U.S. foreign policy in Iraq has edged in the direction of alignment with Syria and Iran while those regimes remain Washington-designated sponsors of terror.
I am indebted to Gerta Zaimi the Italian academic who sent me a link to a Wall Street Journal article about a Secret Letter Obama wrote to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei About Fighting Islamic State and urging progress on Nuclear Talks.
Obama has abandoned the idea of toppling Assad in Damascus and announced the deployment of several hundred U.S. troops to Baghdad, supposedly to help provide security at the American embassy, while repeatedly claiming that the administration would not put “boots on the ground” in the latest civil war.
Separately, Secretary of State Kerry suggested military cooperation with Tehran was a very real possibility. As part of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq, “We need to go step-by-step and see what in fact might be a reality, but I would not rule out anything that would be constructive in providing real stability.”
Iraq’s turmoil is partly due to Obama’s hasty withdrawal, and his failure to confront the corrupt Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, largely responsible for many of Iraq’s woes.
In his speech at Fort Bragg on December 14, 2011, Obama said the US would leave behind “a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.”
Events since the withdrawal proved Obama wrong. Iraq has witnessed sectarian violence, suicide-bombs and explosions. Prime Minister Maliki was a disaster in the making, a corrupt bully who implemented divisive policies at the behest of Iran whose sectarianism backfired dramatically in June, when the Iraqi military disintegrated as ISIS jihadists attacked Mosul and other Iraqi cities.
The Washington Post points to the fighting in Iraq as a particularly dramatic example of the failure of current US Middle East policy. The paper’s Jackson Diehl writes “the Obama administration’s strategy of re-creating a unified Iraq under a strong central government will, like its previous Middle East schemes, prove elusive. What is beyond doubt is that Iran is the real ruler in Iraq.”
Obama is absolutely determined to let Syria’s brutal dictator off the hook. Assad has been murdering, barrel-bombing, gassing and maiming the Syrian people since the eruptions of peaceful protests in the spring of 2011. Whilst Obama turns a blind eye, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias are providing military support to the Syrian regime.
Back in August 2011, the Washington Post reported that President Obama for the first time explicitly called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, a symbolically significant step intended to ratchet up pressure on the government five months after the start of the uprising in that country. “We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led,” Obama declared. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
Fine words, but over three years later Assad is still busy killing his people, and Obama has not taken any steps to hasten his removal. Obama’s so-called red-lines on the use of chemical weapons have been flouted over and over. A New York Times editorial Friday 23rd August reminded us that President Obama’s credibility is at stake. His words have no weight if not backed by action. On May 5th The Washington Post reported John McCain’s remark that President Obama’s “red line” on Syria was written in “disappearing ink.”
The US’s failure to deliver the promised weapons to the opposition, in particular General Martin E Dempsey’s warning of the risks and costs, has given the Damascus regime further encouragement.
Obama should have listened to Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham and allowed the right weapons to reach the Free Syrian Army. The senators, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, say rebel fighters deserve to be armed, and that helping them take on the Syrian government would aid Washington’s effort to weaken Iran. Why the President ignored this important advice is beyond comprehension.
Two years ago nobody had heard of the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front. Eighteen months ago nobody had heard of ISIS/ISIL/IS. Now Islamic jihadists are springing up like dragon’s teeth, and this is not the fault of the Syrian people or the Free Syrian Army, but primarily the fault of the divided and ineffective UN Security Council, the indifference of the international community, and a weak, dithering American president.
Assad seems to be winning and the White House’s claims of success on the chemical weapons front are contradicted by Secretary Kerry’s acknowledgment, mid October, that Assad’s government recently used chlorine gas several times. Business Insider reported on 15 October that an intelligence sharing agreement between the US and Russia has been agreed, meaning that the US is now sharing intelligence on ISIS directly or indirectly with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iraq, and Russia.
As US and Iranian negotiators approach the endgame in the Iran nuclear talks, amid mixed assessments of prospects for completing the deal by the November 24 deadline, it may be that no deal is better than an unsatisfactory outcome.
The Iranians are fully aware of Obama’s desperation to engage in futile negotiations over its nuclear enrichment program. A year or so before becoming president, Obama indicated to the New York Times that he would seek co-operation with Iran as a way to extricate the US from the quagmire of Iraq, apparently oblivious to Iran’s subversive influence on Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. As President, Obama stated unequivocally that the United States will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
Nobody in the Middle East believes him.